laura smith haviland, michigan abolitionist

Haviland Grave
The Underground Railroad (UGRR) in Michigan has become a topic of increasing public interest during this sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War. While on sabbatical in 2010-11, I had the opportunity to engage in local research on the topic. I became especially interested in the biography of the daring abolitionist, Laura Smith Haviland, whom historian Catherine Clinton has compared to Harriet Tubman. Like Tubman, Haviland felt authorized by her faith in God to attempt radical action on behalf of those who were held as slaves. Haviland is also the only white woman known to have developed and followed her own plan to cross the Ohio River in an attempt to free an enslaved person. In the rescue effort that ultimately failed, Haviland masqueraded as a light-skinned African American to gain access to the black woman she had hoped to help. Active in both Canada and the U.S., Haviland became a prominent 19th-century abolitionist, educator, author, human rights advocate, and women’s rights proponent. Laura Haviland’s personal diary from the 1890s, which has yet to be cited by historians, is available to researchers at the Lenawee County Historical Museum in Adrian, MI. In that diary Haviland refers to her friendship with Sojourner Truth and expresses her support for women’s suffrage.

To read some of what I discovered about Laura Smith Haviland, see my recent article in the Michigan Historical Review, as well as my co-edited recipe booklet on abolitionist women’s recipes in which Haviland’s passion for graham flour is highlighted.

I discussed the heroic role Laura Smith Haviland played in the anti-slavery movement in Michigan and the Midwest on a recent segment on Michigan Public Radio. Listen to the interview.

To read a detailed overview of the UGRR in Michigan, see Carol Mull’s new book.

I took these photographs during a visit to Haviland’s home town (now Adrian) near the Raisin River. They picture Haviland’s headstone, a historical marker near her Quaker Meeting House, a document related to her husband’s will, and a contemporary Haviland impersonator at Adrian’s Art-A-Licious Festival in 2010.


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4 thoughts on “laura smith haviland, michigan abolitionist

  1. Laura Haviland is my great grandma x6 (I’m pretty sure that # is correct) and I’m always looking for more information on her to further my knowledge of her and to share with my daughters, one of which is named after her, Laura Jean Haviland Tutt.

    Thank you for sharing this information.

    • Another Havilland descendant here. One of the ironies here is that some of the early Havilland wills indicate slave ownership. The Havilland clan included many ties to the Rhode Island Quaker traders who undoubted were part of the slave trade which included defeated Scotch and Irish, American native peoples as well as Africans. It is inspiring to read about this cousin and her work.

      • Thank you for openly sharing this information. It seems that the deeper we dig into the past, the more complexity we find.

    • Thank you for writing, Jody! More research is being done on Laura Haviland as attention is turning to Michigan’s role in antislavery activism. Have you seen the new book: The Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland, edited by Frost and Tucker?

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