Canada’s first black doctor was also a surgeon during the U.S. Civil War. He was present at Abraham Lincoln’s death bed.
As a Canadian, Anderson Ruffin Abbott did not have much stake in the U.S. Civil War. As a doctor, he had an oath. As a black man, he had a duty.
Anderson Abbott was born in Toronto in 1837 to two parents who had fled Alabama. Abbott’s parents were fairly successful in Toronto, giving him the opportunity to be well educated. In 1857, at the age of 20, Abbott graduated from the Toronto School of Medicine. In 1861, he received his medical license, becoming the first black Canadian doctor.
In 1863, Abbott applied several times to be a doctor for the United States. Eventually, he was accepted and assigned to serve in Washington, DC. Abbott’s service to the Union made him very popular around Washington DC and with President Lincoln. When Lincoln was shot, Anderson Abbott was one of the surgeons who tended to the president. Abbott had made such an impression on Lincoln that after his death, Mary Todd Lincoln gave Abbott a shawl that President Lincoln had worn at his first inauguration.
Abbott was inducted into the Grand Army of The Republic, an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans. He was also bestowed the honor of “aide-de-camp on the Staff of the Commanding Officers Dept.” At the time, this was the highest honor ever bestowed on a black person in the United States.
Abbott returned to Toronto where he worked as a private doctor and an advocate for equality. He died at the age of 76.
Why he should be remembered: Anderson Ruffin Abbott is a wonderful example of selfless devotion. He could have easily looked across Canada’s southern border and watched the United States rip itself in half. Instead, he went about the business of helping people.
Read more about Anderson Ruffin Abbott.
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