Famous Faces

The North East of Scotland has produced, and been home to, some truly inspirational men and women. Pioneers, adventurers, inventors, the fine folk of the North East have trail blazed their way across Scotland, Britain and the World.

Beginning in Aberdeenshire, we've selected just a handful of these heroes and heroines to celebrate over the course of the year. Each month, the spotlight will fall on a new individual. Some are 'weel-kent faces' but others you may not have heard of before - you may be surprised by what you read!


Find out more about the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology in Aberdeenshire.  

Banff and Buchan

General Hugh Mercer (1726 - 1777)

General Hugh Mercer

Born in 1726 in Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire, Hugh Mercer was the son of William Mercer, Minister to the local parish. He studied at Marischal College in Aberdeen, before joining the Jacobite forces as a surgeon. Following their defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 he fled to Pennsylvania in the American Colonies.

Mercer became a frontier doctor, later volunteering to fight in the ‘Seven Year’s War’ from 1754 to 1763 where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and served with George Washington.

After the war he moved to Fredericksburg, Virginia and opened an apothecary business. One of his patients was Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother. The apothecary still stands today as a museum.

He volunteered again as a Patriot against the British Crown in the American Revolutionary War, and was promoted to Brigadier General on June 1776 by George Washington. On the 3rd January 1777, during the Battle of Princeton, while he was holding off the British, Mercer was unhorsed and attacked, suffering serious injuries. He was rescued by Washington but died of his wounds on the 12th January 1777. He was buried in Christ Church with full military honours.

Through Mercer’s courage and sacrifice, Washington was able to proceed into Princeton and defeat the British forces, thereby regaining support. Most of Washington's army re-enlisted, the French finally approved arms and supplies to the Americans, and the British pulled their forces back to New York. It was a key turning point in the war. Today, Hugh Mercer is viewed as a hero of the American Revolution with numerous monuments to his bravery and legacy.


Back to top



Dame Maria Matilda Gordon (nee Ogilvie) (1864 - 1939)

Dame Maria Gordon

Born in Monymusk in 1864, the eldest daughter of Reverend Alexander Ogilvie, headmaster of Robert Gordons College in Aberdeen, Dame Maria Gordon was a prolific and pioneering geologist and champion of equal rights for women.

She studied variously in Edinburgh and London, receiving a BSc in 1890 from University College London, with a gold medal in zoology and comparative anatomy, and in 1893 she became the first woman to win the London University degree of Doctor for original research in natural science. She continued her geological studies at the University of Munich, becoming the first woman to gain a PhD from there in 1900, with distinction in geology, palaeontology, and zoology. In the meantime she had married an Aberdeen physician, Dr John Gordon, later having three children, all of whom often joined her on field trips to the Dolomites. However, marriage and family life did not prevent her from continuing with her research.

Maria Gordon specialised in the study of fossil corals, produced the definitive work on the geology of the Dolomites, and earned wide professional acclaim as well as the Lyell medal from the London Geological Society. Over the years, she published more than 30 original papers on the geology of the South Tyrol region. She was also was one of the first geologists to show that the limestone peaks in that region were formed by movements of the Earth's crust. She has been called the most productive female field geologist of her era, and in recognition of her work a new fossil fern genus, discovered in Triassic sediments of the Dolomites, was named after her in 2000 (Gordonopteris lorigae).

As well as her extensive scientific career, she was also a supporter and campaigner for the rights and equality of children and women, and in 1935 was honoured with a DBE and an LLD from Edinburgh University for her work concerning the welfare of women. She died in London in 1939, and her ashes were interred at Allenvale cemetery, Aberdeen.

Back to top


Help us improve