The Battle of Beaver Dams was a battle on June 24, 1813, during the War of 1812. An American attempt to surprise a British outpost at Beaver Dams near Fort George failed, and the Americans were ambushed by Native warriors, eventually surrendering to the commander of a small British detachment.
The Americans fell back to Fort George. The British followed up and occupied two outposts, at Twelve Mile Creek and at Beaver Dams in the present-day city of Thorold, Ontario. From these outposts, militia and Natives harassed the Americans.
The American commander at Fort George, Brigadier General John Parker Boyd, decided to clear the threat posed by enemy raiders and to restore his men's morale by making a surprise attack on the outpost at Beaver Dams.
A Canadian tradition is that several officers billeted themselves in the house of Militia Captain James Secord, who had been severely wounded the previous year at the Battle of Queenston Heights. His wife, Laura Secord, overheard the American officers discussing their plans. Very early on June 23, she set out to warn the British outpost. The Americans had placed sentries around the village, but one of these believed Laura Secord's story that she was going to milk a cow and let her pass. Secord made her way through the woods until she stumbled into an Indian encampment. The Indians took her to Lieutenant James Fitzgibbon, commanding the outpost. Fitzgibbon acted immediately on her information, placing 450 Indians in ambush on the route the Americans were to use.
It is equally possible that the large Indian detachment were warned by their own scouts as to the American presence and intentions and set their own ambush, notifying Fitzgibbon (and the British detachment at Twelve Mile Creek under Major de Haren).
The Americans left Queenston late on the morning of June 24. As they approached Beaver Dams, they became aware of Indians closing in on their flanks and rear, but Boerstler did not change his plans. When the Indians opened fire, Boerstler was wounded and placed in a wagon. By American accounts, they put the Mohawks to flight and fought their way out of the woods into open fields where they could use their artillery and the Indians were not at such an advantage. At this point, Fitzgibbon intervened. Addressing Boerstler under a flag of truce, he claimed that the Americans were outnumbered and surrounded and that if they did not surrender he would be unable to restrain the Indians from slaughtering the entire American force. The wounded Boerstler capitulated, with 484 men.
The Indians admitted to 5 chiefs and warriors killed, and 20 wounded) although Ducharme stated that 15 were killed and 25 wounded. The Americans suffered 100 casualties. It was later claimed that some of the wounded were killed and scalped by vengeful Mohawks.
Most of the American regular soldiers and Boyd himself were transferred to Sackett's Harbor in September, leaving the fort in the hands of New York Militia.
Shortly after the battle, Fitzgibbon made a report to Captain Kerr which read in part:
With respect to the affair with Captain (sic) 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.
Captain Ducharme claimed that he himself did not demand the Americans' surrender because as a French Canadian by birth who had spent most of his life among the Indians, he spoke no English.
I do hereby Certify that on the 22d. day of June 1813, Mrs. Secord, Wife of James Secord, Esqr. then of St. David's, came to me at the Beaver Dam after Sun Set, having come from her house at St. David's by a circuitous route a distance of twelve miles, and informed me that her Husband had learnt from an American officer the preceding night that a Detachment from the American Army then in Fort George would be sent out on the following morning (the 23d.) for the purpose of Surprising and capturing a Detachment of the 49th Regt. then at Beaver Dam under my Command. In Consequence of this information, I placed the Indians under Norton together with my own Detachment in a Situation to intercept the American Detachment and we occupied it during the night of the 22d. - but the Enemy did not come until the morning of the 24th when his Detachment was captured. Colonel Boerstler, their commander, in a conversation with me confirmed fully the information communicated to me by Mrs. Secord and accounted for the attempt not having been made on the 23rd. as at first intended.
By this account, Laura Secord learned of the American plans and made her exit from St. David's (near Queenston) on June 22, before the American main body had set out from Fort George.