The Battle of Beaver Dams is one that tends to go unmentioned in the in the topics of battles in the War of 1812 , getting overshadowed by larger conflicts that had a heavy hand in the tide of the war. But in Canada, the events that unfolded in what is now Thorold, Ontario, are significant to Canadian history and it’s it people as is Paul Revere’s midnight ride to the United States, as it represents a perfect British victory with support of a loyal citizen and the Indigenous People to defeat the invading Americans in the Niagara theater.
The battle commenced on June 24, 1813 near the British outpost at Beaver Dams. An American regiment marched from Fort George with the intent of a surprise attack on the small British outpost. The regiment quartered themselves in the town of Queenston. The British received intelligence of the Americans position, and began preparations for an ambush. With the majority of the ambush made up of Native Americans, and few regular infantry, the British pulled off a successful ambush and forced a surrender from the Americans with little casualties.
Before the Battle
The Americans captured Fort George from the British on May 25, 1813, becoming the head of many operations in the Niagara theater for the Americans which produced a series of win-lose battles producing no gains for both the Americans and the British. In need of a morale boost and a victory, the commanding officer of Fort George, Brigadier General John Parker Boyd planned a surprise attack on the Beaver Dams outpost.
They assigned Lieutenant Colonel Charles Boerstler of the 14th U.S. Infantry who commanded for this mission the 14th U.S. Infantry and detachments of the 6th, 13th and 23rd, made up of light infantry, dragoons and artillery. Boerstler and his force marched for Beaver Dams under the cover of darkness on the night of June 23 to later arrive and quartered themselves in Queenston.
Prior to Boerstlers march and quartering at Queenston, several American officers were quartered in the town after the Battle of Fort George in the Secord household. There the officers were discussing the secret plan of attack on Beaver Dams, when the wife of the house, Laura Secord, overheard their plans on June 21 and set out for DeCou’s house where the British Lieutenant, James Fitzgibbon, the commanding officer, was quartered outside of the Beaver Dams outpost, 12 miles away by road. Early in the morning of June 22, Laura set out on her urgent mission.
From the diary of Kate Secord, daughter of Laura Secord, detailing the events that took place in the house on the evening of June 21, 1813.
It’s me, Kate Secord writing on June 27th, 1813. Something crazy happened a few days ago on the 24th. We were at home one night when some American military men barged in and demand we make them supper. “Laura why don’t you start cooking and I’ll take their coats.” Dad said to mother, “and Kate go to your room.” I listened to dad’s instructions and went upstairs but I snuck out of my room to listen from the top of the stairs.
After mom cooked her famous meal of beef and potatoes for the Americans, she left the room where the men were eating and listened in on their conversation from the hall. I heard it too; they were planning an attack at Beaver Dams on our forces! Mother went strait to Lieutenant, James Fitzgibbon, and warned him of the attack. This allowed our forces to prepare…Kate Secord, June 27, 1813
On the way she encountered an ally Native American camp, where they led her the rest of the way to DeCou’s house. When Laura told of the plans to Fitzgibbon, the Lieutenant was skeptical and sent Native scouts to confirm the information. When the Natives returned with confirmation of Laura’s warning, Fitzgibbon prepared for an ambush on the Americans.
Fitzgibbon rounded up 300 Caughnawaga and 100 Mohawk warriors commanded by Captain Dominique Ducharme and Captain William Johnson Kerr, in addition to 50 men of the 49th Regiment. They set up an ambush on June 24th in the woods overlooking a trail 1.5 miles away from the outpost. The Natives successfully ambushed Boerstler and his men and engaged in a 3 hour exchange of muskets, attacking the flanks and rear. Broestler commanded his men to fight there way into an open field within the woods in order to use their artillery on the natives, but it quickly proved to be ineffective with the heavy onslaught from the Natives. Broeslter was later wounded by a round ball from a Native musket, and placed in a wagon during the conflict.
Eventually the fire fight ceased when Fitzgibbon and his 50 men out of the 49th Regiment arrived on the seen, completely surrounding the Americans with regulars and Natives, and demand a formal surrender from Broestler or else face the brutality of the Natives. Wounded and concerned for the safety of his men, Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler surrendered and taken prisoner along with his 462 captured soldiers. The British faced little casualties, the only ones to be killed and wounded were their ally Natives, 5-15 killed and 20-25 wounded. While the Americans had 25 killed and 50 wounded.
From the diary entry of Kate Secord on June 27th, 1813, continued.
… they hid in the trees and burst out, shouting war cries and firing muskets. Many of the U.S. officers had been killed or hurt, leaving their men confused without instructions or organization.
The U.S. Lieutenant Colonel planned to return to Fort George, but he was surrounded by the British and the Americans were once again attacked by Native warriors. Anyways, eventually the Americans had no choice but to surrender their troops and three cannons to the British. They had no clue that they outnumbered the British and Native warriors! Hopefully mom will be awarded for her contributions to the victory!Kate Secord, June 27, 1813
Once word of the victory over the Americans failed sneak attack on Beaver Dams, Lieutenant, James Fitzgerald received many praise and most of the credit. But the Lieutenant knew that all of the glory was not his, as he noted this in praise of the Native Americans effort in the battle in a report to Captain William Kerr back in York, England.
With respect to the affair with Captain Boerstler, not a shot was fired on our side by any but the Indians. They beat the American detachment into a state of terror, and the only share I claim is taking advantage of a favorable moment to offer them protection from the tomahawk and scalping knife. The Indian Department did the rest.
Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon, March 30, 1818
Years later after the Battle of Beaver Dams and after the end of the War of 1812, in 1820 Fitzgibbon wrote to the government, vouching for Laura Secords efforts in the outcome of the Battle of Beaver Dams, in order for her to receive credit and a fare reward for her efforts and service to the crown, but Laura Secord would be denied any reward.
I certify that Mrs. Secord, wife of James Secord of Queenston, Esquire, did in the month of June 1813 come to Beaver Dams and communicate to me information of an intended attack to be made by the enemy upon the detachment then under my command, here, which occasionally occupied a large stone house at that place. This information was substantially correct, and a detachment did march for Beaver Dams on the morning of the second day after the information was given, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler, which detachment was captured. Mrs. Secord arrived at my station about sunset of an exceptionally warm day, after having walked twelve miles, which I at the time thought was an expedition which a person of her slender frame and delicate appearance was unequal to make.
- Secord, Kate. “Diaries of the Battleground: journal accounts of the war of 1812.” June 27, 1813.
- Mallory, Enid. “Captain Fitz: Fitzgibbon, Green Tiger of the War of 1812.” Dundurn: 2011, 120-121 p.
- Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, “Letter from Lieutenant Fitzgibbon to the Canadian Gov’t vouching for Laura Secord.” February 26, 1820
- Hickman, Kennedy. “War of 1812: Battle of Beaver Dams.” ThoughtCo, Jun. 14, 2018
- Ridler, Jason. “Battle of Beaver Dams“. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 15 June 2018, Historica Canada.
- McKenzie, Ruth. “The War of 1812 Website: Biography of Laura Secord”. University of Toronto
- Dowell, Erika. “War of 1812: Niagara Frontier 1813”. Indiana University, 2012,