Welcome Back! Join me now as we continue on in our series on Good Trouble. As I said in my my last blog, this series is for anyone who is concerned about the trouble in our world and desires to find good in the midst of evil, to see light in the midst of darkness, to find hope in the midst of despair.
In my last blog, I shared my personal journey in discovering God’s direction in my life, my pioneer adventure to teach at Barclay college in a small town in Haviland, KS named after an abolitionist, Underground Railroad Operator, and humanitarian- Laura Smith Haviland. Many affectionately call her “Aunt Laura.” Here is her story:
Laura Haviland was a tiny little lady whose heart had to have been greater than her entire body. At 4’9” she stood tall for her convictions of human dignity and respect to all. She had a grand challenge, living 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 slave herself to the cause of freeing those caught in the bondage of slavery.
Born in Canada, raised in NY, in 1829 Charles and Laura Haviland with two small boys arrived on the frontier of Michigan’s Raisin River. They settled on the hunting grounds of the renowned Indian Chief, Tecumseh, and struggled to homestead a quarter of land alongside their respective families in a Quaker settlement. Living in their covered wagon for several months, Laura grappled with depression as she continued to bear children. Her faith ultimately conquered her fears as she adjusts and adapts in seeking God’s plans for her future. In the midst of this, she is introduced to Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, a prolific abolitionist poet, whose lifelong influence on Laura sets the course for Good Trouble in her future work.
John Woolman’s history of the slave trade, the injustices of slavery she observed all around her, and Chandler’s poem, The Slave Ship, brought her to her knees as she could no longer stand idly by without taking a stand for the truth. Laura set out to honor the theme of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven” by stirring up Good Trouble with every fiber of her being.”
Inspired by Chandler, this work began together when Elizabeth and Laura created the Logan County Anti-Slavery Society. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Chandler died in 1834 at the very, young age of 27 leaving Laura to carry on this work alongside her family. Thankfully, Chandler’s poetry continued to be the clarion call for abolitionists for years to come. In 1839 the Haviland’s next step was to create the first multi-ethnic school in Michigan on the Haviland’s property along the Raisin River. There is a marker to commemorate the land where the Raisin Institute operated and served many black and white students with quality teachers from Oberlin College for 20 years. In 1845 a plague of Erysipelas brought great sorrow into the Raisin Township along with the Haviland home, as five of her closest family members perished as a result- her mother, father, sister, husband, and baby daughter.
As a result of these losses, Laura became determined to follow her calling to help those families who were separated because of the chains of slavery. As both a Quaker and a Methodist Laura tirelessly aided slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, hiding them in her home and coordinating 27 other stops in the Raisin River area. Laura also led many slaves along the Underground Railroad network through secret passages from her home through Ohio, Michigan, and across the Detroit River into Canada!
One of her stories is captured in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Protecting Haviland’s identity during the 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 actuality was our Laura Haviland.
For several decades Laura carried a $3000 bounty on her head “Wanted Dead or Alive” by John & Thomas Chester Tennessee slaveholders for her assistance with Eliza Hamilton, an ex-slave following Haviland’s encounter with them in Toledo, Ohio and on the train in Sylvania, OH where she calmly stared down the point of their gun. Through all her years of traveling through the South, the bounty remained. Yet, Laura walked free through the crowds of slave holders in Arkansas, Kentucky Louisiana, and Tennessee.
During the Civil War Laura trudged her way alongside the Union Army’s war effort She literally joined the Army providing food and clothing for the slave families as they entered freedom under the care of the Union soldiers. Her favorite moment was when a new family would come into the camp. She would welcome them in her Quaker dialect: “Thou art free!” Then proceed to feed, clothe, and care for each one.
Laura Haviland’s passion of justice guided her to pursue freedom for 3,000 Union soldiers who suffered in the Ship Island/Dry Tortugas prisons of Louisiana at the hand of a rebel, Judge Atocha. But, it was her grit that kept her going as she trudged endlessly searching for a high ranking official who could bring justice for those who had been sentenced unjustly- finally reaching General Bank’s wife – Mary, they are released in 1864!
Laura continued to work tirelessly after the war to provide 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 Laura received her marching papers from General Oliver Otis Howard – the esteemed General who had charge over the Freedman’s Bureau and for whom Howard University was named as well as General Edwin Stanton, the renowned Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. Yet Laura’s continued signature saying was “Thine for the Oppressed.” And 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 a drink.” Mt. 25:35
Laura lived to the ripe age of 89 years. She is one of the unsung heroines of Civil War history. One whose story deserves and needs to be shared to our current generation. Her story is one that speaks to our condition today. She was willing to take a stand for Good Trouble. Are we willing to take a stand for Good Trouble?