Thomas Asylum for Orphan and Destitute Indian Children

Thomas Orphan Asylum

When I was transcribing the New York Indian Census records from the 1880s, I noticed that at the end of several tribal lists was a short, separate list called “Thomas Asylum” or “Thomas Orphans” with children listed.

Indeed, the Thomas School was just that, an orphanage.  The word “asylum” in this context does not mean mental illness although I did see one reference to the word insane, but I have found no records to indicate that the Thomas School was anything other than an orphanage.

The Thomas Asylum for Orphan and Destitute Indian Children was incorporated in 1855 as a private institution receiving State aid. The asylum was located within the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in Erie County, NY and was charged to receive destitute and orphaned children from all Indian reservations in the State. It was named for Philip E. Thomas, a benefactor of New York’s Native Americans and early financial backer of the asylum.

In 1875 ownership of the asylum was transferred to the State and it was made subject to the supervision and control of the State Board of Charities. As a State institution, its purpose was to furnish resident Native American children with “care, moral training and education, and instruction in husbandry and the arts of civilization.”  Boys were trained for industrial work, and girls for domestic tasks.

To reflect its emphasis on education the asylum’s name was changed in 1905 to Thomas Indian School.

Ownership of the asylum later transferred to the state of New York , and its State Board of Charities provided oversight.   The State closed the Thomas Indian School in 1957.

Thomas Orphan Asylum photo from Access Genealogy from their topic, Education, Schools, Language and Education on the Reservations.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Education, New York, Schools. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thomas Asylum for Orphan and Destitute Indian Children

  1. julie says:

    Hello…I think my 2nd great grandmother was a “resident” at the Thomas Asylum (based on info in the Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 2). Do you know if there are any Thomas Asylum records that would possibly show the names of her parents? Thanks for your help.

    • I don’t know. I’m sorry.

    • Dr. Lois Jircitano says:

      I have researched the documents in person and examined the paperwork in the folders. There is a form included therein which lists the parents of the child being placed. If either of the parents are unknown, it will also provide that information.

      Good luck.

      • Amanda McDade says:

        I would check the Indian census rolls on the specific reservation she grew up on by connecting your family tree online. Also, contact your families tribal office for a complete ancestoral lineage.

  2. Cathy says:

    There are many photos of Thomas Indian School students at
    if you are on facebook

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