John Francis Mercer

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Founding Fathers
John Francis Mercer.jpg
John Francis Mercer
State Maryland
Religion Anglican[1]
Founding Documents United States Constitution

John Francis Mercer (May 17, 1759 - August 30, 1821) was a soldier, Governor of Maryland, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention representing the state of Maryland.[2]

Early life

John Francis Mercer was born at "Marlboro," Stafford County, Virginia, May 17, 1759, to John and Ann Roy Mercer. He graduated from William and Mary College, Virginia, in 1775.[3]

Military career

In 1776 he entered the Third Virginia regiment as lieutenant, and was made captain June 27, 1777. He served as aide to General Charles Lee until the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, and his sympathy with that officer in his disgrace led him to resign. But returning to his own State, he raised and equipped, at his own expense, a troop of horse, of which he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel. He joined General Robert Lawson's brigade and served with it at Guilford, North Carolina, and elsewhere until its disbandment. He then attached his command to the forces of General LaFayette, with whom he remained until the surrender following the Battle of Yorktown. He afterwards studied law with Thomas Jefferson.

Political career

From 1782 to 1785 he was one of the Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress. He married February 3, 1785, Sophia, daughter of Richard Sprigg, of "Cedar Park," West River, Maryland, whose wife was Margaret Caile, daughter of John and Rebecca (Ennalls) Caile, of England.

Removing to his wife's estate at "Cedar Park," he became an active and prominent partisan. He was sent as a delegate from Maryland to the Convention which framed the Constitution of the United States, and was with Luther Martin in opposition to the several provisions which obliterated State rights. Other members of the Maryland delegation to the Convention were Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, James McHenry, and Daniel Carroll. Mercer finally withdrew from the Convention because he was not willing to endorse the Constitution as drafted. He was a member of the Maryland Legislature for several years and a member of Congress from Maryland (in 1792-4) in which the permanent location of the Capitol was excitedly discussed and was with the Southern members in trying to locate it upon the Potomac.


In 1801 he was elected Governor of Maryland, and was re-elected in 1802.

As a friend and student of Thomas Jefferson he was influential in bringing out legislative action favorable to his Democratic administration. Mr. Joseph Hopper Nicholson, one of the Democratic Representatives in Congress from Maryland during the exciting seven days in deciding Mr. Jefferson's election, was ill and his physicians prohibited his attendance, saying it would cause his death. His wife agreed with her husband that his duty was to be at his post, and accompanying Mr. Nicholson, remained with him and assisted him in casting his vote for Jefferson.

In 1801 the controversy over the property qualification of voters in Maryland was the chief one, and the Democrats, being in favor of abolishing it, were victorious. Early in the session of 1801 an amendment allowing all free white citizens of the State to vote was passed, and in 1802 the confirmatory act was passed. Up to this time voters in Maryland must possess a freehold of fifty acres of land.

Governor Mercer was succeeded by Governor Robert Bowie in 1803. Retiring to his estate, "Cedar Park," he was again called to the Legislature.

Death and Legacy

Governor Mercer died August 30, 1821, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whither he had gone to consult a physician as to his health.

His son, Colonel John Mercer, married Mary Swann, and his son, Richard Sprigg Mercer, married Miss E. Coxe, both connections of Governor Thomas Swann and Lieutenant-Governor C. C. Cox, elected under the Constitution of 1864. The latter would have succeeded Governor Swann, who was elected to the United States Senate, had he accepted. He was the only Lieutenant-Governor of Maryland

Some of the children of Richard Sprigg Mercer were Miss Margaret Mercer, who presided at Governor Swann's house during his term in Congress, Mrs. George Peter, now Mrs. Edwin J. Farber, and Colonel Richard Mercer, of New York.

Governor Mercer's daughter, Margaret, was the author of "Studies for Bible Classes," "Ethics," and a "Series of Lectures for Young Ladies." She became noted for her sacrifice in freeing her slaves and sending them to Liberia. She was known as the "Hannah More of America."


  1. Archives of Maryland, (Biographical Series), John Francis Mercer (1759-1821)
  2. A Biography of John Francis Mercer 1759-1821
  3. The founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland: A genealogical and biographical review from wills, deeds and church records