Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott
Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott (1837-1903)
was born in Toronto to Wilson Ruffin Abbott and Ellen (Toyer) Abbott, a prominent African American family in Toronto who had relocated north from Alabama. Having received an excellent education, and being an honour student at the Toronto Academy, Dr. Abbott decided to study medicine. In 1857, he graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine, receiving his license to practice in 1861 from the Medical Board of Upper Canada, thus becoming the first Canadian-born black doctor. In 1863, during the American Civil War, he sought out a medical posting in the Union Army. Dr. Abbott was posted originally as a medical cadet to the United States Colored Troops, and then as a civilian surgeon under contract to a posting in Washington, DC, from June 1863 until August 1865 to give his support for the Union side of the American Civil War, which had originally been focused on not allowing the south to secede but then had become a war to end slavery. He was one of only 13 black surgeons to serve in the Civil War. Abbott evidently had a number of friendly conversations with President Lincoln.
It is believed that Dr. Abbott was among the physicians who stood vigil by President Lincoln prior to his death from an assassin's bullet. After Lincoln’s death, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, presented Dr. Abbott with the plaid shawl Lincoln had worn to his 1861 inauguration. After the war, he returned to Canada and practised in a number of communities including Chatham, Dundas and Toronto. Dr. Abbott was community spirited and was involved with many political and social issues. His social conscience, based on the importance of equality, prompted him to speak out against segregated white and black schools in Canada.