Anderson Ruffin Abbott was the first black Canadian doctor. Abbott and his family had a long history of contributing to the social life and economy of Toronto.

Dr. Abbott’s father, Wilson Ruffin Abbott, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to a Scottish-Irish man and a free black woman in 1801. He left home at the age of 15 to work on a Mississippi steamer, and settled in Mobile, Alabama, where he opened a general grocery store.

In 1834, the city of Mobile passed a writ requiring all free blacks to provide a bond signed by two white men as a pledge of good behaviour. Shortly afterwards, in response to an anonymous warning that the store would be robbed, Abbott withdrew his savings and put his wife and children on a steamer bound for New Orleans.

After a brief time in New York, the Abbotts arrived in Toronto with many black families who sought freedom in the north. Wilson Abbott established himself as a real estate broker and land owner in Toronto, becoming active in local public and social affairs, eventually elected to City Council for St. Patrick’s Ward.

Listing for W.R. Abbott.
Researchers identify blacks in the directory to reconstruct activities of the black community.
Rowsell’s City of Toronto and County of York Directory
Toronto: Henry Rowsell, 1850

He served in the militia during the 1837 Rebellion and served as a founding committee member of the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada.

Constitution and Bye-Laws
Anti-Slavery Society of Canada
Toronto: Geo. Brown, 1851

His wife, Ellen Toyer, helped organize the Queen Victoria Benevolent Society to assist poor black women, and was active in the British Methodist Episcopal Church.

British Methodist Episcopal Church
J.V. Salmon
S 1-960

They moved to Chatham in the early 1850s.

W.R. Abbott of Buxton listed as a shareholder
Third Annual report of the Directors of the Elgin Association
Toronto: John Carter, 1853

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Source: Special Collections, Toronto Public Library.