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Friday, April 9, 2021

The Women of Bruce -- Part One -- Marjorie Carrick, countess of Carrick


In my last blogs, I covered the valiant ladies of Dunbar Castle.  In my next several I will write about some equally strong females who were forced to endure the hardships of Scotland during the War for IndependenceThe Women of Bruce.  Much has been written about Robert “the Competitor” who was one of thirteen claimants to the Scottish crown in the early 1290s, of Robert, lord of Annandale—his ever hungry, ambitious son—and then Robert, earl of Carrick, who went on to become king of Scotland, first of his name, succeeding where his father and grandfather failed before him.  But what about the women around King Robert—his mother, his sisters, wives, the many mistresses and daughters?  Who were they?  What were their stories?

In Part One – I begin with an amazing woman (and my 21st great-grandmother)—Marjorie Carrick, countess of Carrick, lady of Clan Campbell—and mother of King Robert the Bruce.

Turnberry Castle

Marjorie was born in 1252 at Turnberry Castle, Carrick, Ayrshire in southwest Scotland.  Some fix her birth year at 1259, but that would put the birth of her first child before she was ten-years-old, so I seriously doubt that assertion.  Robert’s mother was the daughter and heiress of Niall Mac Dhonnchad, 2nd earl of Carrick, a line that goes back to Scottish kings, David I and Malcolm I, and beyond to the Pictish kings. Her mother’s side traces a direct line back to the kings of France and Henry I of England. Her father was nearly fifty-years-0ld when he finally accepted that he would sire no male heir to replace him.  Roland, his nephew and foster son, had been raised as his son.  With health fading and wanting matters settled, Niall made the bold move to place the chieftainship and control of the clan on Roland’s shoulders, but then, in old Pictish tradition, created his daughter, Marjorie heiress to Carrick, in her own right, and settled vast estates upon her.

Carrick Coat of Arms

Since she was such a prize as a bride, King Alexander III quickly married Marjorie off  at a young age to Sir Adam of Kilconquhar, a man twenty years older than she.  In  rapid time, she was wed, gave birth to her first child—a daughter Isabel (named after Marjorie's mother, Isabel FitzAlan Stewart), and then she had to stand on the castle wall, holding her daughter,  and wave goodbye to her lord husband of barely two years, as he rode off on the Eighth Crusade raised by Louis IX of France.  Adam, the new Earl Carrick, jure uxoris (by right of his wife), participated in a battle near Acre.  Months later, he died of wounds he received in the engagement.  

Fighting at his side, and there as Kilconquhar closed his eyes, was his good companion, Robert de Brus, 6th lord of Annandale.  Before Adam drew his final breath, he extracted a promise from his friend to journey to Carrick to tell his pretty lady wife of his death, and carry a memento to her.  One has to ponder, those in his final moments, as he stared at the handsome Robert (thirteen years his junior) if he was sending Marjorie a suitable replacement for her husband.

It took a few months for Robert to reach Britain and then travel to Carrick in Ayrshire in south western Scotland.  Carrick was just three days travel beyond his holding in Annandale, so it was no trouble to fulfill his vow.  When he arrived, he discovered Marjorie in the midst of a hunt.  The scene is easy to envision (especially to a romance writer!)Marjorie now in her early 20s, vibrant and independent, used to managing her honours on her own.  And feeling time ticking away.  

Neither a Scottish king nor an English one would leave her alone, a widow, for too long.  Already wed to a man closer to the age of her father than hers, and not wanting to stand about while being treated as a royal pawn in the games of marriage and power, she decided to seize control in her hands.  Robert was handsome, a strong warrior, and came with a good lineage—one to match her own.  He would make a good lord for Carrick—one of her choosing. 

Marjorie entertained Robert lavishly for a month.  At the end of the time, he mounted his horse, intending to return to Annandale—some 80 miles to the east.  To Robert’s surprise—as the story goes—he was but a couple leagues away from Carrick, when suddenly he was surrounded by Countess Marjorie’s mounted knights.  They forcibly escorted him back to Turnberry Castle.  Once there, he was met by Marjorie who informed him, in true Highland fashion, she was kidnapping him—that he would remain her prisoner until he consented to wed with her.  A Highland man kidnapping a bride wasn’t anything new.  Quite a few Scottish marriages began this way—called a Scottish Wooing.   Marjorie was being a truly independent woman, and not about to permit men to govern the path of her life any longer.  There was speculation just how hard she had to work to convince Robert to agree to her proposal.   


Bruce was no mouse of a man.  He had fought in the Crusade, witnessed the harshness of war.  And he was very ambitious, with long-ranging, farseeing plans.  One might guess, he was already contemplating that Kilconquhar’s wife would make him the perfect lady—one that someday might be his queen—and was merely playing hard to get.  The best way to win the heart of this strong-willed lass was to allow Marjorie to believe the idea was hers!   With his holding of Annandale not too far from Carrick, surely, he had heard tales of the beautiful countess, knew her royal heritage, and on the long journey home, figured he would be in an excellent position to claim a perfect bride, suited for his future.  Historians—and non-romantics—have cast doubt on the events, and suggest it was a mutual plot, a ploy to get by the wrath of Alexander III, king of the Scots.  Being her 21st great-granddaughter, and a Medieval romance writer, I firmly come down on the side of Marjorie kidnapping her husband because she was in love—and being very practical!

It was within the king’s right to make matches or marriage, or at least add his seal of approval before the couple was wed.  This authority permitted a king to control his lords and barons, to see no one man became so powerful that he might rival the man sitting on the throne—one much like Robert of Annandale.

Alexander III, king of the Scots

Thus, Alexander was naturally furious the couple wed without his royal permission,  or papal consent—nor Marjorie observing a full year of mourning.  In punishment, he seized Turnberry Castle and her other lands.  However, whether the tale of their torrid romance caught the king’s fancy, or he secretly admired Marjorie’s audacity, she was able to regain possession of her holdings by paying a fineabout one hundred pounds—equal to the marriage pact fee they would've had to pay if they had been granted permission by the king and married with the usual steps. 

Arms of Robert Bruce, 6th lord of Annandale

It was clear theirs was a lovematch.  In the nearly two decades they were married Marjorie bore 12 children, 10 lived to full age.  Less than a year after they were married, Marjorie gave birth to twin girls in early 1272

1.         Isabel de Brus  (She became the queen of Norway)

2.         Maud de Brus (Isabel's twin) (married Aodh O'Beland de Ross who became the earl of Ross and Stratherne in 1323)

3.         Their third daughter, Christian de Brus—often called Christina—came in 1273.  (Her first husband was Gartnait de Mar, earl of Mar (and brother to Isabel Mar, first wife of King Robert).  (Her second husband was Sir Christopher Seton,  executed with her brother Niall in 1306.  The third husband was Andrew, the son of Sir Andrew de Moray, hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge with William Wallace.)

4.         With the fourth child in 1274, Annandale got his male heir—and one that would create a history, which would live forever—Robert de Brus—who would go on to be king of the Scots. 

5.         Mary de Brus was born 1275  (She married Sir Neil Campbell of Lochow, and then Sir Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie)

6.         Late 1276, Edward de Brus came—a man who would be the king of Ireland for a brief time.  

7.         Margaret de Brus was born 1276  (She wed Sir William Carlyle)

8.         Niall de Brus, a third son, followed 1279. (He was taken prisoner at Kildrummie Castlewhile giving the Bruce women the chance to escape the Englishwas hanged, drawn and quartered at Berwick-upon-Tweed in September 1306, along with Christopher Seton, husband to his sister, Christian, and the earl of Atholl.)

9.         Alexander de Brus was born 1282  (He was hanged, drawn and quartered 9th February 1307 at Carlisle, Cumberland, captured with Reginald Crawford, cousin to William Wallace)

10.       Thomas de Brus was born 1284. (He was hanged, drawn and quartered 9th February 1307 with his brother at Carlisle, Cumberland, and Reginald Crawford, cousin to William Wallace)

11.      *** 1286 saw the arrival of Elizabeth de Brus, but she didn’t make it to adulthood 

12.     ***  And finally another daughter named Euphemia de Brus came 1287, but like Elizabeth didn’t live to adulthood either.

*** some family trees show both Elizabeth and Euphemia de Brus being alive, married and having children.  Closer inspection will show these are non-Bruce females who married into de Brus family, so NOT the same females.

Also of note, Marjorie's first daughter, Isabel, by Adam Kilconquhar went on to marry Sir Thomas Randolph, and her son, and Marjorie's grandson, was Thomas Randolph of Moray, the brilliant general that served Marjorie's son so well.

 Sadly, Marjorie never lived to see all the accomplishments her children attained, nor had she been forced to mourn the death of four of her sons killed because of their struggles for independence from England.  She died shy of age forty.  The cause isn’t noted, as history so often does, ignoring women and the important role they played, but one has to wonder if the birth of thirteen children took its toll upon her.  There is another daunting possibility—leprosy.  It had long been rumored that her son, Robert, died of the disease, likely acquired from his father, who was said to have perished of it as well—probably infected while he was on the Crusade.   (There are two different groups saying yes and no on if the king did or didn't have it, mostly based on a casting of his skull made 200 years ago.  The side saying he didn't have it are focusing on the face deforming part of the disease, of which Robert displayed none.  Leprosy can caused other issues that can kill).  Leprosy is spread by close contact with someone infected, and has an incubation period of a year or more, often up to five years.  After that period, it can take its time killing you through various means, such as attacking the respiratory system, making it harder to fight pneumonia.  Some are severely affected within a year or two, but others can take ten, fifteen or twenty years to succumb to the disease in the middle ages.  So, it is not unreasonable to wonder if Marjorie might have contracted the disease from her husband, and simply succumbed to the ravages of something that was incurable in the 1300s.  A recent study of the Bruce’s skull brought medical confirmation that the king did suffer from the dread disease, but it didn't destroy his face.  If you follow that line of thought it lends credence to both his father and possibly his mother dying from it as well.  

Majorie's grave at Holme Cultram Abbey

Marjorie is buried with her beloved Robert in Holme Cultram Abbey Churchyard,  Abbeytown, Allerdale Borough, Cumbria, England.  Another amazing woman who refused to submit to the narrow roles afforded women during this period.

Join me for Part 2 - of the Women of Bruce where I will talk about the amazing lady who crowned Robert king, and how she paid the price for that act.

Turnberry Castle

Deborah writers in the period of Robert the Bruce in her Medieval series the
Dragons of Challon.

Deborah writes as if she’s been in Medieval Scotland and can magically take you back there to stand amidst the heather and mist of another time. This is breathtakingly beautiful, award caliber writing
— New York Times bestselling author, Lynsay Sand

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Criminals - Quite literally

By C. A. Asbrey There are many literary characters who were inspired by real life characters and events. So many, in fact, that I have had to restrict the topic to historical figures to pare the list down.
One of the most famous has to be Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Here Hercule Poirot investigates the killing of the hated Samuel Ratchett, and I won't spoil the ending for those of you, if there's anyone at all, who haven't read it. The key to the mystery is based on the infamous case of the kidnapping of the Lindburg Baby, and the sheer quantity of people damaged by the fallout of the crime. 

Whilst I'm sure you've heard of that one, I aim to provide you with a few more which are less well-known. Lizzie Borden, and the killings in Fall River, have inspired many works of fiction. The Murderer's Maid, by Erika Mailman, features a woman in modern times who uncovers a connection to the famous murder which places her in terrible danger, and is one of the more original takes on the crimes. However, beyond the more modern books, there are some interesting crimes and criminals hidden in many of the books we now consider to be classics.
Charles Dickens work is rich in characters drawn from real-life. One of the most infamous was Fagin. Researchers have found remarkable parallels between Fagin and a man called Issac 'Ikey' Soloman'. He was born around 1878 in Houndsditch, London, and followed his father into a life of crime. And he was very good at it. He was only in his early twenties when he ran his own jewelry shop near Petticoat lane. Considering it was a front for receiving and dealing in stolen goods, he had an advantage on the honest businessmen around him. 

 He was only 21 when he was arrested with an accomplice, Joel Joseph, for stealing a wallet near the houses of Parliament. His Joseph tried to hide the evidence, and it must have been rich pickings as he was found to have £37 stuffed in his shirt. That's the equivalent of £3,169.39 today ($4,396.87). He was sentenced to be transported to Tasmania, but for some unknown reason (and I would not dismiss bribery) he was held on a prison ship in British waters. These were known as hulks, and were reputedly hellish places, but Soloman managed to make his way back to shore and was back in London by 1818. There is no recorded explanation for his release, or for the sentence of transportation not being carried out in full. 

In 1827 he was caught with six watches, 17 shawls, 3½ yards of woolen cloth and 12 pieces of valentia (an expensive faux leather) in his possession. This time he was sentenced to incarceration in Newgate Prison, where his ability to evade justice came to the fore once again. After the trial he was taken to a prison wagon to take him to jail, but unbeknownst to the authorities it was driven by his father-in-law. The carriage took a detour to Petticoat Lane, where the guards were overpowered and Solomon released. They tried to pursue him, but he disappeared through the network of alleys and back courts which made up the poor slums of London.

He left the country, knowing he would soon be captured if he stayed. He sailed for Denmark, and from there, on to New York. But the authorities weren't finished. They arrested his wife, Anne, and she was found guilting of possessing stolen goods. Sentenced to transportation to Tasmania, Solomon's children voluntarily agreed to accompany their mother. And when Soloman found out, he travelled there too, but under the false identity of  'Slowman'. 

The fake identity was useless though, especially in the face of the number of criminal associates who had already been transported there. And they weren't the only people who recognised him. The lieutenant-Governor, Sir George Arthur, did too. There was a complication though. Soloman hadn't committed any crime on Australian soil. Sir George had to send to London for an arrest warrant, but by the time it arrived, habeus corpus combined with poor wording on the warrant to invalidate it.           
A frustrated Lieutenant-Governor had Solomon arrested and sent back to London, despite the fact that Solomon had paid £1,000 bond to get his wife released and had opened a tobacconist shop. In 1830 Solomon stood trial in the Old Bailey, and due to his exploits it was widely covered by the press at the time. He was found guilty of two of the three charges against him, and sentenced to transportation. In 1831 he arrived back in Tasmania.

After only four years in jail he was released on the basis that he lived at least 20 miles away. It was an effort to get people to clear and tame the land for the British Empire n the cheap, but it split up the Solomon family once more. The marriage failed and Ann even spent time in prison after a violent altercation between the pair. After that he lost touch with his children.

Solomon was pardoned in 1840, and a certificate of freedom in 1844, but died in 1850

The Artful Dodger may be based on a child who escaped the poor house named Robert Blincoe, or be an amalgam of characters. There are, however, other theories. Dickens often gave his famous readings in the City of Liverpool. In fact, a Christmas Carol had its world premier in Liverpool and when he did so, he often did the 19th century version of a ridealong with the city police. Liverpool was so full of Irish immigrants it was called the unofficial capital of Ireland, and they were like poor folks all over the world; crushed into slums, in appalling conditions, living a life of grinding hardship.

While there, Dickens was exposed to the poverty and the criminal rookeries, which were easily on a par with the worst London had to offer. It has also been posited by a Liverpool police officer that the dodger could have been Seamus Core of County Mayo, one of the local police's regulars.

It's notable that the dodger is described like an adult, even though he was a child. He has had the child knocked out of him by life, and even when he betrays Oliver he still retains sympathetic elements. It's clear this jaded world-view was forced on the child, and is somehow not innate. Some theorise that this was Dickens trying to show how damaging bonded labour was to the poor, and that it robbed children of choice and hope. Dickens wasn't released from his own bonded labour until he was 21, and when they tried to escape from cruel masters they were exposed to criminality and predation. Dodger embodies a part of Dicken's own past, as well as people he met.   

Dickens was not the only one though. Wilkie Collins', The Law and the Lady, features  a woman who is determine to clear her husband from the 'Scotch Verdict'. You may, or may not be aware that Scotland is the only country in the world with three verdicts, as opposed to the guilty/not guilty everyone else has. Scotland also has a not-proven verdict too. 
Madeleine Smith

To explain the not-proven, it's worth stating that Scotland requires higher degrees of corroboration of evidence than many places. It must not only follow through to prove guilt, it must also have a separate line of corroboration too. An example; it doesn't matter if someone confesses. You still have to provide a full chain of evidence which shows they did it too - motive, means, opportunity, and forensics, witnesses, and everything apart from the statement. The country has fewer miscarriages of justice because of this. In criminal law, the case has to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. In civil law you simply have to prove that someone is guilty on the balance of probability (based on how a reasonable person would think). The not-proven generally meets the civil definition of guilt, but not the criminal. The result means the person can walk away, but they are always tainted by a suspicion of guilt. 

The Law and the Lady was produced in the light of the sensational murder case of Madeleine Smith, who was a Scottish society lady accused of murdering her lover. It remains controversial even to this day, as vital evidence was not put before the jury by the order of the judge, leading to complaints that the upper classes protected one of their own. She was not vindicated though. The verdict of not-proven meant she could walk free, but was dogged with suspicion  for life.     

A probably lesser-known inspiration was that a murderess called Elizabeth Martha Brown was Thomas Hardy's inspiration for the tragic Tess of the D'Urbervilles. She was hanged on 9 August 1856, for murdering her husband with an axe during a violent altercation in which she alleged he took a whip to her. The sixteen year old Hardy was watching the public execution. 
Thomas Hardy

70 years later he wrote that he was ashamed to have been there. Brown was dressed in a black silk dress. Hardy wrote, "I saw—they had put a cloth over the face—how, as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary." "I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain," he wrote elsewhere, "and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back."

This list is not definitive by any means, but as I've been influenced by real crime too, I'd be interested in hearing yours.


 “She hasn’t got the combination to the safe,” said the manager. “You can scare her as much as you want. We all know you’re not gonna use that gun on us.” 

Rebecca’s breath halted as she felt a careless arm drape around her shoulder. 

 “I don’t need a gun to hurt someone. Give us the combination.” The manager remained mute and turned his face away. “Your call, sir.” 

He pulled Rebecca around to face him as she gasped in alarm. “Just remember who you’ve got to thank for this, ma’am.” He pointed over at the manager, who refused to meet her eyes. “That man right there.”

“Anything that happens to her is down to you. Not me,” said the manager. 

 Rebecca felt herself dragged from the room by one arm. She was pulled into the office next door and pushed against the wall. The man walked over and pulled down the blind before returning to her. 

Her breath came in ragged pants of fear. “Please, no. Don’t.” 

 He leaned on the wall, a hand on either side of her head, and pressed his face close. “You were gonna hold this place up. Are you some kind of idiot?” 

She blinked in confusion. “Huh?” 

The man pulled down his mask, revealing the face of the fair man who had walked into her office looking for Fernsby. “Don’t lie to me, honey. You had the same idea as we did— look at Meagher’s bank account to see where he gets his money. We’ve watched you march up and down outside this place all day, like you were on sentry duty, while you built up your courage. You even got in the way of us doin’ it. What the hell is goin’ on in your head? How dumb can a woman get?” 

“You? Here?” She couldn’t quite decide whether to stop being scared or not. 

“Yeah. Me.” He indicated with his head. “Now, Nat’s in there, and he needs the combination of the safe. It’s too new and sophisticated for him to crack the combination. You and me need to put on a bit of a show to make sure the manager gives it up.” 

“You’re not robbing the bank?” Jake huffed in irritation. “Try to keep up, Becky. I need you to scream for help so the manager gives Nat the combination to the vault. We want Meagher’s records too.” 
She shook her head. “Me? I can’t scream.” 

“What do you mean you can’t scream? All women can scream.” 

“I can’t. I’m just not made that way.”
He frowned. “Look, Becky. If you won’t scream, I’m gonna have to make you. Let’s do this the easy way, huh?” 

“Please, help! Noooo.” Jake frowned. “You call that screamin’?
That’s useless.” “I told you. I can’t.” Jake flicked up an eyebrow. “Last chance, Becky.” 


“Nope.” A gloved hand reached up to her hat as his eyes glittered with mischief. “Don’t say you weren’t warned, sweetheart.”




Monday, April 5, 2021

The Legend of Laura Secord by Elizabeth Clements

 Queenstown, Upper Niagara Peninsula, June 21st, 1813

    Laura Secord winced, hearing another tankard slammed onto the oak table in the next room, followed by a roar of male laughter. She had to get in there and clear the table before the soldiers started breaking her prized china. Head down, avoiding eye contact, she meekly entered her dining room, careful to keep her face impassive despite the anger and despair raging in her heart. She resented having to billet these soldiers who had taken over her home since the battle of Queenston Heights last October. She had been lucky to find her husband amongst the dead and dying on the battlefield and bring him home to recuperate from his injuries, but it had come at a price. Their freedom. Their once safe home was now more like a prison.

    Bile burned in her throat upon seeing the carnage of wasted, half-eaten food on the plates. Didn’t they know…or care that people were starving during this siege? Carefully stacking the plates, she carried them to the kitchen and set them on the counter, then returned for the food platters. Firm fingers clamped her hand. “Leave the bread and cheese. And get more wine.”

“I have no more.”

“Then get more ale,” the officer snapped.

“I cannot. The shop is closed for the night.”

With an oath, he released her hand, allowing her to hurry back to the kitchen.

By the time Laura finished washing the dishes, the other room had slowly quieted as the men stumbled to the bedrooms they had appropriated like the rest of the house. She extinguished the lamp and was about to do the same in the dining room when she heard a muted conversation. Intrigued, eager to overhear even a morsel that could help the Loyalist cause and get rid of the hated enemy, she crept closer to the doorway, yet careful to stay hidden in the shadows. A shiver ran down her spine. A plot was afoot and boded death for the Loyalists living along the Niagara Peninsula. She had to get to the outpost to warn James FitzGibbon of the planned attack by 500 American forces . There was no time to lose. Not even time to wait to extinguish the lamps.

She worried about her husband, still recovering from his battle wounds, but perhaps it was best he didn’t know her plans. She shuddered at what might happen to him when the soldiers found her missing, but perhaps he could come up with an explanation for her absence. Her duty now was to her country and the safety of her fellow citizens.

Careful not to make a sound, she grabbed her cloak from the hook at the back door. Keeping to the shadows, she crept across the yard and slipped into the woods. Her heart thumped so hard that at times she had to stop and hold her breath to listen for any sound. With only the light of the stars, she walked all night, alert for any soldier wandering about, fearful of every movement. Her keen sense of direction, plus knowing the layout of the land, guided her steps to Beaver Dams, approximately 30 km from Queenstown.

Approximately 17 hours later, Laura was stopped by the sentries at the outpost. Praying they’d believe her, she took a deep breath and said, “Please take me to Lieutenant FitzGibbon. I have information of the utmost urgency to give to him.”

And thus, the story of her trek, her bravery, and her patriotism became legendary…and Laura Secord became mythologized in Canadian history.

For some readers, the name Laura Secord may sound familiar from a history class, or a play or even a poem. Or, maybe it’s because you may have savored a box of delicious Laura Secord chocolates? You’d be right on both counts. Laura did make that fateful trek the night of 21-22 June 1813. And isn’t it interesting that a century later, Frank P. O’Connor began a small candy business in Toronto and chose the name, Laura Secord, for his hand-made chocolates. He believed Laura Secord "was an icon of courage, devotion and loyalty."

It’s interesting to learn that Laura’s experience served another purpose, thus making her the stuff of legends. Historian Cecilia Morgan argues that the Secord story became famous in the 1880s when upper-class women sought to strengthen the emotional ties between Canadian women and the British Empire. She writes that they needed a female heroine to validate their claims for women’s suffrage.”  

Laura Secord, née Ingersoll, was born 13 September 1775 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts where her father had a hat business. She stood 5 feet 4 inches tall, had a slight frame, and a delicate appearance with brown eyes and a fair complexion. She was skilled at needlework, dressmaking and cooking.

Photo courtesy of

While in Massachusetts, her father, Thomas Ingersoll, rose in the military ranks during the 1775 American Revolution, but by 1795, had become disillusioned with the treatment of Loyalist supporters. Thus, he jumped at an opportunity to move to Canada where land grants were available to develop new settlements. He moved his family to the Niagara Peninsula where he ran a tavern in Queenston while land was being cleared and roads built for the proposed settlement. His log cabin was completed in 1796 and he moved his family there. But his joy was short-lived.

“After Governor Simcoe returned to England in 1796, opposition grew in Upper Canada to the "Late Loyalists", such as Thomas, who had come to Canada for the land grants. The grants were greatly reduced, and Thomas's contract was cancelled for not having all of its conditions fulfilled. Feeling cheated, in 1805 he moved the family to Credit River, close to York (present-day Toronto), where he successfully ran an inn until his 1812 death following a stroke”.

Laura Ingersoll remained in Queenston after her parents and siblings moved away. Research indicates she married James Secord, a wealthy merchant, in June (?) 1797. His family were Protestant Hugenots who had fled persecution in France a century earlier. They had changed their name D’Secor or Sicar to the Anglican version, Secord, to avoid further persecution in America. They founded New Rochelle, New York in 1688. At the time of the American Revolution, Loyalist members of the family anglicized their surname to Secord. The Secords lived above their shop in Queenston. In 1799 the first of six daughters was born; they only had one son.

The Battle of Queenston Heights

(painting by James B. Dennis, courtesy Library and Archives of Canada/C-014614)

With the outbreak of the War of 1812, James Secord enlisted as a sergeant with the 1st Lincoln Militia on October 13th, 1812. James was severely wounded in the shoulder and leg at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Somehow Laura managed to rescue him, possibly by begging help from (ironically) three American soldiers? When the Secords arrived home, they discovered their home had been fired upon and looted. After the war, with their Queenston store in ruins, the family was impoverished. “Only James's small war pension and the rent from 200 acres of land they had in Grantham Township supported them.”

“On 27 May 1813, the American army launched an attack across the Niagara River, and captured Fort George.  Queenston and the Niagara area fell to the Americans. Men of military age were sent as prisoners to the U.S., though the still-recuperating James Secord was not among them. That June, a number of U.S. soldiers were billeted at the Secords' home.”

Photo by
It seems entirely logical that in this close, daily proximity, Laura overheard a private conversation and felt compelled to report it. With her husband too injured to make the trek, Laura undertook the mission herself to warn FitzGibbon by “taking a circuitous route through inhospitable terrain to avoid American sentries and being helped by a group of First Nations men she encountered along the way. She reached FitzGibbon at his headquarters in the house of John De Cou, probably on 22 or 23 June. On 24 June 1813, American troops under Colonel Charles Boerstler were ambushed near Beaver Dams by 300 Caughnawaga who were joined by 100 Mohawk warriors led by Captain William Kerr. FitzGibbon arrived with 50 soldiers from the 49th Regiment and persuaded Boerstler to surrender. The official reports of the victory made no mention of Laura Secord.”To be factual here, the exact details of this incident are uncertain, nor did Laura ever reveal how she learned of the planned attack, but certainly there was opportunity with soldiers billeted in her home. However, it has been confirmed she did take a message to FitzGibbon. It’s just not clear who arrived first with the information: Secord or Mohawk scouts? Photo courtesy of

Over the years, as Laura aged, her own accounts to her children and grandchildren of her “walk in the wilderness” varied, adding further blurring of the facts. A theory is also presented that Laura Secord’s name was deliberately not revealed in order to protect her family and/or the indiscreet American soldier who was overheard. After all, their Queenston home had been fired upon and looted during the battle at Queenston Heights a few months earlier. (The Secord home was restored and reoccupied by the Secords). To the present day, the home still stands in Queenston, fully restored, and is now a museum and gift shop operated by the Niagara Parks Commission. Another attraction in Queenston is The Laura Secord Legacy Trail, which covers the 32- kilometer route she undertook to deliver her message to Lt. FitzGibbon.

Laura Secord’s application to the government for a pension in 1820 was denied. However, her second petition was granted in 1827 when FitzGibbon testified that on June 22nd, 1813 Mrs. Secord had given him information of an American attack that caused him to “position Aboriginal warriors to intercept the Americans.”

While visiting in Canada in 1860, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), learned of Laura Secord’s part in the War of 1812. Veterans of the war had prepared a memorial that described their service. Laura’s signature was included in the address to the Prince.  He later sent her a reward of £100, (equivalent to $9,462 in 2019—a considerable sum in those times.

Laura Secord has been historically made part of “Canadian mythology and employed to foster Canadian nationalism. Secord has been memorialized in books, plays, music and even a postage stamp. Historian Pierre Berton asserted that her story would be "used to underline the growing myth that the War of 1812 was won by true-blue Canadians.”

James Secord died of a stroke on 22 February 1841. With his death, his war pension ended, leaving Laura destitute. She was unable to profitably maintain her land and was forced to sell much of it to exist.

Laura Secord died in Chippawa, Ontario (Niagara Falls) on 17 October 1868 at the age of 93.  She was interred next to her husband in the Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls. Her grave is marked by a monument with a bust on top. The inscription on her grave marker reads:

“To perpetuate the name and fame of Laura Secord, who walked alone nearly 20 miles by a circuitous difficult and perilous route, through woods and swamps and over miry roads to warn a British outpost at DeCew's Falls of an intended attack and thereby enabled Lt. FitzGibbon on 24 June 1813, with fewer than 50 men of the H.M. 49th Regt., about 15 militiamen and a small force of Six Nations and other Indians under Capt. William Johnson Kerr and Dominique Ducharme  to surprise and attack the enemy at Beechwoods (or Beaver Dams) and after a short engagement, to capture Col. Bosler of the U.S. Army and his entire force of 542 men with two field pieces.”

    It's been so much fun reading about this brave woman that it's been hard to curtail this. I encourage you to do a Google search and learn more than I was able to share here.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Poetry - National Poetry Month

 Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

This post is composed of Easter Poems by poets from the 1800s. Since today is Easter and April is National Poetry Month, it seemed appropriate to combine the two. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I love poetry. The first is by Oscar Wilde.

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:

The people knelt upon the ground with awe:

And borne upon the necks of men I saw,

Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,

And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,

Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:

In splendor and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years

To One who wandered by a lonely sea,

And sought in vain for any place of rest:

"Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,

I, only I, must wander wearily,

And bruise My feet, and drink wine salt with tears."

Oscar Wilde
Photo property of the author

This second poem is by one of my favorite eighteenth-century female poets after Helen, Christine Rosetti.
There is nothing more that they can do
For all their rage and boast;
Caiaphas with his blaspheming crew,
Herod with his host,

Pontius Pilate in his Judgement-hall
Judging their Judge and his,
Or he who led them all and passed them all,
Arch-Judas with his kiss.

The sepulchre made sure with ponderous Stone,
Seal that same stone, O Priest;
It may be thou shalt block the holy One
From rising in the east:

Set a watch about the sepulchre
To watch on pain of death;
They must hold fast the stone if One should stir
And shake it from beneath.

God Almighty, He can break a seal
And roll away a Stone,
Can grind the proud in dust who would not kneel,
And crush the mighty one.

There is nothing more that they can do
For all their passionate care,
Those who sit in dust, the blessed few,
And weep and rend their hair:

Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene,
The Virgin unreproved,
Joseph, with Nicodemus, foremost men,
And John the Well-beloved,

Bring your finest linen and your spice,
Swathe the sacred Dead,
Bind with careful hands and piteous eyes
The napkin round His head;

Lay Him in the garden-rock to rest;
Rest you the Sabbath length:
The Sun that went down crimson in the west
Shall rise renewed in strength.

God Almighty shall give joy for pain,
Shall comfort him who grieves:
Lo! He with joy shall doubtless come again,
And with Him bring His sheaves.

Christina Georgina Rossetti 

I wish everyone has a wonderful Spring and Easter. Until next month, keep reading and writing. 

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet