________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 24 . . . . February 24, 2012


Acts of Courage: Laura Secord and the War of 1812.

Connie Brummel Crook.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2012.
261 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-9869495-79.

Subject Headings:
Secord, Laura, 1775-1868-Juvenile fiction. Canada-History-War of 1812-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Ruth Latta.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Review Copy.



Down in the kitchen, she hastily ate the bread and cheese she had set out the evening before, not knowing when she would eat again. Taking a lunch would certainly arouse suspicion if she were stopped by a sentry.

As she slipped out into the darkness, she prepared herself to answer any guard or scout who might question her. She hurried along toward the cow path that led to St. David's, a route that was used less frequently than the main road. From St. David's she would go through the Black swamp. She knew she would not need to fear the patrols there, for they would not risk encountering the dangerous rattlesnakes and the quicksand in the swamp. She trembled at the thought. It would take long hours to get through the swamp and to walk the trail to Twelve Mile Creek. From there she would still have to find her way to the lieutenant.

"Halt," a man shouted, as she jumped down from the rail fence onto the cow trail. "Where do you think you're going."

Laura (Ingersoll) Secord was 38 when she took her famous twenty hour walk through the Niagara peninsula woods on June 22, 1813, to warn the British commander, Lieutenant FitzGibbon, of an imminent American attack. Wisely, author Connie Brummel Crook begins her novel when Laura was 12, the age of her intended audience.

      Crook foreshadows Laura's role in helping to save the Niagara Peninsula from American occupation during the War of 1812 by showing her courage at the time of Shay's Rebellion (1786-7) in her native Massachusetts. This uprising of small farmers (many of them veterans of Washington's Continental Army) was caused by foreclosures and farm seizures in the post independence financial and economic crisis. Laura's father, Thomas Ingersoll, was one of the militia officers who suppressed the rebellion on the orders of the Massachusetts governor. Surreptitiously, Laura aids "Red", a farm youth of Irish background who flees after the show down.

      "A new country always has growing pains," says Laura's father, some years later. "[But] I'm too old to go through these pains. I want more security for my family." He obtains a land grant in Upper Canada and moves his family to the Queenston area. Nineteen-year-old Laura is presented as a capable young woman, keeping the books at the Queenston inn that her father buys to shelter his family their first winter. When Laura marries James Secord, an attractive but unsuccessful young storekeeper, his business prospers.

      Crook is a prize winning historical novelist whose published books for youth include a Nellie McClung trilogy. She provides a historical note about Laura's life and legend after her famous 1813 journey, along with explanatory notes and sources for quotes and references. Among these is a 1933 testimony by one of Laura's granddaughters to the Ontario Public Records and Archives Department.

      Some conversations in the novel seem to exist mainly to provide historical information, but, for the most part, Crook's research blends smoothly into the narrative. Her subtle correction of several old Laura Secord myths shows readers how these legends might have originated. In Crook's novel, Laura does not take a cow with her to disguise the purpose of her June, 1813, mission; rather, she travels part of the way down a cow path to escape American soldiers' notice. As for the legend that she walked the distance barefoot, Crook has her lose her shoes while crossing a creek shortly before arriving at a Mohawk camp the last lap of her journey.

      Some accounts call Laura a "United Empire Loyalist", but Crook corrects this historical inaccuracy. In Acts of Courage, when Laura's stepmother is asked if they are "Loyalists, driven off their land", she says no, they are "settlers." Subsequently, James Secord tells Laura that he is a United Empire Loyalist as his father fought for the British with Butler's Rangers during the revolutionary war.

      Crook makes it clear, through Laura, that "no one had really wanted [the War of 1812] in the first place, since many, like her, had close friends and relatives across the line. It was a political war which had been forced on the Americans and their government by the war hawks." Prior to the U.S. attacks, James speaks of "getting pushed into a war with the Americans over a battle that is not ours."

      Laura replies, "It certainly isn't our fault that the British are taking American sailors right off their sailing vessels and drafting them into the British Navy to fight their war with Napoleon...Over half of us are Americans who came here long after the war. We have no fight with them. Their quarrel is with Britain." When the American troops invade, however, the Secords know which side they are on.

      Readers of all ages like to learn new things while they are being entertained and will appreciate Crook's care and skill in painting a detailed, fascinating picture of Laura's times. Luminaries, such as Chief Joseph Brant and Sir Isaac Brock, appear in the novel. Readers also learn about Governor Simcoe's 1795 laws to end slavery in Upper Canada. On entering the British colony, the Ingersolls free their two slaves whom they brought with them from Massachusetts.

      To round out the story and add interest for young readers, Crook has Laura and "Red" meet twice as adults, once, early in 1813 when the Americans controlled much of the Niagara Peninsula, and again, after Laura's warning has been delivered successfully to Lieutenant FitzGibbon. Thanks to the intelligence she provides, "Red" plays a highly significant role in the capture of American forces at Beaver Dams. Crook explains in her notes that the relationship between Laura and "Red" is fictional.

      Acts of Courage, an accurate, accessible novel, is timely for the bicentennial anniversary of the War of 1812.


Ruth Latta's new novel, The Old Love and the New Love, (Ottawa, Baico, 2012, $18.95, ISBN 978 1 92645 70 5) will be launched in Ottawa in March.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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