The important thing to remember about Hugh Mercer is that he was a physician by intention, a soldier by force of circumstance. Born on January 17, 1726, in Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, he studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen and graduated a Doctor. His political sympathies were Jacobite, so he rallied to Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 and joined the Army of Scotland as an assistant surgeon. He was present when the Jacobite dream died at the battle of Culloden on April 16, 1746. A fugitive in his own country, he caught a ship to Pennsylvania and practiced medicine there for eight years.
During the French and Indian War he came to the aid of the numerous British wounded following Braddock’s defeat. Deciding to take up arms for his new homeland, he became captain of a Pennsylvania company of foot. He served throughout the war and rose to the rank of colonel. He began a warm lifetime friendship with another American colonel, George Washington.
The war concluding, Mercer settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia where he opened an apothecary shop which is now a museum. Mercer prospered, and became a physician for many of the elite of Virginia society, including Mary Washington, the mother of George.
As might be expected of a Scot veteran of Culloden, he became an outspoken Patriot as the tide of rebellion rose in America. On January 11, 1776, he was appointed Colonel of the 3rd Virginia Continental regiment. Under his command in the regiment was future president James Monroe and future chief justice John Marshall. In June 1776 he was promoted to Brigadier General.
Commanding a brigade under Washington, he participated in the battle of Trenton. As Cornwallis advanced on Trenton, Washington executed a daring night march around the flank of Cornwallis to attack the British base at Princeton New Jersey. Hugh Mercer led the vanguard of Washington’s Army. Early in the morning of January 3, 1777, Mercer’s force of 350 encountered two British regiments and a British mounted unit in an orchard near Princeton. A fight broke out. Mercer was shot off his horse. Surrounded by the British, Mercer refused to surrender, drew his sword, charged and was bayoneted seven times and left for dead. Washington came up with the rest of the army, rallied Mercer’s men, and the battle was won. The picture by John Trumble at the beginning of this post, depicts Washington leading the attack, as Mercer is attempting to fend off the British troops seeking to bayonet him. Mercer was immediately rushed to receive medical treatment after the battle. After nine agonizing days he died on January 12, 1777, solaced by the news that Culloden had been avenged at Princeton. One of his many descendants was General George S. Patton.