1808 - 1898
Mrs. Laura (Smith) Haviland - Philanthropist / Slavery Abolitionist

Mrs. Laura Smith Haviland (1808-1898)
Wife of Charles Haviland, Jr., son of Charles Haviland & Esther Mosher

Laura, though not a Haviland descendant, is herself the ancestor of many Havilands in the area of Raisin, Lenawee County, Michigan, and by her extraordinary charity two towns have been named Haviland in her honor.

Born 20 Dec 1808 in Kitley, Ontario (then known as Canada West) to Rev. Daniel Smith (a native of New York) and Sene Blancher (a native of Vermont), Laura grew up in the Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. It is by virtue of this that she met Charles Haviland, himself a devout Quaker, and married him when she was 16 (not a particularly unusual age in those days).

Affectionately remembered as "Aunt Laura" among her extended family, she and her community became involved in an anti-slavery movement which made the local Quakers very uncomfortable. The Society of Friends was no advocate of slavery, but they were too nervous about being active or vocal in opposing it. So strong were her convictions that Laura and her husband (and a group of others) resigned from the Society of Friends. An even greater rift took place on the same issue in the Methodist Episcopal church of the time, and the anti-slavery Wesleyan Methodist church formed, which Laura and her husband quickly joined.

In 1837 she and Charles founded the Raisin Institute, one of the first schools in the nation to admit black children.

In 1838 "she upset her neighbors by founding a 'manual labor school' for poor children and as you drive through south-central Michigan you'll see that that became a girls' school in Adrian and a boys' school in Coldwater." [1]

Home of Charles and Laura Haviland
Site of Raisin Institute

Founded by Them
Photo courtesy Anne Halford

Artist's Rendition of the Raisin Institute, 1840

Laura and Charles set up the first station on the "Underground Railroad" in Michigan, boldly in violation of the Fugitive Slave Law, helping escaped slaves flee to Canada where they would be free. It is not known how many slaves found freedom through this junction, but the numbers estimate from 40,000 to as high as 100,000.

Laura Smith Haviland
Holding Instruments of Slavery

"In 1845, Laura faced the darkest period of her life. Within a six weeks' period, erysipelas took her husband, her mother, her sister, her father, and her baby. She herself almost died, and when she recovered she found herself a widow at the age of 36, with seven children to care for, and a debt of $700 to cope with.

"In 1846-47 she cleverly foiled the efforts of men from the South to return a family of escaped slaves to bondage. In their rage, the men placed a price of $3,000 on the head of this tiny woman, dead or alive. She defied the offer, making repeated trips to Cincinnati, Ohio, to help escaped slaves. She even slipped into Kentucky to assist them and to encourage an imprisoned abolitionist. She personally escorted some escapees all the way to Canada, and spent considerable time near Windsor, teaching freedmen." [2]

"Near Sylvania, a small town ten miles from Toledo," wrote Laura in her autobiography, A Woman's Life-Work, "the train halted to sand the track, and our chivalrous friends got off. [A slave owner named] Chester and his son Thomas, the sick deacon, stationed themsleves about three feet from us; and Chester, pointing to James, said in a low, grum voice: 'We'll see you alone some time;' and, turning to my son, 'You, too, young man.' Then directing his volley of wrath to me, he roard out: 'But that lady there—you nigger stealer—you that's got my property and the avails of it—I'll show you, you nigger thief;' and drawing a revolver from his pocket, his son doing the same, they pointed them towards my face, Chester again bawling out, 'You see these tools, do you? We have more of 'em here' (holding up a traveling bag), 'and we known how to use them. We shall stay about here three weeks, and we will have that property you have in your possession yet, you d—d nigger stealer. We understand ourselves. We know what we are about.'

"'Man, I fear neither your weapons nor your threats; they are powerless. You are not at home—you are not in Tennessee. And as for your property, I have none of it about me or on my premises. We also know what we are about; we also understand, not only ourselves, but you.'

"Pale and trembling with rage they still shook their pistols in my face, and Chester, in a choked voice, exclaimed: 'I'll—I'll—I won't say much more to you—you're a woman—but that young man of yours; I'll give five hundred dollars if he'll go to Kentucky with me.'

The Slaveholder Assault

"Just then the conductor appeared and cried out: 'What are you doing here, you villainous scoundrels? We'll have you arrested in five minutes.' At this they fled precipitately to the woods, and the last we saw of these tall and valiant representatives of the land of chivalry were their heels fast receding in the thicket." [5]

Laura Smith Haviland
Holding Instruments of Slavery

"When the Civil War began, Laura secured recommendations from the governor and a congressman, and traveled down the Mississippi to minister to wounded soldiers and former slaves. She succeeded in having the [director] of one military hospital removed because of his cruelty and neglect, and successfully intervened in behalf of 3,000 Union soldiers imprisoned on islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Still later, she went to Kansas to minister to the hordes of refugees there...

"Following the War, she visited Washington, interceding with President Andrew Jackson for a convict, and carried on rescue work in Virginia. By 1879, multitudes of Negroes were fleeing from the South, where the Klan was making life intolerable, and pouring into Kansas. Laura hastened there to serve again. She helped found an educational institution for refugees, and in 1883, went to Washington to win financial support from Congress. She returned to minister in a mission in Hell's Half Acre in Kansas City." [2]

A statue of Laura stands in front of the city hall in Adrian, Michigan. It was dedicated on 24 Jun 1909. (Originally it had a drinking fountain.) Engraved on the marble front is her name. On a bronze plate below that is the inscription:

Erected By The
Adrian Woman's Christian
Temperance Union
And The
Haviland Memorial

I was thirsty and ye gave me drink.
Matthew IIV 35

On the left side of the marble is inscribed her birth year 1808. A bronze plate below that reads:

A Tribute to a Life Consecrated
To the Betterment of Humanity.
In 1839 She Established The
Raisin Institute of Learning.
Fearlessly She Combated
Slavery With a Firm Reliance On
Divine Protection, Devoting Time And
Means to Assist Those Escaping
From Bondage.

On the right side of the marble is inscribed her death year 1898. A bronze plate below that reads:

During the Civil War She Nursed
The Sick and Wounded in Southern
Hospitals And on Battlefields.
Her Memory Is Revered By Our
Country's Defenders.
She Founded the State Public
School for Dependent Children
At Coldwater. The Industrial
Home for Girls at Adrian Owes
Much to Her Efforts.

In 1997 a wooden marker was placed in front of the statue which reads:

Historic Women of Michigan
150 Years 1837-1987
Sesquicentennial Marker
Dedicated in Honor of The
Contributions of Michigan
Women to this State's
Progress 1837-1987.

Placed by the Michigan Women's Studies
Association and the Directors of the
Michigan Women's Hall of Fame

Laura Smith Haviland

Laura Smith Haviland Statue
Adrian City Hall, Michigan
At the intersection of M-52 and Church Streets

The towns of Haviland, Kansas and Haviland, Ohio were both named in her honor, as well as the Laura Smith Haviland Elementary school in Waterford, Michigan.

Laura Smith Haviland Elementary School
Waterford, Michigan

One of the most notable slaves of the nineteenth century, Sojourner Truth, was well acquainted with Laura. While in Washington, D.C., Laura accompanied Sojourner about the city shopping for necessities for the invalids at Freedman's Hospital. One day Laura suggested they take a street car back, although she knew white and black folk were generally segregated on the street cars.

Sojourner remembered, "As Mrs. Haviland signaled the car, I stepped to one side as if to continue my walk and when it stopped I ran and jumped aboard. The conductor pushed me back, saying, 'Get out of the way and let this lady come in.' Whoop! said I, I am a lady too. We went with no further opposition till we were obliged to change cars. A man coming out as we were going into the next car, asked the conductor if 'niggers were allowed to ride.' The conductor grabbed me by the shoulder and jerking me around, ordered me to get out. I told him I would not.

"Mrs. Haviland took hold of my other arm and said, 'Don't put her out.' The conductor asked if I belonged to her. 'No,' replied Mrs. Haviland, 'She belongs to humanity.'

"'Then take her and go,' said he, and giving me another push slammed me against the door. I told him I would let him know whether he could shove me about like a dog, and said to Mrs. Haviland, Take the number of this car. At this, the man looked alarmed, and gave us no more trouble. When we arrived at the hospital, the surgeons were called in to examine my shoulder and found that a bone was misplaced. I complained to the president of the road, who advised me to arrest the man for assault and battery. The Bureau furnished me a lawyer, and the fellow lost his situation. It created a great sensation, and before the trial was ended, the inside of the cars looked like pepper and salt; and I felt, like Poll Parrot, 'Jack, I am riding.'

"A little circumstance will show how great a change a few weeks had produced: A lady saw some colored women looking wistfully toward a car, when the conductor, halting, said, 'Walk in, ladies.' Now they who had so lately cursed me for wanting to ride, could stop for black as well as white, and could even condescend to say, 'Walk in, ladies.'" [4]

"She was vilified both North and South for her efforts and more than once narrowly escaped violence. But a more fearless woman never lived when it was a question of humanity. That she or any woman should not be allowed to speak or work for those who needed help was to Laura Haviland one of those unthinkable things to which which she gave no heed until the question was forced upon her, and she saw herself as other women did, not only called to fight what she believed a great wrong but to fight for the right of fighting the wrong." [3]

"...Strange position I was occupying," wrote Laura concerning another incident in her travels, "here among the most cruel of slave-holders. And they were calling me a super-intendent of the underground railroad at home; and here was the starting-point on our underground railway; but a silent listener, and in surprise, I said, 'Where can Aunt Winnie and her husband go? As you say, he is a slave.'

"'I don't know, but they do go somewhere out of the way of their owners, though they keep up a mighty hunt for a long time; yet a good many of 'em are never heard from; and I don't know where in creation they do go, and I don't care, so they get away from these hyenas that have no more feelings for their niggers than a wild animal, nor half as much. I just wonder sometimes that the niggers don't turn upon 'em and kill such devils. I know I would if I were in their places.'

"'Yet there are those who treat their servants kindly,' I replied. I felt sometimes as if I was compelled to be indifferent.

"My friend passed the window at which I was engaged in sewing. After a few moments I made an excuse to rest myself by taking a little walk, as each of us frequently did. I soon overtook this friend who informed me that Ann wished to see me after her tea was over, when she would be released for a half hour to walk out on the back way with a free mulatto girl, who was her intimate and confidential friend, and I was to go in a large yard of shrubs and fruit trees where I was to meet this friend who would call for Ann, with whom we were to take the proposed walk. At the appointed time and place I met the friend, who directed me to stand in a place out of sight of the street, or little cabin, the home of her very aged and decrepit parents, who were worn-out slaves, and as I understood were given their freedom. Their slave-daughter was permitted to step in and do little chores for them after her day's work was done.

"While waiting in this lonely and solitary nook, three large bloodhounds came in sight. I remembered of hearing about their being let loose after sunset, to reconnoiter the premises, and I called to mind what I had heard and read in history, that however ferocious an animal is, a stern and steady gaze in the eye, by a human being, would disarm it of ferocity, and cause it to leave. This course I resolved with these three formidable enemies, that were already assuming a threatening attitude, with a low growl, showing their teeth, with hair on end—the leader as large as a yearly calf, the two following him slightly smaller. I fixed my eyes upon the sparkling eyes of the leader, that came within six feet and stopped; soon the growl ceased, the lips dropped over the long tusks, the hair smoothed back, and he quietly walked off with his companions. Soon came the girl, all out of breath: 'Did the hounds come to you?'

Laura Faces the Bloodhounds

"'They did.'

"'Oh, dear! what did you do?'

"'I stood perfectly still,' I answered, 'and looked in the eyes of the leader, and they soon became quiet and walked away.'

"'Oh, dear, that was the only thing that saved your life. If you had stirred a particle they would have torn you in pieces. I was so anxious to have Ann see you, I forgot the hounds until I started back, and I liked to have fainted, for I know they were awful. I liked to have screamed out 'God have mercy on that dear friend,' for I was 'most sure I'd find you killed.'

"'Oh, no, the Lord has preserved me, and I am not harmed.' She was so badly frightened that it was some time before her voice ceased trembling; but He who is ever present with his trusting children was there." [5]


"Laura Smith Haviland lived like her Master, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.' Whenever she saw human need, she hastened to meet that need. The neglected child, the Negro slave, the wounded soldier, the burdened sinner, the forgotten prisoner, the starving naked refugee, the hapless victim of alcohol—all felt the loving touch of this quiet Quaker-Wesleyan." [2]

"...For Aunt Laura, the head of this wonderful school,
Had daughters whose charmes—who can tell:
And the eldest, our Esther, Oh, how God had blest her!
So queenly, so graceful. No wonder he fell..."

—from a poem by C.S. Brownell,
"The Eye"
Englewood, Chicago
Sat., Aug. 8, 1896

Charles and Laura are buried at the Raisin Valley Cemetery in Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan (photos online).

Charles' descent from the Haviland patriarch, Thomas De Haveilland, Jurat of Guernsey, looks like this:


12th Generation

9th Great

occ. Jurat Of Guernsey cir. 1470

11th Generation

8th Great

b. 1450, bp. Guernsey
d. 1512
occ. Mayor Of Poole 1494, 1498
m. ca 1480

10th Generation

7th Great

b. ca 1488
bp. Poole, Dorset, England

9th Generation

6th Great

Christopher HAVILLAND
b. 19 Jun 1519, bp. Guernsey
d. 24 Jan 1569, dp. Poole, England
brp. Parish Of St. James, Poole, England
occ. Mayor Of Poole, 1569 (Briefly)
& Cecelia MANN
d. 26 Aug 1586
m. 16 Sep 1544, mp. Church of St. James, Poole, England

8th Generation

5th Great

b. 1553, bp. Poole, Dorset, England
d. 1613
occ. Mayor Of Salisbury, 1602-03
& Thomassine MAINDONAIL
b. ca 1560, bp. England

7th Generation

4th Great

b. 7 Sep 1606, bp. Salisbury, England
d. 1697, dp. Great Neck, Long Island, NY
occ. R.I. Freeman 17 May 1653; Commissioner 21 May 1656
& Hannah HICKS
b. ca 1638, bp. Newport, RI
d. 1 Sep 1688, dp. Great Neck, Long Island, NY
m. ca 1652, mp. Newport, RI

6th Generation

3rd Great

b. 3 Apr 1659, bp. Newport, RI
d. 20 Apr 1726, dp. Rye, NY
occ. Preacher
& Abigail MOTT
b. 3 May 1660, bp. Portsmouth, RI
d. 4 Jul 1730, dp. Rye, NY
mp. Portsmouth, RI

5th Generation

2nd Great

Adam Haviland
b. ca 1685, bp. Flushing, Long Island, NY
& Mary _____
[6], [7]

4th Generation


Gilbert Haviland
b. 6 Jun 1726, bp. Flushing, Long Island, NY
& Elizabeth Downing

3rd Generation


James Haviland
b. 12 Jul 1748, bp. Southeastern NY
d. 21 Aug 1811, dp. Easton, Washington Co., NY
occ. Shoemaker, Quaker Minister (1786-)
& Martha Ingurson
b. 7 Apr 1754
d. 19 Jun 1810, dp. Easton, Washington Co., NY
[6], [8]

2nd Generation


Charles Haviland
b. 26 Sep 1777, bp. New Fairfield, CT
d. 17 Dec 1856, dp. Raisin Center, Lenawee Co., MI
& Esther Mosher
b. 28 Sep 1775, bp. Ninepartners, NY
d. 10 Jan 1840, dp. Raisin Center, Lenawee Co., MI

[See their gravestones on this page.]

[6], [8]

1st Generation


b. 5 Dec 1800, bp. Hoosick Twp., Rensselaer Co., NY
d. 13 Mar 1850, Raisin, Lenawee Co., MI
occ. Farmer
& Laura Smith
b. 20 Dec 1808, bp. Kitley, Leeds Co., Canada West (Ontario, Canada)
d. 20 Apr 1898, dp. Grand Rapids, Kent Co., MI

[See their gravestones on this page.]

[6], [8], [9]


  1. School History - Laura Smith Haviland Elementary School
  2. Lee Haines, Historian of The Wesleyan Church
  3. Ida M. Tarbell
  4. Olive Gilbert, Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Battle Creek, MI: 1878.
  5. Laura Smith Haviland, A Woman's Life-Work. c1881. Salem, NH: Ayer Company reprint c1984.
  6. Josephine C. Frost, The Haviland Genealogy. New York: 1914
  7. William Richard Cutter, Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley, New York: 1913.
  8. Haviland Genealogy papers by Mary Ellen Bailey, Edith Haviland, and Thelma Frayer. Found in Lenawee County Library, Adrian, MI.
  9. 1870 Census, Raisin Twp., Lenawee, MI - Roll 685-686, p. 58

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