Underground Angel: "A Slave of Love on the Railway to Freedom"
Laura Smith Haviland was a tiny little lady whose heart was greater than her body. At 4’9” this “Underground Angel” stood tall for her convictions of human dignity and respect to all, black and white. Haviland lived in the 19th century American pro-slavery era, during the Civil War, and the post-war reconstruction era. Yet, she took on the role of being a servant, a slave, and an angel, to those in the bondage of slavery. As both a Quaker and a Methodist, Haviland tirelessly aided slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, hiding them in her home as well as leading many personally through these secret passages from the Northeastern States into Canada!
One of her stories is captured in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Protecting Haviland’s identity during a very dangerous era of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, Stowe tells the story of George and Eliza Harris being rescued by a Mrs. Smyth, who in reality was our Laura Smith Haviland. Wanted dead or alive with a $3000 bounty by slaveholders who had held her at gunpoint, Laura traveled deep into the South as an undercover spy to understand slavery and assist slaves to freedom. During the Civil War Laura trudged her way alongside the Union’s war efforts. She challenged generals, the United States Congress, and presidents in order to assist those dying and in desperate need of care during and following the war! Singlehandedly, she labored to secure the release of 3,000 Union soldiers held by unjust sentences at the hand of an ex-Rebel judge. Of note she successfully engaged with President Andrew Johnson for the release of sixteen ex-slave prisoners.
Haviland’s claim to fame in Kansas came after the war providing much needed relief for the Exodusters, 60,000 refugees pouring into the state of Kansas from 1879-1881. She worked alongside Sojourner Truth and John Brown’s half-brother –J.R. Brown while in Kansas. In Washington DC, Haviland received her marching papers from General CR Howard, who had charge over the Freedman’s Bureau as well as General Edwin Stanton, the esteemed Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. Yet, her fame stems from her servant’s heart in feeding the poor, providing warm clothes and bedding, praying for and nursing the sick, visiting those in prison, and starting many schools for the refugee orphans.
Haviland’s continued signature saying was “Thine for the Oppressed.” A small town, Haviland, KS, named their Quaker colony after her in 1886. Next to the life size statue and memorial located in her hometown of Adrian, Michigan is a water fountain that has inscribed on it, “…I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” Mt. 25:35.