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The Scottish Nation
Mercer


MERCER, HUGH, brigadier-general in the American Revolutionary army, was born in Scotland in 1721. Having studied medicine, he acted as a surgeon’s assistant in the memorable battle of Culloden, but on which side he served is not mentioned. Not long after he emigrated to Pennsylvania, but removed to Virginia, where he settled and married. He was engaged with Washington in the Indian wars of 1755 and following years, and for his good conduct in an expedition against an Indian settlement, conducted by Colonel Armstrong, in September 1756, he was presented with a medal by the corporation of the city of Philadelphia. In one of the engagements with the Indians he was wounded in the right wrist, and being separated from his party, on the approach of some hostile Indians, he took refuge in the hollow trunk of a large tree, where he remained till they disappeared. He then pursued his course through a trackless wild of about one hundred miles, until he reached Fort Cumberland, subsisting by the way on the body of a rattlesnake which he met and killed. When the war broke out between the colonists and the mother country, he relinquished an extensive medical practice, and immediately joined the standard of Independence. Under Washington he soon reached the rank of brigadier-general, and particularly distinguished himself in the battles of Trenton and Princeton, in the winter of 1776-7. In the latter engagement he commanded the van of the American army, and after exerting the utmost valour and activity, had his horse killed under him. Being thus dismounted, he was surrounded by some British soldiers, with whom, on being refused quarter, he fought desperately, until he was completely overpowered, and after being severely wounded, was left for dead on the field of battle. He died about a week after in the arms of Major George Lewis, the nephew of General Washington, whom his uncle had commissioned to attend him. Another American officer, General Wilkinson, in his ‘Memoirs,’ observes, “In General Mercer we lost, at Princeton, a chief who, for education, talents, disposition, integrity, and patriotism, was second to no man but the commander-in-chief, and was qualified to fill the highest trusts in the country.”

MERCER, JAMES, the friend of Beattie, and himself a poet of some consideration, was born at Aberdeen, February 17, 1734, and received his education at the grammar school and Marischal college of that city. He was the eldest of two sons of Thomas Mercer, a gentleman of fortune in Aberdeenshire, who, in 1745, took arms for the Pretender, and for his share in the rebellion was obliged to retire to France. At the commencement of the Seven Years’ war, James Mercer, who had resided with his father for several years in Paris, came to England, and joined the expedition against Cherbourg as a volunteer. He afterwards proceeded to Germany, and in a short time was promoted to an ensigncy in one of the English regiments serving with the allied army. He subsequently received a lieutenant’s commission in a battalion of Highlanders, then newly raised by Lieutenant-colonel Campbell. During several years arduous service in the field, he distinguished himself by his bravery and skill, and at the battle of Minden in 1759, his regiment was one of the six whose gallantry on that occasion saved the reputation of the allied arms.

Shortly before the peace of 1763, General Graeme, a relation of Mr. Mercer, presented him with a company in a regiment which he had undertaken to raise, and which was afterwards called the Queen’s. On his return to Britain he took up his residence at Aberdeen, where he enjoyed the society of Dr. Beattie, Dr. Reid, Dr. Campbell, and other eminent men, and where, in the summer of 1763, he married a daughter of Mr. Douglas of Fechil, the sister of Lord Glenbervie. The “Queen’s,” with other new corps, being reduced at the peace, Captain Mercer purchased a company in the 49th regiment, and removed with it to Ireland, where he served for nearly ten years. The majority of his regiment becoming vacant, he succeeded to it by purchase. In 1772 he concluded a treaty with the lieutenant-colonel for becoming his successor; but the commission being given to another, induced him to sell out of the army, when he retired with his family to a small cottage in the vicinity of Aberdeen. In 1776-7 the duke of Gordon raised a regiment of Fencibles, the majority of which he conferred on Mercer, who held it during the American war. On the return of peace, the major again settled with his family in the neighbourhood of Aberdeen, where he died November 18, 1803. In 1797 a small volume of his ‘Lyric Poems’ was published anonymously. A second edition, with seven new pieces, appeared early in 1804 with his name. To a third edition an account of his life was prefixed, by Lord Glenbervie. Major Mercer was not only an elegant and accomplished scholar, but possessed much original genius as a poet, conjoined with a high feeling of refined modesty, which led him to conceal, even from his intimate friends, the poems which he wrote for his own amusement. There are some interesting notices of him in Sir William Forbes’ Life of “Dr. Beattie.

His daughter, Miss Mercer of Aldie, in Perthshire, an ancient barony at one time possessed by the Mercers of Meiklour, in the same county, became the wife of Admiral Lord Viscount Keith, and the mother of Baroness Keith, Countess Flahaut.


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