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She was on Fire!


Laura Smith Haviland


The cause of abolition ignited her. She was on fire! Laura Smith was born in Kitley, Ontario, Canada, on September 20th 1808. The little Quaker family moved to Lockport, New York, when Laura was just a baby. She grew up in a strong Quaker environment that supported the education of women and other Quaker tenants. While Laura did not have a formal education, an extraordinarily forward-thinking position in an age when most individuals were illiterate, and providing a woman with a thorough education viewed as unnecessary. While Laura's life revolved primarily around the farm, her parents taught her to read and write. She was very inquisitive and extremely well read. Woolman’s account of slavery deeply influenced Laura and vowed to spend her life helping all persecuted people. (John Woolman was a Quaker who lectured throughout the frontier against slavery and the slave trade, cruelty to animals, economic injustices, oppression and conscription.)


When Laura was 16, she met a fellow Quaker, Charles Haviland, Jr., a devout young man who shared her passion for anti-slavery. Charles' parents were both highly respected ministers in the community. Charles and Laura were married on November 11, 1825, eventually parenting eight children. Laura said that Charles was a very devoted husband and father. Their marriage was a happy one.


Charles and Laura moved to Michigan, to a community of Quakers who shared their values. Their property was only three miles from her parents' farm. Michigan was then a largely unsettled wilderness, but the land was cheap. Together formed the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society. It was the first abolitionist group in Michigan. They also opened a school, the Raisin Institute, where Laura taught. The Havilands insisted that the school be open to all races and religions. It was the first integrated school in Michigan and was a great success.


Laura and Charles continued the agrarian way of life. Their farm was the first Underground Railroad station in Michigan, developing a reputation as a haven for former slaves who had escaped fugitive slave catchers. Occasionally, Laura would personally escort slaves to Canada, where they were free. She risked her own personal safety or imprisonment if caught. Laura also worked tirelessly to reunite families torn apart by slavery. A southern slave owner, who was furious with her for her work, put a bounty on her head following an altercation where he threatened her at gunpoint. Laura’s work continued.


“I would not for my right hand become instrumental in returning one escaped slave to bondage,” she wrote. “I firmly, believe in our Declaration of Independence, that all men are created free and equal, and that no human being has a right to make merchandise of others born in humbler stations, and place them on a level with horses, cattle, and sheep, knocking them off the auction-block to the highest bidder, sundering family ties, and outraging the purest and tenderest feelings of human nature.”


Laura dedicated her entire life to lecturing and urging people to confront anti-abolition authorities who were assisting slave hunters and owners. Working within a network of other abolitionists and the members of the Underground Railroad, she freed, or was responsible for freeing, thousands of slaves.

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