Anderson Ruffin Abbott was born in Toronto in 1837. His parents, Wilson and Ellen Abbott, were free people of colour who came to Canada in 1835.
His parents wanted the best for their children, and they realized that having an education was an important way of gaining opportunities, particularly for people of African descent.
At an early age, Anderson Ruffin Abbott was enrolled in Buxton Mission School in the Elgin Settlement, located near Chatham, Ontario. He later attended Oberlin College’s Preparatory Department in Ohio, where he received the equivalent of high school courses that prepared him for university.
In 1857, Anderson Ruffin Abbott entered University College in Toronto to study chemistry and, one year later, the Toronto School of Medicine. In 1861, the 23-year-old doctor received his license to practice medicine, having been successfully certified by the Medical Board of Upper Canada.
He followed in the footsteps of Dr. Alexander T. Augusta (1825-1890), a free Black from Virginia. While Augusta was the first known graduate of African descent in the field of medicine in 1856, Anderson Ruffin Abbott was the first Canadian-born Black to graduate from medical school. Abbott gained his practical medical experience under Dr. Augusta, who was head of the Toronto City Hospital.
What did Anderson Ruffin Abbott do to help fight against slavery?
Despite his success as a doctor, Anderson Ruffin Abbott was very aware of the injustices Black slaves. In 1863, Dr. Abbott petitioned the American Secretary of War in hopes of receiving permission to fight for the Union Army in the American Civil War. His request was accepted.
In 1863, Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott became one of eight Black surgeons to serve in the Union Army. Anderson was proud to be actively engaged in the battle to end slavery in the United States. He remained attached to all-Black regiments and encountered the racism of many whites who resented the prospect of serving in the same army alongside those of African ancestry. Nonetheless, Anderson Ruffin Abbott saw the conflict through to its conclusion, serving out the remainder of the war as surgeon-in-chief at the Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C
Anderson Ruffin Abbott remained in the United States while deciding where to settle and to establish his medical career. During this time, the veteran was highly honoured for his service and received a shawl that was worn by President Abraham Lincoln on his way to his 1861 inauguration, from the President’s widow Mary Todd Lincoln.
Dr. Abbott returned to Canada in 1871 and established his own medical practice in Chatham, Ontario. It was around this time that he married his wife, Mary Ann Casey Abbott and raised five children who all became successful adults in their own right.
In 1881, Dr. Abbott moved his family from Chatham to Dundas, Ontario where he continued to practice medicine. During the 1890s, the family moved to Toronto, and then Chicago, where the doctor assumed the position of Medical Superintendent.
In the early 1900s, the Abbott’s made a final move back to Toronto. Anderson Ruffin Abbott died in December 1913, leaving a legacy of professional accomplishment and a proud record of service to his community.