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Sarah Defield

In the spring of 1813 the British forces on the Niagara peninsula met with repeated re-verses. Fort George fell into the hands of the Americans. The American fleet patrolled the neighboring waters, and a strong force, numbering 3,500 men, threatened to over-run the entire peninsula. Little York, too, had been evacuated, and the British were beginning to lose heart, when fortune seemed to take a turn with Colonel Harvey's daring night at-tack on the American camp at Stony Creek. One of the most energetic officers in planning and carrying this attack to a successful issue was Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. He was a gallant young soldier, who had distinguished himself on former occasions, both upon the Continent of Europe and in Canada, and had been looked upon with great favor by General Brock.

After this famous engagement he was, upon his own suggestion, entrusted with the command of fifty picked men of the invincible "Green Tigers," an honorary title conferred by the enemy upon the 49th Regiment.

The duty assigned to this small band was to precede the regular force, harass the enemy, and cause them all the annoyance they could. For this task FitzGibbon and his followers were well qualified. They interrupted the communications of the invading forces, ambushed wandering bands, and caused such mischief in general that the head of FitzGibbon would have been considered a most valuable prize.

A Dr. Chapin, of Buffalo, had in a measure imitated the example of FitzGibbon by crossing with about fifty volunteer cavalry in frequent raids upon the inhabitants of Fort Erie and Chippewa and the vicinity. On the 21st of June, FitzGibbon, learning that these troublesome fellows were in the neighborhood of the Falls, set out in pursuit and came upon them at Lundy's Lane. At the door of a tavern he saw the horse of an American, and although warned by a Mrs. Kirby to make his escape before he was discovered, he dismounted and advanced towards the door with the intention of capturing the dragoon, never doubting his own ability to cope with him. When within a few yards of the door, to his surprise an infantry soldier confronted him and presented his musket at his breast.

FitzGibbon seized the muzzle of the threatening weapon and was in the act of wresting it from his opponent, when the dragoon whose saddled horse he had seen at the door put in an appearance and pointed his loaded rifle at the startled lieutenant. Still clinging to the musket of the infantryman and dragging its owner with him, he sprang toward the dragoon, grasped the rifle, and engaged in a deadly struggle with the two men.

FitzGibbon fought with a valor born of desperation, knowing full well that his life was at stake. He called upon two onlookers for assistance, but they were not disposed to interfere. Seeing by their combined efforts they could not wrench their guns from his iron grasp, the riflemen seized FitzGibbon's sword, which hung at his side, and would have dealt a deadly blow to the plucky lieutenant but for timely interference from an unexpected source.

Mrs. Sarah Defield, the subject of our sketch, who happened on the scene at the moment, realizing the danger of the Canadian officer, seized the wrist of the rifleman and wrested the- sword from his grasp. Some bystanders, evidently put to shame by the bravery of Mrs. Defield, now sprang to FitzGibbon's assistance, and in a few minutes the lieutenant was returning proudly to his own camp, taking with him the horse as a trophy and his two assailants as prisoners of war.

We will appreciate the daring and bravery of this young officer when we bear in mind that he was alone in a section of the country over-run by the enemy, and that a considerable number of them were not more than two hundred yards distant at the time, engaged in searching a house around a bend in the road. FitzGibbon was the one man above all others whose capture would have delighted them.

This little incident no doubt saved the life of one of Canada's bravest soldiers and inspired his followers with courage to emulate his worthy example. The Government recognized the importance of the service rendered by Mrs. Defield by granting to her husband at the close of the war a tract of four hundred acres of land.

In a manner she little dreamed of at the time was this good service returned by FitzGibbon in after years. In 1837 her son, who does not appear to have inherited the loyalty of his mother, was taken prisoner as a rebel and would have suffered the death of a traitor had not FitzGibbon, remembering with gratitude the former service of the heart-broken mother, interceded on his behalf and obtained for him a full pardon.


Heroines of Canadian History, By W. S. Herrington, 1910

 

Canadian Heroines


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