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Mercer, Hugh

Mercer, Hugh

MERCER, HUGH. (1725?–1777). Continental general. Scotland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, perhaps in 1725, Hugh Mercer was educated as a doctor at the University of Aberdeen (1740–1744) and was in the surgeons' corps of Prince Charles Edward in 1745. After the battle of Culloden he emigrated to America, settling near what is now Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. He became a captain in the Pennsylvania Regiment during the Seven Years' War, and may have been present at Major General Edward Braddock's defeat by the Indians at the Monongahela River (near modern Pittsburgh). He took part in the expedition against the Indian settlement at Kittanning, Pennsylvania (September 1756) and was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the militia. Then, after General John Forbes's expedition to Fort Duquesne (1758), he was promoted to colonel of the Third Battalion on 23 April 1759, and was made commandant of Fort Pitt.

During these frontier operations, Mercer met George Washington, and it may have been at Washington's suggestion that Mercer moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he opened an apothecary shop. On 12 September 1775 he was elected colonel of the minutemen in four counties. Having narrowly lost out to Patrick Henry for command of the First Virginia Regiment, the fifty-year-old doctor was commissioned colonel of the Third Virginia Regiment on 13 February 1776. Appointed brigadier general of the Continental army on 5 June, he was put in command of the flying camp, comprised of mobile militia forces. He led a column at Trenton, New Jersey, and is one of several officers credited in contemporary accounts with suggesting the strategy leading to the triumph at Princeton, New Jersey, on 3 January 1777. Mortally wounded in this action, he died on 11 January of that same year.

SEE ALSO Flying Camp; Princeton, New Jersey; Trenton, New Jersey.


English, Frederick. General Hugh Mercer: Forgotten Hero of the American Revolution. New York: Vantage Press, 1975.

Waterman, Joseph M. With Sword and Lancet: The Life of General Hugh Mercer. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, 1941.

                           revised by Michael Bellesiles

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