Who was Canada’s first black doctor?
His name was Anderson Ruffin Abbott and he was the first Black Canadian to be a licensed as a physician in Canada. He volunteered his medical services during the American Civil War and attended the deathbed of Abraham Lincoln.
Abbott was born in Toronto in 1837 to a prominent black family in Toronto who had left Alabama as free blacks. After living in New York for a few years, they moved to Upper Canada in 1835 or 1836. Anderson’s father began to invest in real estate and by 1871 he owned 48 properties and had become active in politics.
Benefitting from his father’s success, Anderson received an excellent education, attending both public and private schools. He was an honours student at the Toronto Academy and later attended Oberlin College in Ohio. After returning to Canada he graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine in 1857. Abbott received a license to practice medicine from the Medical Board of Upper Canada in 1861, thus becoming the first Canadian black doctor.
Abbott volunteered as a surgeon during the US Civil War, where he served in Washington, D.C. from June 1863 to August 1865. Abbott was one of only thirteen black surgeons to serve in the Civil War. He had received many commendations and became popular in Washington society. He had a friendly relationship with President Abraham Lincoln. On the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Abbott was one of several doctors in attendance. Mary Todd Lincoln, the widow of the President, later presented Abbott a plaid shawl worn by Lincoln at his first inauguration in appreciation for his attempt to save the President's life.
In 1866 he returned to Canada and established a medical practice and was admitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in 1871. Like his father, Abbott soon became an important member of the black community in Toronto.
Abbott died in 1913, at the age of 76, in the Toronto home of his son-in-law Frederick Langdon Hubbard, the son of his long-time friend, William Peyton Hubbard. He is buried in the Toronto Necropolis.