Monday, July 13, 2015

Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop Fredericksburg, Va.

Hugh Mercer was born in Scotland in 1725. He was a field surgeon at the Battle of Culloden Moor on the side of Bonnie Prince Charlie so it became expedient for him to flee after the defeat. He worked as a doctor on the frontier in America. He joined the Pennsylvania militia and served as a Col. In the French and Indian War. It was here that he first met George Washington. It may even have been George who suggested that he make his home in Fredericksburg.


Now if his story had ended here, it would have been a fascinating tale but it is just the beginning. He opened a medical practice in Fredericksburg in 1761 and when we enter the front door of his shop the year is 1774. All visits are done on a guided tour and you are assigned a guide.

Our guide loved her job, her enthusiasm was contagious. We begin our tour by learning about some of the herbs that the typical apothecary would have used. Amazingly, many of them are things we still use today in a more refined form. Not for the faint of heart the medical practices of yesteryear and Hugh Mercer was very much a man of his time. We are shown instruments that look like they belong in a torture chamber. We learn that he was able to remove a cataract from an eye, and when you realize that this was in the days before general anesthesia you get a small idea of how much pain this would have caused.

Soon we become familiar with terms that must have brought terror to the people of the 18th century, cupping, purges, enemas, inoculations, leeches, yuck. I bet you leeches were used to draw blood, well yes they were but if you had an ear infection they put a leech on a string and lowered it into your ear. Talk about the cure killing you.

Some of the practices seem barbaric to us today, we got a whole lesson on amputation, which was one of the leading causes of death in battles, it wasn’t the wound that killed you it was the infection from the amputation.

It is a fascinating if a bit disturbing tour. After we visit the shop and the office, we visit the upstairs on a self-guided tour. There are some interesting displays including an account book belonging to General Washington.

Hugh Mercers joined the Continental Army and fought at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. He was killed in hand-to-hand combat at the Battle of Princeton in 1777. He was 55 years old. Had he lived, he would have been remembered as one of the great leaders of the American Revolution. He passed his military prowess on to his great, great, great grandson George Patton. Be sure to visit his statue which is located close to Kenmore on Washington Avenue.

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