Anderson Abbott

Anderson Ruffin Abbott, doctor, surgeon (born 7 April 1837 in Toronto, Upper Canada; died 29 December 1913 in Toronto, ON). Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black person to graduate from medical school. He served the Union army as a civilian surgeon during the American Civil War.

Anderson Ruffin Abbott , 1863. (courtesy of the Toronto Public Library)
Mary Ann Casey, undated. Anderson and Casey were married in 1871. \r\nImage: courtesy of the Toronto Public Library. \r\n
Abbott Anderson's passport (1/2), 1863. \r\nImage: courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.\r\n
Abbott Anderson's passport (2/2), 1863. Image: courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.\r\n

Early Life and Family

Anderson Abbott was born to an affluent family in Toronto, Upper Canada. His parents, Wilson Abbott and Ellen Toyer, both free from enslavement, were from Mobile, Alabama, where they owned and operated a general store. The city passed a law that required all free Black persons to provide bonds signed by two white men as proof of the free person’s good behaviour. Wilson Abbott did not abide. After settling briefly in New Orleans and New York, they moved to Toronto in 1835. The Abbotts gained wealth and standing, purchasing nearly 50 properties in the Toronto area.

Anderson Abbott was educated at the Buxton Mission School, a racially integrated school near Chatham, Canada West, that was noted for its superior education. The school was part of the Elgin Settlement, a safe haven for refugees from enslavement established in 1849. Later, he studied at the Toronto Academy, where he was an honours student, followed by Oberlin College in Ohio. In 1857, Abbott enrolled at University College in Toronto to study chemistry. In 1858, he began studies at the Toronto School of Medicine, which later became affiliated with the University of Toronto. Following a supervised placement with Dr. Alexander Augusta, the first Black doctor in North America and the head of Toronto City Hospital (now Toronto General Hospital), Abbott was licensed in 1861 to practise medicine. Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black doctor in Canada.

Medical Career and Practice

Abbott felt compelled to apply his medical services to the American Civil War effort and served in a segregated regiment, the Coloured Troops. Later, he acted as a civilian surgeon in several Washington, DC, hospitals that served Union forces. Among his experiences as a surgeon, Abbott cared for a dying President Abraham Lincoln. Upon his return to Canada, Abbott married and moved to Chatham. There he was appointed coroner for Kent County. He was also a public advocate for integrated schools. After living in other Ontario towns, he accepted an appointment in Chicago, Illinois, becoming medical superintendent of Provident Hospital, a training hospital for Black nurses, in 1896. After returning to Toronto in 1897, he spent his later years writing on Black history and other topics.

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