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Posts Tagged ‘War of 1812’

Laura Secord: Fact or Fiction?

Posted on September 21st, 2012 by pajamapress

With the bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812 in full swing, Laura Secord is the lady of the hour. But what part did she really play in the war? Myths and misconceptions about this historical figure abound, and historians have debated her role for years. How well do you know Laura?


1. Laura Secord is one of the most famous heroines ever born on Canadian soil.

False. Surprise! Laura was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Her family moved to Upper Canada when she was a young woman and she spent the rest of her life in what is now Southern Ontario. 

2. When her hometown of Queenston was taken over by the Americans during the War of 1812, Laura—like other women still living in the occupied territory—was forced to cook for any American soldiers who came to her house.

True. Feeding and billeting enemy soldiers has been the lot of families in occupied territory for much of history.

3. Laura overheard some American soldiers discussing plans to capture Lieutenant James FitzGibbon, who was leading a band of soldiers and First Nations warriors in guerrilla raids of American-occupied territory. Since her husband was wounded, Laura decided it was her duty to try to warn FitzGibbon herself.

True. James Secord had been injured in the battle of Queenston Heights and would never fully recover the use of one leg. Laura Secord Clark, our heroine’s granddaughter, told historians in 1933 that James doubted his wife’s ability to make it to FitzGibbon at Beaver Dams, but she was determined to go.

4. Since she was living in American-occupied territory, Laura needed a cover story to get past the sentries. She took a cow with her on the first leg of her journey as an excuse for leaving town.

False. This story was introduced by the historian William Foster Coffin in the 1960s and is still widely believed.

5. Laura walked 19 miles barefoot through forest and swamp to reach FitzGibbon at Beaver Dams.

Unlikely. Laura’s exact route is much contested, although tourists can now walk a marked trail that recreates it. She certainly avoided the main roads in order to escape the notice of American patrols, but some historians suspect she found a trail near the swamp rather than going straight through it. The condition of her footwear is not known.

6. Unfortunately for Laura, FitzGibbon already knew about the surprise attack, so her whole journey was in vain.

False. Historians believed for many years that FitzGibbon’s scouts had warned him of the attack before Laura arrived, or that she arrived too late for her warning to do any good. Then, in 1959, a certificate was found in the Canadian National Archives in Ottawa on which James FitzGibbon had recorded the date of Laura’s arrival and the fact that she brought him information he did not already know. He added that he planned his strategy for the battle “in consequence of this information.”

7. The government rewarded Laura handsomely for her efforts.

False. Laura was given no formal recognition for her part in the War of 1812 until after her death. The one reward she was given came in 1860 when Prince Albert Edward, who would one day become King Edward VII, visited Canada and was surprised to see a woman’s name on the roll of veterans of the War of 1812. He asked questions, learned her story, and sent her 100 pounds in gold upon his return to England.

8. After the War of 1812, Laura Secord opened a chocolate shop.

False. The Laura Secord chain of chocolate shops began as a single small store in Toronto in 1913. According to the chain’s website, its founder, Frank P. O’Connor, admired Laura as a Canadian “symbol of courage, devotion, and loyalty.” 

This quiz was composed by Erin Woods using information from the historical note of Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812 and from an interview with the author, historian Connie Brummel Crook.

History and Literature at the Lang Pioneer Village Museum

Posted on September 14th, 2012 by pajamapress

The Lang Pioneer Village Museum is a small hamlet of over 25 restored 19th-century buildings. Villagers of all ages go about their business in period dress, transporting visitors back in time to an age of blacksmith shops, woodsmoke, and rail-and-stump fences.

Photo by Didi Anderson

Photo by Didi Anderson

Often, visitors meet another person in period dress who is not museum employee: historian and author Connie Brummel Crook has had a long history with Lang Pioneer Village. Today she shares with us some of the ways she and the museum have worked together to promote her books, the museum’s events, and the passion they both share for educating new generations about their nation’s history.

One of my favourite places to visit is Lang Pioneer Village Museum where my books are sold in their gift shop. I have been visiting there for many years during the latter part of May and most of June. During that time, busloads of schoolchildren visit the village. In the town hall, I talk with them about their school trip, my books, and about the business completed in town halls like this one many years ago. The children, who are very lively and ready for the holiday, respond in different ways. Some linger to ask more about my books while others rush on to the next  event.  Sometimes, students recognize my books because they have studied them in their classrooms, and so have many questions. Their interest, enthusiasm, and energy are inspiring.

Then there are special events to which I have been invited. This year, I was invited for three summer book signings for my newest novel, Acts of Courage: a Book Launch on July 1, and Celebrations and Reenactments of the War of 1812 on August 18 and 19. All three were very interesting days. The books were for sale in Lang Museum’s gift shop and I was seated in a different area each time, where I met a stream of folks who asked me to autograph their books. I went to school at Lang many years ago and had written a book about the time of the Depression there, and there were a few old friends who could remember. Also, there were folks from other areas of Canada and a few even from other countries on their holidays. Youths who had completed a reenactment workshop training course in early August came to have the book signed that had been given to each one taking that workshop.  

Lang Pioneer Museum has many very interesting events throughout the year but is especially busy during the weekends in the summer months. On August 18 and 19, they had many special War of 1812 events; such as, regimental march from military encampments, kids mini militia training drill with the 49th Regiment of Foot Reenactors, War council with Chief Tecumseh at the First Nations Encampment, and Battle reenactments. Also guests were invited to meet impersonators of famous people in costume, such as, Sir Isaac Brock, Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee, Laura Secord, and many more from the War of 1812–14.

I, too, was dressed in the costume of that period for these three events and enjoyed visiting with old and new friends of all ages from many different areas.

–Connie Brummel Crook is the author of Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812 and more than a dozen other works of historical fiction for young readers.


Interview with Connie Brummel Crook

Posted on September 3rd, 2012 by pajamapress

C.B.CrookConnie Brummel Crook is a historian, a former teacher, and the author of fifteen works of historical fiction for young people. She shared some insights with us about writing in her genre, and especially writing her most recent novel, Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812.

Acts of Courage contains a lot of historical figures, and a lot of characters based on  real people, but Red—James FitzGibbon’s childhood persona—is your own invention. What led you to introduce this character?

As a novelist and former teacher of English, I saw the need for the entrance of a boy in the story to attract male as well as female students to read my book. When I investigated Laura’s younger years (about which little had been written) and I found out about her father’s part in subduing Shay’s rebellion, I could see the way to work a teenage boy into the story. Since FitzGibbon would play such an important part later in the story, I thought of bringing him into the story sooner. After all, I am writing a novel—not a biography—and must adhere to some characteristics of novels, which I taught my classes for many years.

A lot of texts about the War of 1812 gloss over the hardships and injustices faced by the Native peoples who were involved, but you clearly made a deliberate choice to highlight the Mohawks’ struggles for survival. Why was that so important to you?

When I first researched for this story, I became fascinated by the writings of Joseph Brant. In fact, in the first book I wrote about Laura he became so prominent that, when I sent it to the editor, she told me that I could not change main characters in the middle of the book. As a novelist I knew that, but I had become captivated by Joseph Brant. He wrote not only about the injustices faced by his people, but also about the white man’s lack of justice to their own. For example, when the British poor could not pay their debts, they were put in debtors’ prisons. Whole jails were filled with these prisoners. Joseph Brant pointed out in the most eloquent language that among his people, destitute widows and others in need were taken in and helped by the rest of the tribe. He said that his people were known as savages and yet the white men who did such things to their own in need thought themselves to be civilized.  Who were the real savages, he asked.

Also, as a descendent of Loyalists, I recognize the great help of the native peoples who were on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War. They had great farms across the northern part of the present state of New York, and they were burned out by the American rebels when they took the part of the British in the war. After the war, the British should have given them the same as the white Loyalists, for they gave up just as much. Joseph Brant and his sister Molly Brant, wife of Sir William Johnston, were great leaders of their people who influenced them to side with the British.

What is your favourite part about writing historical fiction? What is the hardest part?

One hard part is pulling myself away from the research to start writing. But that is a favourite part, too, because the research gives me more details about real people, who lived real and productive lives.

Another challenge is that one is confined to the main facts. I have been praised for historical authenticity, but that has come to have its limitations too. Reviewers forget that I’m a novelist and when I introduce a scrap of fiction to embellish a story, they can be critical about my addition. That is a hard part especially since all my main facts are accurate. If I do change anything, I account for it in my Historical Note at the end of each novel.

Sometimes, I wonder if it is a good idea to change anything, for the historian named Coffin introduced the part about Laura leading a cow through a wood to pass the sentries, and readers believed that for years, even though it was denied by all of Laura’s descendants. Still, I will continue as I have. It’s suited to me because I don’t have a wild imagination like many writers do—but I do have a purpose. I hope that my books may bring to life more Canadian heroes for students to admire. Americans praise their heroes and so should we Canadians. There are many who are so worthy.

In your research, have you ever come across a story or person you would like to write about, but haven’t had the chance?

Yes, all the time. I would have liked to write about Joseph Brant and also his sister Molly Brant, who married the Englishman Sir William Johnston of Fort Johnston of Amsterdam, New York. She exercized great influence with the Six Nations and her brother Joseph and helped greatly to keep them with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Mohawk women had a much greater influence over their tribe’s plans and voted in their meetings. Also, I was so impressed by Joseph Brant’s own writings.

Tommy Douglas is another about whom I’d like to write, or Edgerton Ryerson, who started public education in Ontario. After my Nellie McClung trilogy’s success, I’d like to write about others of the Famous Five who had women declared persons in Canadian law in 1929.

Writing Laura Secord: Historical Fiction and the Heroine

Posted on August 27th, 2012 by pajamapress

C.B.CrookConnie Brummel Crook is the author of fifteen picture books and novels of historical fiction. Her most recent, Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812, tells the story of Laura Ingersoll Secord, one of the most celebrated (and sometimes controversial) figures in Canadian history. Today Connie shares what it was like to recreate the story—and the personality—of this courageous woman.

I heard tales of Laura Secord’s heroism as a child. My parents were descended from Loyalists.  My great grandfather lived with us when I was a very young child, and he sang old ballads about those days. All his songs had a story to tell. My father, too, was interested in history. I grew up with the stories about which I have written. Of course, I did do a lot of research to fill in details that I did not know or remember as a child.

I have drawn Laura’s adult character from historical sources and her youthful character partly from an interview over a pleasant lunch prepared for me and my husband by Laura Secord Dunlop, an 89-year-old lady, in the early 1990’s at Kitchener, ON. Mrs. Dunlop’s father had told her much about Laura and he, too, had lived a long life, and so could remember back directly.

Since I could not find much that had been written about Laura’s early years before she came to Upper Canada, I asked Mrs. Dunlop about Laura’a childhood. She mentioned that Laura went through a most difficult time when her father, Thomas Ingersoll, married again so soon after her stepmother’s death. After all, Laura’s own mother died when Laura was eight, then her step-mother, to whom she was adjusting nicely, died four years later. Then four months after her death, Thomas Ingersoll married yet again. From Mrs. Dunlop’s comments, it appeared to me that Laura was a strong, determined child at a time when one might think she would have been more fragile.

I began to investigate that time period in the States.  Thomas Ingersoll, who had fought for the Americans in the American Revolutionary War, was then caught into subduing the rebels of Shay’s Rebellion.  So I worked that suspenseful event into my story with Laura involved. The fact that a school teacher from a nearby school was actually killed led me to work in the school events to introduce this part of my story. Also, when I was researching, I found out that around 1990, the house that had originally been Laura Secord’s home was, in fact, the library of Great Barrington.  So I phoned them for details of the land, house, area, etc. from that earlier time period.  A few years later I was contacted by someone working in the archival materials in that library to give them my Canadian spin on some events up here. I don’t know if they ever used it.

The ruins of the De Cew house; photo by Alex Luyckx

The ruins of the De Cew house; photo by Alex Luyckx

Over twenty years ago, I was asked by a publisher to write a novel about Laura Secord.  So I read every book, article, scrap, letter etc. that I could find. I visited Niagara Falls area, where my first cousin lived, and so I was free to explore. In fact, I walked and rode (my husband beside me in the car) over her long trek as much as I could. Some places were hard to find, and many were changed. The De Cew house was only partially preserved, with the stone parts of basement coming up above the soil. Also, I spent a great deal of time at the Public Library. They would not allow me to take out the personal file of letters and such, but they gave me space to work there with these precious files. The more I read, the more I became impressed with the way Laura handled difficult times­—not all of which fit into my story about the War of 1812.

Monument to Laura Secord' photo by Alex Luykcx

Monument to Laura Secord’ photo by Alex Luykcx

In a published source, I found another courageous deed described.  After the war, when James was on duty at the Customs, where he had a more prosperous job than his own business had ever been, he heard rumours about an expected attack from smugglers. There was no time to bring in help, and so Laura dressed as a man and took duty with him. The camouflage helped to show there was more than one man there. The ruse worked and the smugglers did not attack because they assumed the plan was found out and probably the police were in waiting for them. Why else would a man be brought in on short notice to accompany the lone Customs Officer, James Secord, who had walked with a limp ever since the war?  Laura’s courage even in these later years stood out. Nor did she mind impersonating a man to do the task. Was she not exceptional for her time?

Though I always try to write an exciting story, it is just as important to write something accurate enough that the subject of the book would also enjoy reading it. I hope that Laura Secord would find her life honoured and accurately reflected in the books that I have written.

School Library Journal hails Acts of Courage as a great read for students

Posted on June 15th, 2012 by pajamapress

In this novel, Laura Ingersoll Secord grows from a curious 12-year-old in Massachusetts to a fearless heroine in Upper Canada. The book is based on the true story of an American family trying to prosper during the years leading up to the War of 1812. Laura’s father is a captain in the American militia who travels frequently. After years of fighting rebel discord, he moves his family north to create a new settlement in Upper Canada. Laura marries genteel James Secord, a businessman and Loyalist, who fought to protect Upper Canada. Her journey to heroism and fame begins here. After boldly rescuing James, injured in battle, she overhears American soldiers planning a surprise attack on Canadian troops. Laura embarks on a dangerous 19-mile journey past enemy lines, through snake-filled swamps and rocky terrain, to warn the soldiers. This decision leads to the Canadian victory at the Battle of Beaver Dams. The rich and detailed descriptions of the rigorous lifestyle settlers endured in the early 19th century will enthrall readers… Secord’s story is a great way for students to learn about the politics of the period and the relationship between the United States and Canada during post-Revolutionary War times. Maps of the Ingersolls’ journey to Canada and Laura’s walk are sure to pique students’ interest and encourage further research.

Amy Shepherd, St. Anne’s Episcopal School, Middleton, DE

“Historical fiction with an ‘Aha!’ moment or two”CanLit for LittleCanadians reviews Acts of Courage

Posted on June 6th, 2012 by pajamapress

“By staying true to Laura’s undertaking while adding an interesting twist (fictional, of course), Connie Brummel Crook has taken this book from biography to historical fiction with an “Aha!” moment or two.

…[N]o subplot or component of the story is gratuitous, each important in explaining and moving the plot to Laura’s climactic walk, probably best described as a combination trudge, plod, wade, slog and creep.  Luckily Connie Brummel Crook’s telling of Laura Secord’s story lacks the toil and anguish of our heroine’s defining moment and instead takes the reader through Laura’s life’s journey to better understand the choices and connections she has made throughout.”

–Helen Kubiw

Click here to read the full review

Acts of Courage “a rousing success,” says Ten Stories Up

Posted on May 26th, 2012 by pajamapress

Acts of Courage made me want to go dig up more information, which is surely a goal of history writers everywhere – to inspire interest in what really happened.  In that sense, a rousing success!

…to people who think Canadian history is boring – this book will change your mind.”–Lindsey Carmichael

Click here to read the full review

Resource Links calls Acts of Courage “an awe inspiring infatuation with Laura Secord”

Posted on May 1st, 2012 by pajamapress

“Laura Secord in Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812, is brought to life as a determined ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, adventurous, curious, robust, generous and courageous, taking risks to help the ones she loves—mainly family and country. Connie Brummel Crook has created an exceptional account of what would or could have been Laura Secord’s life. She depicts vivid landscapes and interiors of the 19thcentury with exquisite imagery…

…In Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812, Connie Brummel Crook creates an awe inspiring infatuation with Laura Secord, through richly descriptive period imagery, plot motion, language and sequences that are fitting for both 19th century and present day readers. The interweaving of both fictitious and real characters is executed seamlessly, with cleverly woven twists and an unexpected conclusion.

A love story, with war, passion, humanity; it is a dynamic and fascinating story that demonstrates the implacable resolve of women in that period. It is something that can be admired by all.”

Kirkus says Acts of Courage is great for American kids, too

Posted on April 16th, 2012 by pajamapress

Written from a Canadian perspective, this well-researched and -documented historical novel offers young readers a fascinating perspective on the events following the American Revolution and leading up to the War of 1812… The author tells a good story and presents some fascinating and little-known history (including such issues as slavery, economics, and social justice) in an interesting way. A historical note, sources and maps supplement the account. An opportunity for American children to see a little-known war through a rarely considered lens.

Quill & Quire Review of Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812

Posted on March 1st, 2012 by pajamapress

“Given her knowledge of the subject, it’s not surprising that Crook’s attention to detail and setting is excellent, providing the reader with insight into the social and political situations of the time….the story provides an opportunity to see Secord’s resourcefulness, compassion, and independent spirit on full display.”