Place

Michigan: Dr. Nathan Thomas House

19th century ranch style house.
Dr. Nathan Thomas House

Photo by Jim Roberts, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56256124

Quick Facts

The Dr. Nathan Thomas House, built in 1835, was the home of Nathan and Pamela Brown Thomas and their four children. They were one of Michigan's most active Underground Railroad families.

Nathan Thomas (1803-1887) was born in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, a Quaker town well-known for the antislavery activities of its residents. He settled in Schoolcraft, Michigan 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 Nathan’s early days in Schoolcraft, Pamela 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." In addition to providing lodgings, Nathan provided medical treatment and Pamela cooked hearty meals for freedom seekers. Pamela Brown Thomas estimated that between 1840 and 1860 she and her husband helped between 1,000 to 1,500 enslaved people seek freedom.

By the mid-1840s, a group of abolitionists in southwest Michigan had created an organized system for transporting freedom seekers. Enslaved people were often brought to the Thomas House by Zachariah Shugart, a fellow Quaker living on Young's Prairie in Cass County. Nathan would then shuttle freedom seekers to Erastus Hussey, another fellow Quaker living in Battle Creek. The freedom seekers would eventually make their way to Detroit and on to freedom in Canada.

The first physician in Kalamazoo County, Nathan not only practiced medicine but also became involved in state politics. In 1837, he was one of Schoolcraft’s many residents 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. In 1845, Nathan ran unsuccessfully as Lieutenant Governor on the abolitionist Liberty Party ticket. 

The Dr. Nathan Thomas House is located at 613 East Cass Street in Schoolcraft, Michigan. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Last updated: August 17, 2020