John Francis Mercer

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John Francis Mercer
Gov. John Francis Mercer - Robert Field 1803.jpg
Portrait by Robert Field, 1803
10th Governor of Maryland
In office
November 10, 1801 – November 13, 1803
Preceded byBenjamin Ogle
Succeeded byRobert Bowie
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1793 – April 13, 1794
Preceded byWilliam Hindman
Succeeded byGabriel Duvall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maryland's 3rd district
In office
February 5, 1792 – March 3, 1793
Preceded byWilliam Pinkney
Succeeded byUriah Forrest
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates for Stafford County
In office
October 1785 – January, 1786
Serving with William Garrard
Preceded byWilliam Brent
Succeeded byAndrew Buchannan
Member of the Continental Congress for Virginia
In office
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates for Stafford County
In office
May 1782 – December 1782
Serving with Charles Carter
Preceded byThomas Mountjoy
Succeeded byThomson Mason
Personal details
Born(1759-05-17)May 17, 1759
Stafford County, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedAugust 30, 1821(1821-08-30) (aged 62)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting placeCedar Park Estate, Galesville, Maryland
Political partyAnti-Federalist (1782), Federalist (1801)
SpouseSophia Sprigg
RelationsJohn Mercer, James Mercer, George Mercer
Children4, including Margaret Mercer
ResidenceAnne Arundel County, Maryland
Alma materCollege of William and Mary
OccupationLawyer, politician
Military service
Allegiance Continental Army
 United States Army
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel
Unit3rd Virginia Regiment
Virginia militia
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
Battle of Brandywine  (WIA)
Battle of Guildford

John Francis Mercer (May 17, 1759 – August 30, 1821) was an American lawyer, planter, and politician from Virginia and Maryland, who served as Maryland's governor, as well as terms in the Continental Congress (representing Virginia), U.S. House of Representatives (representing Maryland districts), Virginia House of Delegates, and Maryland State Assembly[1] A Founding Father of the United States, he was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention which wrote the U.S. Constitution.

Early and family life[edit]

Sophia Sprigg Mercer

Mercer was born in 1759 at Marlborough plantation in Stafford County in the Colony of Virginia, to prominent lawyer, planter and investor in western lands John Mercer and his second wife, the former Ann Roy. His father John Mercer fathered 19 children by two wives, although many died before reaching adulthood. His namesake half-brother, Captain John Fenton Mercer (1735-1756)) was killed and scalped in western Virginia during the French and Indian War. His elder half brothers George Mercer and James Mercer served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and James also became a prominent lawyer and served in Virginia revolutionary conventions, the Virginia House of Delegates and the Continental Congress (1779-1780) before becoming a judge, ultimately of what later became the Virginia Supreme Court. Mercer also had several sisters and half-sisters who survived to adulthood, including Sarah Mercer who married Col. Samuel Selden of Stafford County, Mary Mercer who married Daniel McCarty Jr. of Westmoreland County, Grace Mercer who married Muscoe Garnett of Essex County, and Maria Mercer who married Richard Brooke of King and Queen County. His younger brother Robert Mercer (1764-1800) would marry Mildred Carter, daughter of prominent planter Landon Carter, and become a lawyer and editor of the "Genius of Liberty".[2] Like all his brothers who lived to adulthood, Mercer attended the College of William and Mary, and graduated in 1775.

On February 3, 1785, he married heiress Sophia Sprigg, daughter of Richard Sprigg and Margaret Caile of Anne Arundel County, Maryland.[3] They had at least four children, including Margaret Mercer, who became an abolitionist and freed all the slaves she inherited upon her father's death. His nephew, congressman Charles Fenton Mercer, also opposed slavery and was president of the American Colonization Society.


During the American Revolutionary War, Mercer accepted a commission as lieutenant in the 3rd Virginia Regiment in the Continental Army. He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, and received a promotion to captain in 1777. On June 8, 1778 he became an aide-de-camp with the rank of major to General Charles Lee.

He resigned from the army when Lee did in October 1779, but recruited a cavalry company for the Virginia militia as the British navy discharged Tarleton's Raiders and others to raid plantations in Chesapeake Bay. Thus he held the rank of lieutenant colonel and served briefly under Lafayette as he led troops at the Battle of Guildford, Battle of Green Spring, siege of Yorktown and other locations.

After General Cornwallis' surrender in 1781, Stafford County voters elected Mercer as one of their two representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782, where he served alongside Charles Carter.[4] Fellow legislators selected Mercer as one of Virginia's delegates to the Continental Congress in both 1783 and 1784. When Richard Brent died, a special election to fill his place as Stafford County's delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates was held, and John Francis Mercer took his place for the rest of the session.[5]

In 1785 Mercer married his wife, and soon moved to Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where he operated her estates using enslaved labor. He owned slaves in 1810[6] and 1820.[7] Mercer owned 72 slaves by the time he died in 1821.

Meanwhile, Mercer became one of Maryland's delegates to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, but because he was opposed to centralization, withdrew before signing the Constitution.[8] [He also represented fellow anti-ratification delegate George Mason as a private lawyer collecting debts owed to Mason by Maryland residents.[9]] Mercer was also a delegate to the Maryland State Convention of 1788, to vote whether Maryland should ratify the proposed Constitution of the United States.[10] He served terms in the Maryland State Assembly in 1788-89 and 1791-92 before being elected to represent Maryland in the United States House of Representatives from the second and third districts from 1792 to 1794, resigning on April 13, 1794. He again served in the Maryland House of Delegates (1800-1801) before winning election as the tenth Governor of Maryland (for two one-year terms) from 1801 to 1803.

Although he again served in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1803-1806 (and joined with the Federalists during Thomas Jefferson's Presidency), illness plagued Mercer in his later years

Death and legacy[edit]

Mercer traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to seek medical attention, and died on August 30, 1821. Although a funeral was held at St. Peter's Church in Philadelphia, his remains were returned to his "Cedar Park" estate in Maryland for burial..[10]


  1. ^ Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company. pp. vol. 2, p. 26.
  2. ^ Wesley E. Pippenger, John Alexander: a Northern Neck Propietor, his Family, Friends and Kin (Baltimore: Gateway Press Inc. 1990) pp. 71-73
  3. ^ William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, vol. XVII, College of William and Mary, July 1908, p. 90
  4. ^ Cynthia Miller Leonard, The Virginia General Assembly 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) p. 147
  5. ^ Leonard p. 158
  6. ^ 1810 U.S. Federal Census for Anne Arundel County, Maryland, p. 19 of 29; 83 slaves per metadata but header line cut off on version
  7. ^ 1820 U.S. Federal Census for District 1 Anne Arundel County, Maryland, p. 10 of 15; 93 slaves per metadata but header line cut off on version
  8. ^ "Groningen US History Project".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ Rutland, Robert (1970). The Papers of George Mason 1787-1792. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. pp. 1037, 1039–1041, 1132–1134, 1180–1181, 1235–1236, 1263–1265. ISBN 0-8078-1134-3.
  10. ^ a b Secretary of State of Maryland (1915). Maryland Manual 1914–1915: A Compendium of Legal, Historical and Statistical Information relating to the State of Maryland. Annapolis, Maryland, USA: The Advertiser-Republican.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by U.S. Congressman from Maryland's 3rd District
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Congressman from Maryland's 2nd District
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Maryland
Succeeded by