Anderson Ruffin Abbott, son of a wealthy properties speculator, pursued a classical education in preparation for a professional career. Graduating from the Toronto School of Medicine in 1861 he became the first Canadian of African descent to train as a physician. In 1863 he petitioned Abraham Lincoln and was appointed one of only eight black surgeons in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Following Lincoln's assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln bestowed on Abbott the plaid shawl Lincoln wore to his first inauguration. His career as physician, surgeon, Canada's first African Canadian coroner and Superintendent of Chicago's Provident Hospital and Training School gained him respect in both countries and allowed him to bear with tolerance and equanimity the racial prejudice that was never far below the surface.
Active in civil affairs, church and cultural matters, he was also a lecturer as well as musician. An advocate of advanced yet basic education Abbott served as the President of the Wilberforce Educational Institute and later as administrator for the Dundas Mechanics' Institute. Although a physician by trade Abbott saw himself very much as scholar, a man of letters with many of his works published in various papers or journals in Canada and the United States in which he championed the causes of others particularly those of African descent. His military career had a profound affect on him and in 1890 he was elected a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, James S. Knowlton Post No. 532 in New York State and was later accorded the role of Surgeon and Aide-de-Camp.
In his later years he returned to Toronto and is buried in the Toronto Necropolis.