The Dr. Nathan Thomas House, built in 1835, was the home of one of Michigan's most active Underground Railroad participants, a founding member of the state's Republican Party and Kalamazoo County's first physician. Born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, a Quaker town well-known for the antislavery activities of its residents, Dr. Nathan Thomas (1803-1887) settled in Schoolcraft around 1833. In 1835, he constructed a building that served as both an office and residence. Five years later he enlarged the house when he married Pamela Brown of nearby Prairie Ronde township. Pamela Brown Thomas' memoirs, written in 1892, provide much information on her and her husband's Underground Railroad activities. Referring to Dr. Thomas' early days in Schoolcraft, before their marriage and the construction of his office and residence in 1835, Mrs. Thomas wrote, "His antislavery views were so well known, that, while he was a bachelor boarding at the hotel, fugitives from slavery had called on him for assistance and protection." Pamela Brown Thomas estimated that between 1840 and 1860 she and her husband helped between 1,000 to 1,500 fugitive slaves escape into freedom. By the mid-1840s, a group of abolitionists in southwest Michigan had created an organized system for transporting fugitive slaves. Slaves were often brought to the Thomas House by Zachariah Shugart, a fellow Quaker living on Young's Prairie, Cass County. Dr. Thomas would then shuttle the runaways to Erastus Hussey, another fellow Quaker living in Battle Creek. The slaves would eventually make their way to Detroit and onto freedom in Canada. The first physician in Kalamazoo County, Dr. Thomas not only practiced medicine but also became involved in state politics. In 1837, he was one of 400 residents in Prairie Ronde and Brady (now Schoolcraft) townships who petitioned Congress in opposition to the annexation of Texas because of the territory's support of slavery. Two years later, he joined others in founding a Michigan newspaper devoted to the antislavery cause and in 1845 ran unsuccessfully as Lt. Governor on the abolitionist Liberty Party ticket. A key participant in an 1854 antislavery convention in Jackson, Michigan, Dr. Thomas was a nominating committee member of the newly-formed Michigan Republican party. The party ticket triumphed that year, beginning a period of Republican domination of the state government.
Dr. Nathan Thomas House
Photograph taken by Donald H. Sanborn, courtesy of the Michigan Historical Center.
1910 postcard of the Thomas House. Caption at the bottom reads, "Original Home of Dr. Nathan Thomas, Kalamazoo County's first doctor and friend of the slaves."
Photographer unknown, courtesy of the Michigan Historical Center.
The Dr. Nathan Thomas House is located at 613 East Cass Street in Schoolcraft, Michigan. Tours are available by appointment by writing to: Schoolcraft Historical Society, P.O. Box 451, Schoolcraft, Michigan 49087 or email Schoolcrafthistorical@hotmail.com.
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