Hugh Mercer

Family tree of Hugh Mercer

Physician, American Civil War, Mexican-American War, War of 1812

ScottishBorn Hugh Mercer

Scottish soldier and physician who participated in the Seven Years' War and American Revolution

Born on January 26, 1726 in Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Scotland , United Kingdom

Died on January 12, 1777 in Princeton, New Jersey , United States

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Hugh Mercer (January 16, 1726 – January 12, 1777) was a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He fought in the New York and New Jersey campaign and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Princeton.
He was born in Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen. He served as an assistant surgeon in Charles Edward Stuart's army during the Battle of Culloden in the Jacobite rising of 1745.
After the failed uprising, Mercer escaped to the colonial-era Province of Pennsylvania, where he lived in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, which is present-day Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. He worked as a physician, and established an apothecary. He served alongside George Washington in the provincial troops during the French and Indian War, and he and Washington became close friends.
...   Hugh Mercer (January 16, 1726 – January 12, 1777) was a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He fought in the New York and New Jersey campaign and was mortally wounded at the Battle of Princeton.
He was born in Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen. He served as an assistant surgeon in Charles Edward Stuart's army during the Battle of Culloden in the Jacobite rising of 1745.
After the failed uprising, Mercer escaped to the colonial-era Province of Pennsylvania, where he lived in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, which is present-day Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. He worked as a physician, and established an apothecary. He served alongside George Washington in the provincial troops during the French and Indian War, and he and Washington became close friends.


Early life and education
Mercer was born on January 16, 1726, in Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Scotland to Ann Monro and the Reverend William Mercer, a minister in the Church of Scotland.
At age 15, he began studying medicine at the University of Aberdeen's Marischal College, and graduated as a physician in 1744. He served as an assistant surgeon in the army of Charles Edward Stuart during the Jacobite rising of 1745, and was present at the Battle of Culloden when Charles' army was defeated on 16 April 1746.
As a fugitive in his homeland in 1747, Mercer fled Scotland after months in hiding. In the fall of 1746, he departed Leith by ship and sailed to Philadelphia. He settled in Pennsylvaniva near Greencastle, now known as Mercersburg, and practiced medicine as a physician and apothecary for eight years.


French and Indian War

Although Mercer opposed the British government forces in the Jacobite Rising of 1745, he fought with the British during the French and Indian War. In 1755, Mercer served as a captain in General Edward Braddock's army in his failed attempt to take Fort Duquesne. He was wounded in the arm during the battle and left behind in the scramble to retreat. He was able to rejoin his troops and continued to treat wounded soldiers. In March 1756, he was commissioned a captain in a Pennsylvania regiment, and took command of Fort Shirley. He accompanied Lt. Col. John Armstrong in the Kittanning Expedition in September 1756.
In the fighting at Kittanning, Mercer was badly wounded and separated from his unit. He trekked 100 miles (160 km) through the woods for 14 days, injured and with no supplies, before he "lay down, giving up all hopes of ever getting home." A "company of Cherokee Indians in kings pay" found him and carried him to Fort Lyttleton, where he recovered.: 164–65  In 1757, he was placed in charge of the garrison at Shippensburg and promoted to Major. It was during this period that Mercer developed a lifelong friendship with George Washington.
Both Washington and Mercer served in the Forbes Expedition under British General John Forbes during the second attempt to capture Fort Duquesne. Forbes occupied the burned fort on 25 November 1758. Forbes immediately ordered the construction of a new fortification to be named Fort Pitt, after British Secretary of State William Pitt the Elder. He also named the settlement between the rivers "Pittsborough", modern Pittsburgh. Mercer built a temporary fort during construction of Fort Pitt, informally known as "Mercer's Fort". It was dismantled in 1760.: 119 


American Revolution

At the recommendation of Washington, Mercer moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1760 to practice medicine after the war. He befriended another Scottish expatriate, John Paul Jones. Mercer became a noted member and businessman in town, buying land and involving himself in local trade. He married Isabella Gordon and started a family.
He became a member of the Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge in 1767. Washington, who was also a member of this lodge, later became President, and at least eight members were generals of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War: Washington, Mercer, George Weedon, William Woodford, Fielding Lewis, Thomas Posey, Gustavus Wallace, and the Marquis de Lafayette, who named an honorary general in 1824, far more than any other group, institution, or organization during the Revolutionary War. The lodge is still in existence today.
Soon after, Mercer opened a physician's apothecary and practice. His apothecary in Fredericksburg, Virginia is now a museum. George Washington's mother, Mary Washington, became one of Mercer's patients, and Mercer prospered as a respected doctor in the area. Mercer married Isabella Gordon and together they had five children: Ann Mercer Patton, John Mercer, William Mercer, George Weedon Mercer, and Hugh Tennant Mercer.
In 1774, George Washington sold Ferry Farm, his childhood home, to Mercer, who wanted to make this prized land into a town where he and his family would settle for the remainder of his days.
During 1775, Mercer was a member of the Fredericksburg Committee of Safety, and on April 25, he was one of the members of the Independent Company of the Town of Fredericksburg who sent a letter of concern to then Colonel George Washington when the British removed gunpowder from the magazine at Williamsburg. In an August vote, Mercer was excluded from the elected leadership of the new regiments formed by the Virginia Convention because he was a "northern Briton", but on 12 September, he was elected Colonel of the Minute Men of Spotsylvania, King George, Stafford, and Caroline Counties.
On November 17, 1775, Mercer was one of 21 members chosen for the Committee of Safety for Spotsylvania County. On January 10, 1776, Mercer was appointed colonel to what soon became the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Virginia Line, and the next day, George Weedon was appointed lieutenant colonel. Future president James Monroe and future Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall also served as officers under his command.


American Revolutionary War
On June 5, 1776, Mercer received a letter from the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, signed by John Hancock, appointing him brigadier-general in the Armies of the United Colonies and requesting him to report to headquarters in New York immediately.
Mercer was placed in charge of a large troop of Pennsylvania Militia stationed in Paulus Hook, New Jersey to protect from potential attack from British troops in Staten Island.
Before the New York City Campaign, Washington had ordered two forts built to repel the Royal Navy. On the New York side of the Hudson River, Fort Washington was constructed, and Mercer himself oversaw the building of the earthen fortification on the New Jersey side, named Fort Lee. The British captured Fort Washington on 16 November 1776, and the Americans abandoned Fort Lee four days later. The retreat to New Jersey became known as "the Crisis of the Revolution", because the enlistments of most of Washington's soldiers ended on New Year's Day 1777.
Mercer led a raid on Richmondtown, Staten Island on October 15, 1776, temporarily securing the town and taking as prisoners those inside the makeshift hospital of St. Andrew's Church, but was repelled back to New Jersey, releasing the prisoners and causing numerous British casualties in the process.
Some historical accounts credit Mercer with the suggestion for George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River, which resulted in a surprise attack on the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776. The victory at Trenton (and a small monetary bonus) made Washington's men agree to a ten-day extension to their enlistment. When Washington decided to face off with Cornwallis during the Second Battle of Trenton on January 2, 1777, Mercer was given a major role in the defense of the city.


Death

The next day, January 3, 1777, Washington's army was en route to the Battle of Princeton. While leading a vanguard of 350 soldiers, Mercer's brigade encountered two British regiments and a mounted unit. A fight broke out at an orchard grove and Mercer's horse was shot from under him. Getting to his feet, he was quickly surrounded by British troops who mistook him for George Washington and ordered him to surrender. Outnumbered, he drew his saber and began an unequal contest. He was finally beaten to the ground, bayoneted seven times, and left for dead.
When he learned of the British attack and saw some of Mercer's men in retreat, Washington himself entered the fray. Washington rallied Mercer's men and pushed back the British regiments, but Mercer had been left on the field to die with multiple bayonet wounds to his body and blows to his head. Legend has it that a beaten Mercer, with a bayonet still impaled in him, did not want to leave his men and the battle and was given a place to rest on a white oak tree's trunk, and those who remained with him stood their ground. The tree became known as "the Mercer Oak" and is the key element of the seal of Mercer County, New Jersey.
When he was found, Mercer was carried to the field hospital in the Thomas Clarke House, now a museum. at the eastern end of the battlefield. Benjamin Rush cared for Mercer and other wounded troops. Rush was assisted in caring for the wounded by Quakers.
Local Quakers continued to care for wounded troops from both Continental and British forces, after the Continental Army moved North. The Quaker meeting house is adjacent to the property now known as Princeton Battlefield State Park. Medical efforts were made by Rush to save Mercer, but he was mortally wounded and died nine days later, on January 12, 1777.


Interment
Mercer was initially interred in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. In 1840, he was reinterred in Laurel Hill Cemetery, including a memorial monument funded by the Saint Andrew's Society.
Because of Mercer's courage and sacrifice, Washington proceeded into Princeton, where he and the Continental Army defeated British forces in the Battle of Princeton. Washington then moved and quartered his forces in Morristown following the victory. Because of those victories, most of Washington's army re-enlisted, the French finally approved arms and supplies to the Americans, and a stunned Cornwallis pulled his forces back to New York to reassess the surprising military victories by Washington and his Continental Army. The crisis ended, demonstrating that Washington and his army had the means to fight, and British public support for continued engagement in the war began waning.
John Trumbull used Mercer's son, Hugh Jr., as a model for his portrait The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777.
A second portrait by Charles Willson Peale, Washington at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777, displays Washington in the foreground with Hugh Mercer lying mortally wounded in the background, supported by Dr. Benjamin Rush and Major George Lewis holding the American flag. This portrait is the prize possession of Princeton University. Peale painted a version of Battle of Princeton, whose background shows a very indistinct portrait of Mercer being helped from the ground.


Family
Succeeding generations of Mercer's family have distinguished themselves. Famous direct descendants of Hugh Mercer were his grandson Virginia governor John Mercer Patton, his sons Confederate Lt. Col Waller T. Patton and Col. George Smith Patton, who in turn was an ancestor of General George S. Patton, Jr. Other direct descendants include another grandson Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer (CSA), songwriter Johnny Mercer, and Sergeant Christopher Mercer Lowe of the U.S. Army.


In popular culture
In 2000, the television film, The Crossing, includes a dramatization of Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton. Mercer is played by Roger Rees.
In 2015, in the Broadway musical Hamilton, Mercer is referenced by Aaron Burr in the song "The Room Where It Happens": "Did ya hear the news about good old General Mercer? You know Clermont Street? They renamed it after him. The Mercer legacy is secure."
In episode 3 of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live (2024), Mercer's story is retold and one of the characters, Major General Beale, possesses a sword said to have belonged to him.


Namesakes
Fort Mercer, located in Red Bank Battlefield of what is now the Borough of National Park, New Jersey
Hugh Mercer Elementary School in Fredericksburg, Virginia
Mercer County, Illinois
Mercer County, Kentucky
Mercer County, Missouri
Mercer County, New Jersey
Mercer County, Ohio
Mercer County, Pennsylvania
Mercer County, West Virginia
Mercer Hall at the University of Mary Washington
Mercer, Maine
Mercer, Pennsylvania
Mercer Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia
Mercer Street in New York City
Mercer Street in Trenton, New Jersey
Mercers Bottom, West Virginia
Mercersburg, Pennsylvania
Mercerville, New Jersey


Gallery















References
Citations

Sources

Goolrick, John Tackett (1906). The Life of General Hugh Mercer. The Neale Publishing Company.
Kwasny, Mark V. (1996). Washington's Partisan War, 1775–1783. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87338-611-1.
Fischer, David Hackett (2004). Washington's Crossing. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-518159-X.


External links
Hugh Mercer: An Unexpected Life



Biography from Wikipedia (see original) under licence CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Geographical origins

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