Marker #1258 "Mercer County/County Named"

Standing on the courthouse lawn in Harrodsburg since 1969, historical marker #1258 describes the circumstances that led to Mercer County’s creation and provides a brief biography of its namesake, the Revolutionary War hero Brigadier General Hugh Mercer.

From its earliest years of Anglo-American settlement in the eighteenth century, Kentucky’s territory fell under the political control of neighboring Virginia. In December 1776, the Virginia legislature created one sprawling Kentucky County, with Harrodsburg (founded only two years earlier by James Harrod) as its seat. In 1780, Kentucky County was divided into three massive counties: Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

In 1785, Mercer County became Kentucky’s sixth county when Lincoln County was subdivided. At the time, it extended across much of what would later be subdivided again into parts of Anderson, Boyle, Casey, and Garrard counties. One of only nine counties whose creation predates Kentucky statehood in 1792, present-day Mercer County covers approximately 250 square miles, with Harrodsburg remaining the county seat.

Mercer County is named in homage to Brigadier General Hugh Mercer (1726-1777), who died while fighting in the Revolutionary War. Born in Scotland and trained as a doctor and surgeon, as a young man Mercer supported the Jacobite Rebellion. When the uprising failed, Mercer fled to the American colonies and reestablished himself in medical practice in Pennsylvania. During the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), Mercer served in a Pennsylvania regiment, was wounded in combat , and befriended George Washington. After leaving military service, he resettled in Virginia and resumed his work as a doctor.

With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1776, Mercer assumed command over several Virginia militias and received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general within the Continental Army. He fought with Washington’s forces around New York City and in New Jersey. On January 3, 1777, Mercer’s troops encountered a superior British force near Princeton. In the bloody hand-to-hand combat that followed, Mercer was bayonetted multiple times in the chest. He died nine days later.

Mercer’s heroic death made him a folk hero during and after the Revolutionary War. In addition to Kentucky, counties bearing his name can be found in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The marker reads:


Formed by Virginia Act in 1785, before Kentucky became a state. Included most of present Anderson and Boyle, part of Franklin, Casey, Garrard counties. First permanent English settlement west of the Alleghenies, founded as Harrodstown by James Harrod, 1774. Harrodsburg seat of government of Kentucky County, 1776; Lincoln County, 1780; Mercer County, 1785. Over.


For Gen. Hugh Mercer, ca. 1725-77. A native of Scotland, he came to America about 1746. Officer in French and Indian War, 1755-59. Served with Washington. Was the commandant at Fort Pitt. Hero in Revolution. Instrumental in success at Trenton, 1776, and Princeton, 1777, where he was bayonetted to death by Hessians. He owned 13,000 acres in Ky. District. Over.