Laura Secord, Madelaine de Vercheres and Sarah Porter Preston

Laura Secord, heroine, yes. Madelaine de Vercheres is very much known for her heroism in Quebec. Sarah Porter Preston?

A little reminder of the first two.

Laura Secord is fondly remembered for her 20 mile trek through the bush to warn the British of an impending American attack in 1813. The ensuing engagement was the Battle of Beaver Dams. For most of Laura’s remaining life, she lived simply as she wished, her heroic deed, not figuring in her life. She was much of the wanting, living on the edge of poverty. Her fame really began in the 1880s when those still loyal to Britain in Canada wanted to raise her status. (sketch of Laura in later years)

Madelaine, a fourteen year old in 1692, lived with her family on the south shore of the St. Laurence River, just east of Montreal. This period of time was punctuated by raids of Iroquois, who regarded the Habitants as equal enemies to the Algonquin’s. She eluded the rushing Iroquois warriors to sound the alarm at the fort by firing a musket, followed by the cannon. Some settlers were captured. Those left within the small fort endured a short siege. The other inhabitants of the areas, arrived within a day.  The surprise attack had been thwarted, by Madelaine’s bravery.

In the years following the attack, Madelaine married a French army lieutenant, and together raised their family on their Seigneury.

My case, is to raise Sarah Jane Preston (nee Porter) to that equal to of these other two brave women. Both Madelaine and Laura were noted for one brave act. I argue that Sarah had at least three.

The story begins in 1801 in Donegal, Ireland. Sarah was being courted by the lower class Isaac Preston, a cavalryman and stone mason. That was not permitted by her overbearing father, Captain Matthew Porter. Sarah, chose to elope, leaving a life of privilege, likely with servants in a large home, to living in common within the Belfast Barracks. The first brave act, based on love.

The second event occurred over a four year span from 1813 to 1815 and again 1816 – 1818. This is the time period of the War of 1812 and aftermath. Isaac, her husband was imprisoned in 1813 as an Enemy Alien, who refused to swear the Oath of Allegiance to the USA.  How did a young mother with three young boys, survive with no husband, no income. A fourth son was born while Isaac was in prison. After his release in 1815, the locals in the Amsterdam New York area, still regarded him as an Enemy Alien, Work was hard to come by. In 1816 Isaac went to Kingston Ontario to seek employment. Sarah and her now five sons remained in Amsterdam. In the spring of 1818, Isaac returned to bring his family to Upper Canada. 1816 was also the “Year of No Summer”, due to the effects of volcano eruption in Indonesia. Crops froze – people starved. She and the boys survived, likely by their own efforts to feed themselves, the oldest son working? And by the generosity of some friends? And by the resilience of that woman.

The third event, recorded in Kingston history, involved the Bill Johnston pirate gang raid on the Preston home on June 8, 1838. About 30 raiders broke into the Preston home, ransacking the house and robbing the family of all valuables. Gun fire was exchanged, Isaac, his sons James and David; seriously wounded. Sarah with a pirate’s pistol to her face, eluded the guard, raised the neighbours and scared the raiders off the island. Her actions were described as “true heroic British courage” by the Kingston Chronicle. She stood up to death, outsmarted the raiders and saved her family.

Sarah was known as being fearless, very smart, resilient and passionate about all her causes.

We have no sketches or pictures of Sarah. It is said she was slight of build, dark almost black hair, fair skin and likely blue green eyes. I think she may have looked somewhat like the famous Donegal singer, Enya.

So; Laura, Madelaine and Sarah. You are all heroines.

 

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