Healthcare Legacies: Trinity College

Trinity College

An image of a man. He is looking slightly to the right of the image and is wearing a dark suit and bowtie. Only the top half of the man is visible in the image.
Dr. Alexander T. Augusta. Image from Howard University Medical Department: A Historical, Biographical, and Statistical Souvenir, 1900 by Dr. Daniel Smith Lamb.

Dr. Alexander T. Augusta. Image from “Howard University Medical Department: A Historical, Biographical, and Statistical Souvenir”, 1900 by Dr. Daniel Smith Lamb.

A sepia photo of a man with a mustache. He is standing next to a table in a civil war uniform. He is looking off to the side
Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott in military uniform, USA, circa 1863. Toronto Public Library.

Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott in military uniform, USA, circa 1863. Toronto Public Library.

Image of a newspaper advertisement. The text reads: New drug store. Central Medical Hall. A. T. Augusta begs to announce to his friends and the public generally that he has opened the store on Yonge Street, one door south of Elm Street, with a new and choice selection of drugs, medicines, patent medicines, perfumery, dye stuffs, et cetera, and trusts by strict attention to his business, to merit a share of their patronage. Physicians' prescriptions accurately prepared. Leeches applied, cupping, bleeding, and teeth extracted. The proprietor, or a competent assistant always in attendance.
Advertisement for Dr. Alexander Augusta’s Central Medical Hall, Toronto, 1854. The Globe.

Advertisement for Dr. Alexander Augusta’s Central Medical Hall, Toronto, 1854. The Globe.

Handwritten letter on yellowed paper. The letter says the following: Toronto Canada West Jan 7 1863
To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln
President of the U.S.
Sir,
Having seen that it is intended to garrison the U.S. forts with colored troops, I beg leave to
apply to you for an appointment as surgeon to some of the coloured regiments, or as physician
to some of the depots of “freedmen.” I was compelled to leave my native country, and come to
this on account of prejudice against colour, for the purpose of obtaining a knowledge of my
profession, and having accomplished that object, at one of the principle educational institutions
of this Province, I am now prepared to practice it, and would like to be in a position where I can
be of use to my race.
If you will take the matter into favorable consideration, I am given satisfactory references as to
character and qualification from some of the most distinguished members of the profession in
this city where I have been in practice for about six years.
I remain sir
Yours very respectfully
A.T. Augusta, Bachelor of Medicine, Trinity College, Toronto"
Letter from Alexander Augusta to President Abraham Lincoln, Toronto, January 7, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Letter from Alexander Augusta to President Abraham Lincoln, Toronto, January 7, 1863. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Alexander Thomas Augusta

Alexander Augusta was born in 1825 to free parents of colour in Norfolk, Virginia. Although Augusta was interested in healthcare from an early age, Augusta’s education had to be kept secret. At the time, Virginia laws prohibited formal education to anyone in the Black community.

As a young man, Augusta worked as a barber, supporting himself while applying to American medical schools. But, without a diploma or academic transcripts, he was denied admission. Augusta and his family moved to Toronto so he could complete his medical training at Trinity Medical College in 1853.

After graduation, Augusta worked as a physician in Toronto. He offered medical care to the poor and was president of the Association for the Education of Coloured People in Canada. Augusta was also part of abolitionist circles that were committed to ending slavery in both Canada and the United States.

Anderson Ruffin Abbott

Anderson Abbott was the first Canadian-born person of African heritage to become a physician in Canada. His parents, Wilson and Elaine Abbott, had emigrated to Canada from Alabama in 1834; Anderson was born three years later in Toronto. Unlike Augusta’s experiences in Virginia, public education was more widely available to the Black community in Upper Canada.

In 1857, after attending University College, Abbott enrolled in the Toronto School of Medicine. Abbott apprenticed under Dr. Augusta and gained a valuable mentor and friend. Earning his license to practice medicine in 1861, Abbott worked as a physician in both Canada and the United States.

The Civil War

After the American Civil War broke out in 1861, many members of the Black community in Canada traveled to the United States to fight in the Union Army. Alexander Augusta and Anderson Abbott were two of them.

In 1863, Augusta wrote to President Abraham Lincoln to offer his medical services to the Union Army. Although his services were initially rejected, largely because of the colour of his skin, the U.S. Medical Board eventually recommended Augusta be appointed a surgeon in the Union Army. He became the first Black surgeon to hold a commission and the highest-ranking Black officer at the time.

Augusta and Abbott

Abbott also joined the Union Army’s efforts as a physician in 1863, treating Black soldiers at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C. There, he and Augusta resumed their friendship, working at the Hospital and attending social events together, including a visit to the White House to meet President Lincoln. When Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in 1865, Abbott was one of several physicians present who tried to save the dying president.

After the War, Abbott continued his medical work, serving as coroner in Ontario’s Kent County as well as medical superintendent for Chicago’s Provident Hospital.

Augusta continued to work in the U.S. as a physician at the Freedman’s Hospital. After his death in 1890, Augusta became the first Black military officer to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.