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The Scottish Nation

MERCER, a surname of great antiquity, and of French origin. There were two families of the name in Scotland, viz., the Mercers of Innerpeffry, or the Roys (reds), and those of Aldie, the Dhus (blacks), Perthshire. Of these the former are said to be the elder. They seem to have acquired the lands of Innerpeffry in Strathern, extending along both banks of the Pow, from Abercairney to the Earn, including the present properties of Dollerie, Inchbreakie, Innerpeffry, &c., by intermarriage with the family of Malcolm de Innerpeffry, sheriff of Clackmannan in 1318.

Robert Mercer seems to have sold his lands to Thomas Oliphant of Dron before 15th June 1468, but this sale was evidently invalid, as there were complaints before the Lords auditors, and disputes for these lands down to the year 1595.

Alexander, eldest son of Robert, died a monk in the year 1469, and David, the 2d son, succeeded to the patrimony. He commenced suits for the recovery of his lands from the Oliphants, and in the Gask charter chest is a document dated 1484, by which David Mercer and his five sons, William, Vincent, George, Andrew, and James, declare that they will retain possession of Lord Oliphant’s lands of Clathy until he pays them for the lands of Innerpeffry. The disputes seem to have been partially compromised about 1503, when John, Lord Drummond, gets a charter for Innerpeffry. As William Mercer, in 1500, and Andrew Mercer, in 1507, get lands as faithful servitors of the king, it is likely that Lord Drummond obtained them situations in the royal household, through the influence of his sister, Annabella, wife of King Robert.

William Mercer was probably the poet whom Dunbar commends in his ‘Lament,’ and seems also to have been court jester. Innerpeffry is now in the possession of Arthur Hay Drummond of Cromlix. Dollerie got into the possession of the Murrays about 1550, and is still in that family.

Peter Mercer, probably a brother of Alexander and David, obtained Inchbreakie, which had been mortgaged to his uncle Andrew, and sold it in 1503 to Lord Grahame, who gave this property to his 2d son, and his descendants still hold it.

From this date it is difficult to trace the family, but they are said to be represented by Mercer Henderson of Fordel, and General Alexander Cavalie Mercer of the Royal Engineers.


The Mercers (Dhu) of Aldie, or, as commonly pronounced, Awdie, have been connected with Perth from time immemorial. An inscription is said to be in their vault in the church of St. John in that city, which asserts that John Mercer died in 1280. This vault, according to tradition, was a royal grant to the family, in consideration of their having given one of the kings of Scotland the Mills of Perth, hence the two rhymes.

“So sicker ‘tis as anything on earth
are older than Old Perth.”


“Fold say the Mercers tried the town to cheat
When for two inches they did win six feet.”

Bernard Mercer, the son of John, who died in 1280, was a burgess of Perth, and signed the Ragman Roll in 1296.

The first founder of this baronial family was John Mercer, a wealthy merchant burgess of Perth, about 1340, at that time the metropolis of Scotland, which it ceased to be in 1482. He several times represented Perth in parliament, and was provost of that city in 1357, 1369, and 1374. He is mentioned in 1357 as procurator for Perth, to treat of the ransom for King David. He was frequently sent as ambassador to England, France, and Holland, and was held in high estimation by Charles V., (surnamed the Wise) King of France. He was a man of immense wealth, as may be supposed from the fact of his son having been able to raise a fleet of his own, in the year 1377, to avenge the captivity of his father.

It was to this circumstance, in all probability, that the rise of the family was due, as we find Andrew, who, in 1366, obtained a safe conduct as a Scottish merchant, was in 1377 admiral of Spain, in command of the allied fleets of Spain, France, and Scotland, in an attack on Scarborough. It appears that, when returning to Scotland that year, his father, John Mercer, was driven by stress of weather upon the coast of England, and seized and confined in the castle of Scarborough, till an order from the English court effected his discharge. The earl of Douglas, from whom he held lands, calls him his vassal, or “man,” (home), in a letter sent to King Richard, remonstrating upon the injustice of his seizure. His son, to revenge the injury, cruised before Scarborough with a fleet composed of French, Scots, and Spaniards, and captured several vessels. John Philpot, an opulent citizen of London, thereupon, we are told, took upon himself the protection of the trade of the kingdom, neglected by the Duke of Lancaster, who governed the kingdom in the minority of his nephew, and having hired 1,000 armed men, sent them to sea in search of Mercer, when they took, with his prizes and 15 Spanish vessels, his consorts all richly laden. On January 1, 1378, Andrew Mercer got a safe conduct as “Armiger” of the King of Scotland. This might have been an office, -- but if it was a title, it is probably the first recorded instance of an “esquire,” a title only first known in England in the reign of Richard II.

In 1384, Andrew appears in the chartulary of Lennox as Sir Andrew. On April 28, the same year, he got forth merks furth of the customs of the burgh of Perth. Sir Andrew died in 1390-1.

His son, Sir Michael, was the ward of Walter Stewart, lord of Brechin, the king’s brother, from 1391 to 1402. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir David Stewart of Durrisdeer, before 1396, in his minority. He died about 1440. He had two sons, Sir Andrew, and Robert, of Balief, ancestor of the Balief branch, which consisted of four Roberts in succession, the second of whom was ambassador to the king of the Romans, October 13, 1471, and the race became extinct in Robert, who died in 1583, without issue.

Sir Andrew, the elder son, besides other charters, got one for the barony of Meikleour, Perthshire, March 21, 1440-44, one for Kilgraston, Pitkeathly, and one-fourth of Lednoch, in the same county, Oct. 26, 1451, and one for Dumbarney, Nov. 19, 1455. He died in 1473. He had a son, Sir Laurence, and a daughter, Christian, who married Gilbert Skene of Skene.

Sir Laurence, the son, had a safe conduct to England from Edward IV., June 12, 1473. He married in 1475, Isobel, a daughter of Henry Wardlaw of Torry, and died in 1501. His widow married 2dly in 1504, Patrick Mercer of Inchbreakie. Sir Laurence had 2 sons and a daughter, Isobel, married to Robert Maule of Panmure.

Sir Henry, the elder son, married Margaret Douglas of Lochleven, and was killed at Flodden. His son, Laurence, carried on the main line, from which branched off the Mercers of Melgins and Saline, in 1588. Sir James, last of the Adlie line, died in 1671. He was one of his majesty’s ordinary gentleman ushers.

Sir Laurence Mercer of Melgins, married, 1st, Margaret, heiress of Aldie, from whom is descended Countess de Flahault, baroness Keith and Nairne, female representative of Aldie; 2dly, Christian Kinloch. The Melgins line became extinct on the death of his son, Robert, in 1792. Robert Mercer, of the Saline branch, is now male representative of Aldie.

Robert, the 2d son of Sir Laurence Mercer and Isobel Wardlaw, was styled of Newton of Forgandenny. He married Helen, styled of Newton and Dalgetty in the “Book of Drummond,” widow of James Oliphant, and youngest daughter of Edmund Chisholm of Cromlix, by his 2d wife, Isobel Drummond of Coldoch. Robert had three sons and a daughter, Elizabeth, married to William Hay of Gourdie.

The eldest son, James, of Newton of Forgandenny, and Newton and Dalgetty, married Elizabeth Wemyss, and was ancestor of the Clevage line, which became extinct in Robert, who died at Perth in 1810.

The second son was named William.

Andrew, the third son, married in February 1562, Mariot, daughter of Adam Blackwood, merchant burgess of Perth. He had a charter from his uncle, William Chisholm, bishop of Dunblane, for lands near Perth, December 20, 1563; pending reference to the Pope, charter not confirmed till January 22, 1566. He was admitted a merchant burgess of Perth, Jan. 18, 1567, and appointed by John, earl of Montrose, sheriff-depute of Perthshire, together with John Grahame of Balgowan, October 5, 1585. He had 3 sons, William, James, and Laurence.

William, the eldest son, married Helen Drummond, and was ancestor of the Potterhill line, extinct in William, who died about 1740, leaving four daughters.

Laurence, the third son, born in 1578, matriculated at St. Andrews in 1596, and graduated in 1601. He was admitted to the ministry in 1607, and became parson of Fossaway, in which parish Aldie is, in 1609. He died about 1653. He married February 8, 1619, Margaret, daughter of Mr. Edmond Mylis, parson of Cleish, and had 2 sons and 2 daughters, the latter twins.

Laurence, the elder son, born in 1622, was admitted minister of Fossaway in 1654, and died about 1658.

Edmond, the second son, born in 1625, sat on an assize at Crook of Devon in 1662, as Edmond Mercer, at Balridrie, in the parish of Muckart.

Laurence had a son, also named Laurence, born about 1657. He was admitted minister of Gask, December 10, 1680, but was removed, by order of the privy council, in 1690, when he became factor of Aldie. He died January 30, 1720. He married in 1706, Jean, only daughter of William Lindsay, bishop of Dunkeld, and relict of James Lindsay of Dow Hill her cousin. She was styled Lady Pitteuchar, from an estate which her second husband possessed. Laurence had three sons.

James Francis of Pitteuchar, the eldest son, a lieutenant-colonel in the army, was killed by a cannon-ball, August 13, 1756, when defending Fort Oswego, of which he was in command, against a French force under Montcalm (See Smollett’s History of England, p. 577.) He left no issue.

Laurence, the second son, predeceased his elder brother, at Kingston, Jamaica, in August 1742, without issue.

William, the third son, born October 1, 1717, succeeded to Pitteuchar, on the death of Colonel James, in 1756. He had a charter of Potterhill from the earl of Kinnoul, April 16, 1768. He died at Potterhill, January 16, 1785. He married Elizabeth, daughter of George Swan, a son of Charles II. When asked why he had not ennobled him, as he had his other children, the king replied, “I did not dare to make a deuck (Scotch for duck), or him, but I made a nobler bird,” namely, a Swan. William had ten sons and three daughters.

Laurence James, the eldest son, and 3d child, born January 10, 1752, succeeded to Potterhill on the death of his father in 1785. He entered the Bengal civil service, and was chief judge at Burdwan. He died there, August 20, 1791, and was described as “the upright judge.”

James, the 2d son and 4th child, died young.

William, the 3d son and 5th child, born January 8, 1755, joined the 19th regiment at Gibraltar in 1763, and sold out at Dublin. Having got a cadetship to India, he sailed under a letter of exchequer, on board of “the Mount Stewart.” Captured on the voyage, he was carried to Spain, and exchanged. He was afterwards a captain in the 5th Bengal cavalry, and as major he commanded the body guard of Warren Hastings, governor-in-chief of India. He died at Ghazepore, August 3, 1801. He married in 1788, Barbara, daughter of Robert Forbes of Corse, Banffshire, and had 2 sons and 4 daughters.

James Francis, the 4th son and 6th child, born August 28, 1756, joined the 64th regiment in America, and July 29, 1796, became lieutenant-colonel of the 22d regiment. He died at Perth, April 26, 1809. He married Clarinda O’Grady, without issue.

George and Graeme, the next two sons, died in infancy.

Graeme Mercer of Mavisbank, the 7th son and 10th child, born July 4, 1764, entered the Bengal service as assistant-surgeon, and was the East India Company’s resident at Scindiah’s court. He accompanied Lord Lake as diplomatic agent. He died unmarried at Mavisbank, October 6, 1841, and was buried at Lasswade.

John, the 8th son and 11th child, born September 13, 1766, was a lieutenant of marines. He died unmarried, April 1794, from the effects of a wound received at Guadeloupe.

Thomas, the 9th son and 12th child, born June 16, 1769, was engaged in mercantile pursuits in Bengal, and died unmarried, August 15, 1833. George, the 10th son and 13th child, was the first of the Gorthy branch. Of him afterwards.

The children of Captain William Mercer and Barbara Forbes were, 1. Anne Abernethy, born at Calcutta, January 15, 1794, and married in 1813, at Broughty Ferry, Charles M’Grigor, brother of Sir James M’Grigor, Bart., chief of the army medical department. Her husband died March 15, 1841, being a retired lieutenant-colonel in her majesty’s service. 2. Eliza Forbes, born October 17, 1795, married at Perth November 15, 1802, Richard Charles Blunt, second son of Sir Charles William Blunt, Bart., of Blunt Hall, Sussex. He died at Bretlands House, Surrey, January 16, 1846. His son, Sir Charles, succeeded as 6th baronet. 3. William Drummond, born at Benares, Bengal, October 16, 1796, joined the 70th regiment in Canada in 1814, and became major of the 16th Lancers in India. He married Anne Elliot, eldest daughter of George Mercer of Gorthy, issue, a son, William Lindsay, born in Edinburgh April 23, 1858, and a daughter, Anna Graeme, born in Edinburgh September 25, 1854. 4. Louisa, born at Cawnpore, May 30, 1798, married February 23, 1819. Alexander Brodie, manager of the Bank of Scotland, Stirling. 5. Charlotte Simpson, born at Cawnpore, June 29, 1799, married June 30, 1817, Robert Lockhart, of Castlehill and Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire. He died November 2, 1850. 6. James, born August 18, 1800, died in infancy.


George Mercer of Gorthy, above mentioned, and of Dryden and Mavisbank, born July 21, 1772, entered, when young, into the East India Company’s service as midshipman, and was sometime engaged in mercantile pursuits in India. He was one of the 14 gentlemen, principally of Hobart Town, who, on June 13, 1835, entered into an indenture of association for the colonization of Port Phillip, now Victoria, New South Wales, which had been acquired by treaty with the native chiefs on the 6th of that month. In the capacity of shareholder and as agent for the Geelong and Dutigalla association, on his return to Scotland, he conducted the official correspondence with the colonial secretary, at that time Lord Glenelg, his first letter being dated Dryden House, by Edinburgh, January 26, 1836, accompanying which were various documents, including the originals of two treaties, executed in triplicate, entered into with the aboriginal chiefs, possessors of the territory in the neighbourhood of Port Phillip, and a map of the territories ceded by the head men of the Dutigalla tribe. On the part of the association, he solicited a recognition and confirmation by the crown of the treaties executed by the native chiefs, occupants of the soil, or a royal grant of the territories, as feudatories of the British crown. The colonial secretary, on the ground that the territory acquired by the association was part of the colony of New south Wales, declined to confirm, on the part of the crown, the arrangement entered into with the native chiefs, or to accede to their other request, and it was not till July 1, 1851, that Port Phillip became an independent colony, under the name of Victoria. Mr. Mercer married at Allyghur, East Indies, September 12, 1810, Frances Charlotte, born March 21, 1793, daughter of John Reid, Esq., Bengal medical service, and died December 7, 1853. His widow died April 24, 1862, at Woodcot Rectory, Oxfordshire, and is there interred. They had 14 children, viz., 1. Graeme Reid Mercer of Gorthy, born August 29, 1812, and was sometime in the Ceylon Civil Service. He married July 5, 1854, Catherine, daughter of James Hay, Esq. of Colliepriest, and the Lady Mary Hay. 2. A daughter, died 1813. 3. George Duncan, a lieutenant in the 45th regiment of Bengal Infantry. 4. Anne Elliot, already mentioned as wife of her cousin, William Drummond Mercer. 5. Frances Georgina, married June 14, 1842, George Falconer, Esq. of Carlowrie, captain 33d regiment. 6. Harriet Jane. 7. William Thomas, educated at the university of Oxford, of which is M.A. In July 1862, he was appointed governor of Hong King, China. He married April 23, 1862, Mary Phillips Nind, 3d daughter of Rev. P. Nind, vicar of Woodcot, Oxfordshire. 8. John Henry, married December 11, 1861, Annie Catherine, 2d daughter of James Anstruther, Esq. 9. Charles, died on the 25th of July, 1826. 10. Charles M’Whirter, captain Bengal Horse Artillery. 11. Emily Eliza. 12. Louisa Rachel, 13. Laurence James, civil engineer, Madras. 14. Charlotte Catherine.


Lieutenant-Colonel William Mercer, born about 1605, who is supposed to have been of a branch of the Mercers settled in Aberdeenshire, was the author of ‘Angliae Speculum,’ or England’s Looking Glasse, London, 1646, ‘News from Parnassus,’ 1682, and other small publications in doggerel verse. From an account of him in the ‘Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,’ 1860, written by David Laing, Esq., vice-president of that city, we learn some particulars of him. At the age of 15 he fled from school to the continent and embraced the military profession. Referring to this period of his life in his ‘News from Parnassus,’ he says:

“Before my sight four times six years had seen.
Throughout six kingdoms had my body been,
Bore arms in each.”

He returned to Scotland before 1630, as on June 28 of that year, a letter of presentation was granted by Charles I., in his favour, “to the parsonage and vicarage of the teyndis, &c., of the kirk and parochine of Glenholme,” &c., one of the prebends attached to the chapel royal of Stirling. “Whether,” says Mr. Laing, “this presentation was confirmed is uncertain. Probably not, it was at least not requisite for the presentee to hold any orders in the church, the only qualification, if any such were required, was a knowledge of music. Various instances might be quoted of similar benefices having been conferred for a period of seven years, for the purpose of enabling a youth to pursue his academical course.”

About 1638 he was engaged in the military service in Ireland. During the civil wars he took the part of the parliament, and obtained from Robert, earl of Essex, general of the parliamentary forces, a commission as captain of horse. In 1646, it appears from a poem in his ‘Angliae Speculum,’ in the form of a petition to the lords and commons, and the lord mayor and common council of London, that he was reduced to great distress, by the arrears of pay due to him, amounting to £900; one-half or a third part of which he earnestly solicits for the relief of his necessities. On March 20, 1643, he had presented a petition to the House of Commons, for payment of his arrears, but was referred from one committee to another, and from parliament to the mayor and aldermen of London, and all the time was left in great destitution. He was afterwards again employed, under Cromwell, in Ireland, and raised to the rank of lieutenant by Cromwell. In the spring of 1650, he returned to Scotland, still in reduced circumstances, and the commission of the General Assembly recommended a collection for him by the Presbytery of Edinburgh. After the restoration, like a great many others, he visited Charles II. at Whitehall. On the appointment of Lord Roberts, Baron of Truro, as governor of Ireland, September 18, 1669, Colonel Mercer printed a “Welcom in a poem to his Excellency,” &c., Dublin, 1669. Another unique production, preserved in the Grenville collection in the British Museum, attributed to him, is entitled ‘The Moderate Cavalier; or the soldier’s Description of Ireland and of the Country Disease, with Receipts for the same. A book fit for all Protestant houses in Ireland,’ 1675, 36 pages, 4to.

In 1672 he revisited Scotland, in consequence of a proposal for a marriage betwixt his eldest son and Grizzel Mercer, heiress of the barony of Aldie, but owing to the change of mind of the lady’s mother, no marriage took place. Colonel Mercer, therefore, raised an action of damages before the court of session, for breach of a verbal treaty of marriage, and expenses. While the case was in dependence, he prepared, as a new year’s gift to the judges, a series of encomiums, entitled ‘A Compendious Comparison of the Lives and Lawes of the Senators of Rome, with the Lives and Lawes of the Senators of the Colledge of Justice, Edinburgh, in familiar lines and poems.’ Edinburgh, 1673, MS., 4to, pp. 34, Advocate’s Library. On December 14, 1675, the judges decided that, as there was no marriage contract or written agreement, a mother’s verbal assurance was not binding, but as he had been invited to Scotland for the proposed alliance, he was entitled to expenses. He returned to Ireland, but the date of his death is uncertain. He was four times married, his first and last wives being widows.


The slogan or war cry, and now the motto, of the Mercers of Aldie, is, “Ye gret pule,” that is, the great pool, or the sea, said to have had its origin in the attack at Scarborough, by Sir Andrew Mercer in 1377. Their crest is a crane crushing a snake or water serpent.

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