Owned and operated by Washington Heritage Museums, the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop preserves and interprets the life of Hugh Mercer, a Scottish immigrant who practiced medicine in Fredericksburg and was a friend of George Washington's as well as Mary Washington's doctor. Mercer studied medicine at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He immigrated to Pennsylvania and practiced medicine there until 1756 when he entered the Seven Years War as a captain in the Pennsylvania regiment. He was promoted to Colonel for his bravery and fortitude and become close friends with George Washington during this time. At the end of the war Mercer settled in Fredericksburg at the urging of Washington and several other friends from Virginia that he had made during his military service.

Mercer opened an apothecary shop in town and began a prosperous practice. In 1774 he purchased Ferry Farm from Washington and settled there with his wife and children. The following year Mercer became Colonel of the Spotsylvania Minutemen, and by 1776 he was Colonel of a Virginia Regiment. Later that year he became a Brigadier General of the Continental Army in New York under General George Washington. Mercer collaborated with Washington on the daring crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 for a surprise attack on the Hessian Camp at the Battle of Trenton. Mercer fought the British again at Trenton the following year, and on the following day, he led a brigade to the Battle of Princeton when his horse was shot out from under him, and he was beaten and bayonetted to death by British soldiers.

As an apothecary, Hugh Mercer would have been generalist, not a specialist, treating injuries, diseases and common medical concerns. He would have pulled teeth, delivered babies, and prepared herbal remedies to treat a variety of ills. He would have practiced the Humoral Theory of medicine popular in the 18th century. This theory held that the body contained four 'humours' or fluids - blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile. An imbalance among the humors was thought to be the source of illness. Bad humors were kept in check by drawing fluids out of the body through bleeding, sweating, vomiting and elimination. Bleeding was accomplished through cutting, cupping or the application of leeches to the skin. Herbs and powerful purgatives such as mercury were used to effect other types of elimination.

Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop is open daily and conducts fun and fascinating tours by costumed interpreters who explain the medical cures and procedures of Mercer's day. There is also an exhibit on Mercer's life and military service in the upstairs gallery.

Pictured above: Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop in historic downtown Fredericksburg.

battle of princeton

Battle of Princeton, John Trumbull (Library of Congress). The attack on Hugh Mercer by British soldiers at Princeton is depicted in this famous painting.

fredericksburg hugh mercer monument

A Monument to Hugh Mercer stands in Kenmore Park in Fredericksburg. The monument is inscribed, "Sacred to the memory of Hugh Mercer, Brigadier-General in the Army of The United States; He died on the 12th of January, 1777, of the wounds he received on the 3d of same month, near Princetown, in New Jersey, bravely defending the Liberties of America. The Congress of the United States in testimony of his virtues, and their gratitude, have caused this monument to be erected."