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As slavery in America became more and more expansive, the fight for abolition became just as potent. Dr. Thomas is just one member of a community of Quaker anti-slavery activists who assisted runaway slaves in need. The Underground Railroad ran from 1800 to 1865 as a tool to help enslaved Black people reach free states. 

Dr. Nathan Thomas House

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The Dr. Nathan Thomas house is an essential part of Black history. If it weren’t for Dr. Thomas, it is probable that hundreds of Black slaves would not have reached freedom. The most well-known action Dr. Thomas took to help Black people was building a home to house and aid runaway slaves in the 1800s. Dr. Nathan Thomas was born in 1803 to a progressive anti-slavery town in Ohio. Mount Pleasant was home to many Quakers who believed in the abolishment of slavery. When Dr. Nathan Thomas was 30 years old, he moved to Schoolcraft, Michigan, where he continued to advocate for the freedom of Black people. After Dr. Nathan Thomas became Kalamazoo County’s first physician, he built the home in 1835. 

When the underground railroad began, an essential part was passing through Michigan to get to Canada. Since Dr. Nathan Thomas was a well-known abolitionist in Michigan, his community quickly asked him to turn his home into a station on the Underground Railroad. As a dedicated believer in anti-slavery, he immediately agreed to help. As a white doctor, Dr.Thomas was in a great position to help and heal Black people in need. In 1840, he married his wife, Pamela Brown, who supported and helped him add more rooms to his house. Thomas and his wife estimated that during his 20 years of helping Black fugitives, they assisted 1,000 to 1,500 slaves in escaping to Canada. He and his wife gave fugitive Black people medical assistance, food, housing, and positive affirmations in an attempt to comfort their minds on their journey.

The house was built 186 years ago and is still standing to this day in Michigan. Dr. Nathan Thomas constantly advocated that the United States government should end slavery entirely or stop it from expanding. By the mid-1840s, abolitionists began to assemble a more concrete system for transporting slaves to freedom. One of the routes involved a Quaker named Zachariah Shugart bringing escaped slaves to Dr. Thomas. After Thomas cared for the runaway Black people, he would transport them to another fellow Quaker named Erastus Hussey, who lived in Battle Creek, Michigan. Other systems in place, such as passing through Marshal, allowed the fugitive slaves to reach Detroit. Once they reached Detroit, they would quickly reach freedom by crossing over to Windsor, only two miles away from modern-day downtown Detroit. Assisting and housing slaves on the Underground Railroad was a precarious choice. Slave hunters often barged into the home searching for fugitives, and anyone caught helping the slaves faced a hefty punishment. For example, one day, slave hunters showed up to inspect a house. A slave was hidden at the bottom of a barrel and covered in Apples to disguise them. There were countless tense moments like these; however, it did not stop abolitionists from helping Black people.

He also made a significant effort to involve himself in anti-slavery campaigns repeatedly. In 1839, he joined a group of people, and together, they founded a Michigan newspaper dedicated to promoting anti-slavery movements. In 1845 he attempted to run for governor on the abolitionist Liberty party ticket; however, he did not succeed. Luckily the person who beat him for Lieutenant governor was James Birney, a fellow abolitionist. In 1854 he involved himself in an anti-slavery convention that took place in Jackson, Michigan. He became a member of the nominating committee for the newly formed republican party of Michigan, which was exceedingly successful that year. The newfound success of the republican party began a string of wins for the state government, which allowed the progression of anti-slavery to move at a much quicker pace. Dr. Nathan Thomas died in 1887, but his legacy will live on forever. Every stop on the Underground Railroad played a significant role in the attempt to end slavery. The Underground Railroad is estimated to have freed 100,000 slaves, and each stop played a pivotal part in reaching that number. Ending slavery involved white people just as much as it involved Black people. Both groups were required to take a risk to achieve a considerable step forward in American history. Thanks to the compassion of Dr. Thomas and the bravery of all of the Black people who risked their lives for the sake of themselves and their people, America slowly treads towards the abolishment of Black injustice. 

“Exhibits, Markers & Installations.” INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP, 

National Parks Service. “Aboard the Underground Railroad-- Dr. Nathan Thomas House.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 

Peppel, Fred. “Underground Railroad in Kalamazoo.” Kalamazoo Public Library, Kalamazoo Public Library, 2006, 

Roberts, Jim. “Michigan: Dr. Nathan Thomas House (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 

Thomas, Let. “Dr. Nathan M. Thomas Is Dead.”, 16 Apr. 1887, 

Village of Schoolcraft. “Dr. Nathan Thomas House.” The History List, 

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