Hugh Mercer lived from 17 January 1726 to 12 January 1777. He was a Scottish doctor who was killed while serving as a brigadier-general in George Washington's revolutionary army. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Hugh Mercer was born near Rosehearty on the north Aberdeenshire coast, where his father, the Rev William Mercer, was a Church of Scotland minister. At the age of 15 he became a student at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he studied medicine. At the age of 19, Mercer became an assistant surgeon in the army of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the 1745 Jacobite uprising, and was present when the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. Like many other Jacobites, Mercer ended up a fugitive in his own country, and in 1747 he boarded a ship bound for North America.
On arrival he settled in what has since become known as Mercersberg in Pennsylvania, and practiced medicine for eight years. In 1755, however, he joined the British army to fight in the French and Indian War, the North American end of the Seven Years' War. In 1756 he was commissioned as a captain in a Pennsylvania regiment. He was wounded during a raid on an Indian village and later promoted to the rank of colonel. Another colonel, George Washington, became a close friend during this period. The war ended in 1760, and Mercer moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he once again set up as a doctor. Mercer became a prominent member of Fredericksburg society and married Isabella Gordon, with whom he had five children. In 1774, he purchased Ferry Farm from George Washington with a view to making it a permanent family home.
Soon afterwards, however, tensions began to build between the colonial power, the British Government, and the colonists. When armed conflict erupted, Mercer's military experience proved highly valuable. In January 1776 he was made colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment. In June 1776 he was promoted to brigadier-general. He subsequently planned the crossing of the Delaware River that preceded the victorious Battle of Trenton on 26 December 1776. On 3 January 1777, while Washington's army was en route to Princeton, New Jersey, Mercer's brigade was engaged by British troops and Mercer himself was very seriously wounded. He died of his wounds nine days later.
Mercer's name has since been attached to the Mercer Oak under which he was wounded; to Mercer Counties in six different US states; to the town of Mercerville in New Jersey; to a street in New York City; and to an elementary school in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Meanwhile, his descendents played a variety of roles in later US history, and include Second World War General George S. Patton.