Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott was born in Toronto, on the 7th of April 1837, the eldest of 3 children born to Wilson Ruffin Abbott and the former Ellen Toyer. He had a sister named Amelia and a brother named William Henson Abbott. His father Wilson Abbott was a free black man who fled the southern United States with his wife, in search of safer conditions in the north. They arrived in Canada in 1835. Dr. Abbott was educated at the Buxton Mission School in the Elgin Settlement, near Chatham. Before attending medical school, Dr. Abbott attended the Oberlin College’s Preparatory Department in Ohio.
Dr. Abbott graduated M.D. from The University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine in 1861, becoming the first Canadian-born black man to graduate from medical school. He joined the Union Army in 1863 and he served in the American Civil War as a surgeon. Dr. Abbott was attached to Camp Barker, Washington D.C. and he became a decorated war hero. In addition, he also presided over the Freedmans’ Hospital in Washington, and also in Arlington. President Abraham Lincoln was very impressed with Dr. Abbott’s work in the soldiers hospital. Dr. Abbott attended a levee at the White House in uniform with Dr. Augusta, who was African-American and a fellow surgeon in the Union Army. Dr. Abbott wrote that he and Dr. Augusta were warmly greeted by President Lincoln who introduced both men to Mrs. Lincoln. Dr. Abbott wondered at the time, if he was the first person of colour to be at a levee at the White House.
President Lincoln attended the Ford Theatre in Washington D.C. with Mrs. Lincoln to see the play titled, “The American Cousin” on the 14th of April, 1865. While the play was being performed he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Mr. Booth fled and President Lincoln was carried across the road, to the home of a tailor named William Petersen. President Lincoln was placed in a bedroom on the first floor and while he was there a number of doctors attended to his bedside, including Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott. Nothing could be done to save the life of President Lincoln and he died the following day on April 15th, 1865. His wife Mary Todd Lincoln, presented Dr. Abbott with the plaid shawl that President Lincoln had used to keep warm, on his way to his first inauguration on the 4th of March 1861. The shawl was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1963 by the grandson of Dr. Abbott.
Following the war, Dr. Abbott registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons on the 5th of June, 1869, although he had held a licence with the Medical Board since 1862.
Dr. Abbott married Mary Ann Casey on the 9th of August, 1871 in Toronto. She was born in St. Catherine, Ontario on the 15th of September, 1855, the daughter of Thomas Powers Casey and the former Anne Eliza Adams. She had 3 younger sister; Sarah, Hannah and Henrietta. Her father was a barber.
Dr. and Mrs. Abbott opened a medical practice in Chatham in 1871. Dr. Abbott served as the area coroner, and he was also selected to be the President of the Chatham Medical Society. According to the 1875 Kent County Directory, Dr. Abbott’s medical practice was located on King Street in Chatham. His medical practice is listed in the 1876-1877 Chatham Directory in the Huntons Block on William Street. Further it records his residence was located at 16 Princess Street. In the 1876-1877 Chatham Directory Dr. Abbott is listed as “M.D., Coroner, Wilberforce Educational Institute and Associate Editor Missionary Messenger”. Dr. Abbott was President of the Wilberforce Educational Institute from 1873 to 1880. This school prepared Chatham’s African Canadian students for university studies.
Dr. and Mrs. Abbott were the parents of 7 children. Mary Helene Abbott was born on the 25th of June, 1872 in Chatham. Wilson Ruffin Abbott was born on the 19th of July, 1873 in Chatham and named after Dr. Abbott’s father. Mabel Jane Abbott was born on the 30th of April, 1875 in Chatham, but she died 4 days later. Ida Jane Abbott was born on the 12th of January, 1878 in Chatham. Grace Isabel Abbott was born in Dundas, Ontario on the 23rd of December, 1881. Her twin brother Alfred Ernest Abbott only lived for 3 days. Gordon Anderson Abbott was born on the 5th of May, 1885 in Dundas.
Dr. Abbott advertised in the 1874-1875 Kent County Business Directory as practicing on King Street in Chatham. He also advertised his practice in the 1877 Chatham Business Directory. That publication listed his practice on the Huntons Block on William Street in Chatham and his residence at 16 Princess Street.
Dr. Abbott moved his family and his practice to Dundas, Ontario in 1881. Dr. Abbott was skilled not only as a physician, but also as a lecturer and musician. Dr. Abbott was the Associate Editor of a bimonthly publication called the Missionary Messenger, published through the British Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1889 the Abbott family moved to Oakville and then they moved to Toronto in 1890. In 1894 Dr. Abbott became the Medical Superintendent of Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital opened in 1891 and it was the first hospital in the United States of American that was owned and operated by an African-American, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. Today it is operated by Cook County Health Services and the hospital is known as Provident Hospital of Cook County.
By 1900 Dr. and Mrs. Abbott had moved back to Toronto where he continued to lecture and teach. According to the 1911 census Dr. Abbott was no longer practicing medicine, but relying on an income.
Dr. Abbott died on the 29th of December, 1913 and he was buried at the Toronto Necropolis. His wife Mary Ann died on the 28th of April, 1931 and she was buried next to her husband in Toronto. At the time of her death, she resided at 662 Broadview Avenue, in Toronto.
*His son, Dr. Wilson Ruffin Abbott served the United States Army during WWI and he appears on the Gathering Our Heroes website.
Photo: Courtesy of the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society.
*Information about the location of the presidential shawl and the circumstances of the donation was confirmed by Mr. Joseph Kalper, Curator of Cultural History, Division of Museums & Historic Sites……with gratitude.