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  • Writer's pictureJill Newmark

A Canadian Serves the Union

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

Anderson R. Abbott

During the American Civil War, as many as 40,000 Canadians crossed the border into the U.S to join the fight for freedom. Among them was Anderson R. Abbott who worked as an acting assistant surgeon on contract with the U.S. Army. Canada had become a safe haven for many Black women and men escaping enslavement in the U.S. and those who were born free but sought a better life for themselves and their families. Canada was an appealing place for people of color since the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that took effect in 1834 banning slavery throughout the country. The slavery ban meant white enslavers would have no legal means to repossess a formerly enslaved person once they crossed the international border. Thousands of Black women, men and children arrived safely in Canada from the United States including the parents of Anderson R. Abbott who arrived in 1835.

Image of a man with a mustache facing the camera wearing a Civil War medical officer's uniform
Courtesy Oblate Sisters of Providence

Abbott was born two years after his parents arrived in Canada. He was educated in a private school in Buxton, Ontario and received his medical education at the University of Toronto. Following in the footsteps of his friend and mentor Alexander T. Augusta, Abbott submitted a letter of application to the U.S. Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, requesting a position as a surgeon. Although he was a Canadian citizen, Abbott was offered a contract as an acting assistant surgeon and assigned duty at Contraband Hospital in Washington, D.C. under the direction of his friend Major Alexander T. Augusta.

During his time in Washington, Abbott not only served the hospital and its patients, but he participated in many social and abolitionist events in the city including breaking the color barrier by attending a White House levee with Augusta and meeting President Abraham Lincoln. His friendship with Elizabeth Keckly, seamstress and confidante of First Lady Mary Lincoln made for an interesting and intriguing life in the city.

Learn more about Anderson R. Abbott in Without Concealment, Without Compromise: The Courageous Lives of Black Civil War Surgeons, available June 2023. Pre-order today at Southern Illinois University Press and use SIUP20 for a 20% discount. Also available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

© Jill L. Newmark 2022

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