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After escaping from Scotland to freedom in America, Dr. Hugh Mercer became a Revolutionary War hero. He is profiled in a series by Paula S. Felder on 'The Fredericksburg Patriots.' Hugh Mercer: An unexpected life
His most prized possession was the Washington farm, which he had purchased from George Washington in 1774. The price agreed on was 2,000 pounds, to be paid in five annual payments, though Mercer confidently expected "to discharge the debt sooner." From that time on, the farm was the centerpiece of his future plans.
Mercer instructed his executors to sell all his town lots, including his residence, and to build a new dwelling at the farm if the old farmhouse was not satisfactory to his wife.
His plans were not realized. Mercer was soon singled out by Gen. Washington for extraordinary duties. He died of wounds incurred at the Battle of Princeton in January 1777.
But Isabella Mercer did not wish to live on the farm. His executors improvised the means to accommodate her. They personally bought the home on Lot 50 and then sold it to her attorney to convey to her as her own property. She lived there until her death in 1791. It was then owned for many years by her daughter's husband, Robert Patton.
The Mercer children (Hugh Tennant, Ann Mercer Patton and William) inherited the Washington farm. Young Hugh T. Mercer, the son his father never knew, moved into the Sentry Box, a legacy from his uncle, George Weedon, about 1800. The house lay opposite the farm, and Mercer was prompted to reactivate the ferry. He leased the operation to a series of managers and actively promoted it until the farm was sold in 1829. The ferry continued to be known as Mercer's or the Lower Ferry for many years.
There are several prominent descendants of Hugh and Isabella Mercer. Gen. Hugh Weedon Mercer, CSA, was a grandson born in Fredericksburg who moved to Savannah. And in a later generation of that line, John Herndon Mercer, more familiarly known as Johnny Mercer, was the composer of "Stardust" and other famous 20th-century ballads. Gen. George Patton of World War II fame was a descendant of Ann Mercer and Robert Patton.
PAULA S. FELDER is a Fredericksburg historian specializing in the 18th century. Contributors of information to this column include Genevieve Bugay, manager of the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop; Jeffrey Edmunds, Colonial historian and member of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library reference staff; Marian McCabe, project coordinator; Colonial historian Milford M. Nolan; and CRRL Virginiana librarian Barbara Willis.