Hugh Mercer was a Scot, a warrior, a friend of George Washington, and a socially acceptable witch doctor who started his own apothecary on the advice of Washington himself.
A Scottish war doctor who fled his homeland, Mercer came to America in 1747 to escape loyalist forces who were intent on hunting down the survivors of the Battle of Culloden. After arriving in the North American colonies, Mercer befriended then-Colonel George Washington through their mutual participation in a local Masonic lodge. Mercer opened his rural medicine practice in Virginia in the late 1760s, and Washington’s own mother, who lived nearby, became one of Mercer’s patients. The doctor would go on to fight and perish in the Revolutionary War, but not before leaving behind a trail of historic honoraries including counties, museums, and even his old shop.
Today, the apothecary building itself has been well maintained and gently historically preserved. The staff are in period costume and will happily explain the methods and ingredients used in the awkward Colonial version of medicine. The guides are passionate and knowledgeable and will explain in graphic detail, 18th century cures such as blood letting (there are real live leeches available for critical observation), the grittiness of dentistry of the time, and the gruesome details of amputation and surgery during the Revolutionary War. There is also a garden in the back that is still growing the numerous herbs used inside to prepare authentic remedies.
Mercer’s surviving apothecary shop in Historic Downtown Fredericksburg is minutes away from the Kenmore House, the home of Mary Washington (mother of George), and a mixture of antique shops and hipster hangouts which is an appropriate mix of places to accent Mercer’s eccentric piece of American history.
Know Before You Go
From I-95 North in VA, take Exit 133 A for Falmouth. Keep straight on US 17 for half a mile, turn right onto Cambridge St., drive 1.6 miles, turn left onto Princess Anne St., drive .4 mile, pass the Sunoco station and stay straight on Princess Anne St. for .7 mile, turn left onto Caroline St., drive for 333 feet. If you reach Amelia St. intersection, you have passed the shop. Free parking is available on street or at a paid four story garage about 4 blocks down.