Nathan M. Thomas
Nathan M. Thomas was a physician and abolitionist who spent his youth in Ohio.
Thomas was born on January 2, 1803, in Mt. Pleasant, Jefferson County, Ohio. His family consisted of practicing Quakers and strongly opposed the institution of slavery. Thomas attended a school taught by Charles Osborn, the publisher of the first anti-slavery newspaper in the United States of America. Benjamin Lundy, the founder of the first anti-slavery society in Ohio, also resided with the Thomas family. As a youth, Thomas became fascinated with medicine. He received some medical training in Mt. Pleasant from a Dr. Parker. Thomas eventually enrolled in and graduated from the Medical College of Ohio in Cincinnati. Upon graduating in 1828, Thomas opened a practice in Columbiana County, Ohio, before he relocated to Kalamazoo County, Michigan in 1830.
In Michigan, Thomas continued to practice medicine. He also became an active participant on the Underground Railroad. Thomas opened his home to fugitive slaves, assisting perhaps as many as one dozen runaways at a single time. It is estimated that Thomas helped as many as 1,500 fugitives in attaining freedom in Canada. In 1839, Thomas also helped establish the first anti-slavery newspaper in Michigan. He also repeatedly petitioned the United States government to either end slavery or to prevent its expansion. In 1845, Thomas also unsuccessfully campaigned to become Michigan's lieutenant governor. Thomas ran with fellow abolitionist James Birney, who sought election as governor.
Thomas died in 1887.
Thomas represents the growing tensions over slavery between Northerners and Southerners during the early nineteenth century. While many Northern states had provisions outlawing slavery, runaway slaves did not necessarily gain their freedom upon arriving in a free state. Federal law permitted slaveowners to reclaim their runaway slaves. Some slaves managed to escape their owners on their own, while others sometimes received assistance from sympathetic Northerners, such as Thomas.
- "A Short Biographical Sketch of Dr. Nathan M. Thomas." The Wibur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection. The Ohio History Connection. Columbus, Ohio.