As a soldier, surveyor, and politician, George Mercer was a prominent Virginian in the mid-eighteenth century. He served under George Washington during the French and Indian War, participating in the Forbes Campaign of 1758. Following the war, he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and then as an agent of the Ohio Company in London.
Born June 23, 1733, to John Mercer and Catherine Mason Mercer in Virginia, George Mercer grew up at Marlborough Plantation in Virginia. His father, an Irish immigrant, was a prominent lawyer who offered legal advice to Washington for several years.1 Along with two of his brothers, James and John, George Mercer would eventually gain high social standing in Virginia. As a young man, Mercer, like Washington, worked as a surveyor. He likely mapped vast tracks of the Virginian wilderness, as his father was a founding member of the Ohio Company.
In 1754, during the French and Indian War, Mercer joined the First Virginia Regiment as a lieutenant under the command of Washington. At the disastrous Battle of Fort Necessity in July 1754, Mercer was wounded, but following the action, he was promoted to captain. As a captain in the First Virginia, Mercer served at the Battle of the Monongahela in July 1755. In the fall of 1755, he became Washington’s aide-de-camp in Cumberland, Maryland. After serving as Washington’s aide for nearly three years, Mercer was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the newly formed Second Virginia regiment. The regiment was assigned to General John Forbes’s expedition to capture Fort Duquesne. Trekking slowly through the Pennsylvania wilderness in the summer of 1758, Forbes and his men created a road through the woods and built several forts, including Fort Ligonier. It was just outside Fort Ligonier, that Mercer and the Second Virginia would find themselves in a deadly skirmish – against the First Virginia regiment.
On November 12, 1758, General Forbes sent Mercer and 500 men to locate French forces. Just after dark, Mercer and his men engaged a small French and Indian force. Hearing the gunfire, Forbes sent the First Virginia, led by Washington, to help Mercer’s forces. However, in the dark, the two Virginian companies collided, and a firefight ensued. Not until Mercer and Washington realized they were fighting each other did the firing stop. The action left one officer and thirteen enlisted men dead, and another twenty-six wounded. Only one Virginian left an original account of the skirmish, in which he blamed Washington.2 However, when Washington recounted the story in the 1780s, he painted himself as a hero, and blamed Mercer for the incident.3
George Mercer became a member of the Ohio Company in 1761 and rose up its leadership ranks. On July 4, 1763, he was appointed as the agent of the Ohio Company in London. He kept several hundred pages of documents and letters relating to the Ohio Company’s business, which are today compiled in published volume.
Mercer served in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1761 until 1765. He was appointed stamp collector for Maryland and Virginia in 1765. Facing protests, Mercer resigned his post, and moved to England. He testified before the House of Commons in Parliament that the Stamp Act could not be enforced in America peacefully. Through the American Revolution, Mercer stayed in England, loyal to the crown. However, his younger brother, John Francis Mercer, served in the Continental Army, and his cousin was the noted Virginia political theorist and revolutionary George Mason. A year following the American Revolutionary War, in April 1784, George Mercer died in London after undergoing a treatment for mental illness.
George Washington University
1. George Washington, “[Diary entry: 26 February 1760],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-01-02-0005-0002-0026. [Original source: The Diaries of George Washington, vol. 1, 11 March 1748?–?13 November 1765, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976, pp. 246–248.]
2. George Washington, “Orderly Book, 12 November 1758,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-06-02-0106. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 6, 4 September 1758?–?26 December 1760, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988, pp. 120–123n.]
3. George Washington, “Remarks, 1787–1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-05-02-0463-0002. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 5, 1 February 1787?–?31 December 1787, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997, pp. 515–526.]
4. "George Mercer’s Appointment and Instructions as London Agent for the Ohio Company, July 4, 1763," in George Mercer Papers: Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia, ed. Lois Mulkearn (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954), 182-83.
5. George Mercer, George Mercer Papers: Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia, ed. Lois Mulkearn (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954).
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Vintage, 2001.
Clary, David A. George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures. New York: Simon& Schuster, 2011.
Cubbison, Douglas R. The British Defeat of the French in Pennsylvania, 1758: A Military History of the Forbes Campaign Against Fort Duquesne. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2010.
Ferling, John. The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.
Mercer, George. George Mercer Papers: Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia. Edited by Lois Mulkearn. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954.