White, John "Felix"


White, John "Felix"
White, John
John "Felix" White was an enslaved man in Boone County who escaped to freedom in 1844 through the network of the Underground Railroad. White had been the property of a slaveholding family in the southern part of the county and was sold to notorious slave trader George Washington Brasher, shortly before his escape. Brasher regularly sold enslaved people "downriver" to Louisiana, and held them in Petersburg awaiting transport south on riverboats. It is believed that White, fearing the harsh conditions existing on the plantations of the Deep South, fled across the river and eventually made his way to Michigan.
White became acquainted with Laura Smith Haviland, an active conductor on the Underground Railroad. Haviland's family had founded an integrated school in Michigan called the Raisin Institute, which taught students practical life skills, such as agricultural cultivation and domestic tasks. John White attended the Raisin Institute and got a job working on a farm near the school. Kentucky slave catchers, including George W. Brasher, travelled to Michigan in pursuit of White and others. Haviland quickly helped to get John White to safety in Canada.
White was free, but his wife, Jane and five children remained enslaved in Boone County. They were owned by Benjamin Stephens, who lived near Rabbit Hash. Stephens was known to be Jane's father as well as her slaveholder. White returned to Michigan and asked Haviland to help rescue his family.
Haviland tried to rescue Jane and the children on two different occasions in 1847. With the help of the Barkshire and Edington families, African American agents of the Underground Railroad in Rising Sun, IN, Haviland was able to contact Jane. She learned that two of the children were working at another farm in the county, and wouldn't return for several months, so a later rescue was planned.
When Haviland returned to try again, she learned that there were patrollers on the river looking for counterfeiters, making it too dangerous to rescue the family. An enslaved man by the name of William Allen, who was a friend of John White, had warned her against the attempt. When John White learned of the news, he returned to Boone County to rescue his family.
The attempt was unsuccessful; Jane and the children were captured, along with Solomon, who was the overseer and enslaved to the Stephens family. Jane and the children were sold, then separated for many years. After Emancipation, Jane, who was remarried and living in Kansas, ran ads in newspapers distributed in African American Churches throughout the country, In hopes of finding her children. She was reunited with three of the five children before her death.
John White escaped capture at the river, but was caught soon after by well-known slave catcher Wright Ray, who was an associate of George W. Brasher. Brasher was out of town, and White was clever enough to give a fake name, so Ray was unaware that he was a runaway that had been held by Brasher. John White was released to a man who was the nephew of Cincinnati abolitionist Levi Coffin, who claimed to be his slave holder.
John White remarried, started a family and was reunited with his children in Canada, then moved back to Michigan. His eldest daughter married the overseer Solomon.
White family
Birth date
Place of birth
White, James
unknown, Lucy
Life event(s)
Marriage 1: date and location unknown
Marriage 2: 8 Dec 1852; Wayne County (Mich.)
Wayne County (Mich.)
Marriage 3: 30 Jun 1880; Ann Arbor (Mich.)
Ann Arbor (Mich.)
Divorce: 22 Jan 1897; Washtenaw County (Mich.)
Washtenaw County (Mich.)
Death date
1 May 1905
Place of death
Lyon (Mich.)
Death and burial information
Fairview Cemetery (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Farm laborer
Day laborer
Resided in
Livonia (Mich.)
Novi (Mich.)
Ann Arbor (Mich.)
Lyon (Mich.)
Collaborates with
Haviland, Laura Smith
Slaveholder(s): White, John sold to G.W. Brasher
Brasher, George Washington [1]
Bibliographic citation(s)
Michigan, Compiled Marriages for Select Counties, 1851-1875
Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952
FindAGrave.com, memorial #96128965

Linked resources

Items with "Participant: White, John "Felix""
Title Class
1844--The Escape of John "Felix" White Event
1849--Jane Stephens and Family Escape Attempt Event
Items with "Father: White, John "Felix""
Title Class
White, Cassius Marcellus Person
White, Emily Francis Person
White, Eva Person
White, Francis Person
White, George W. Person
White, Herbert Person
White, John Person
White, Lucy Ann Person
White, Milton G. Person
White, Oscar F. Person
White, Sisley Person
White, Wiley Person
Items with "Spouse(s): White, John "Felix""
Title Class
Reynolds, Mary Jane Person
Stephens, Jane Person
Weaver, Fannie Person
Items with "Collaborates with: White, John "Felix""
Title Class
Edington, Joseph L. Person
Haviland, Laura Smith Person