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Revolution-era letter is on exhibit

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Hugh Mercer ES school music teacher Holly Horn (center) leads The Patriot Singers (second-grade students) in song during a dedication ceremony of a Revolutionary War-era letter at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary shop in Fredericksburg, Va. Charles and Mary Wynn McDaniel (seated, background, left) donated a letter from Gen. George Weedon to artist Charles Willson Peale. (Wednesday, April 17, 2013) (ROBERT A. MARTIN / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

A detail of the Revolutionary War-era letter from Gen. George Weedon to artist Charles Willson Peale, now on display at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary shop in Fredericksburg, Va. (Wednesday, April 17, 2013) (ROBERT A. MARTIN / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

The Patriot Singers, a group of second-graders from Hugh Mercer Elementary School, belted “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to kickoff the opening day of a new exhibition at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop in downtown Fredericksburg.

After buying a 1786 letter from an auction in New York, Fredericksburg resident Charles McDaniel, a descendant of Gen. George Weedon, donated the letter to the apothecary for display. It is now the centerpiece for a newly designed exhibit.

The letter was written by Weedon, a friend of George Washington, to artist Charles Willson Peale. It contains remarks about Weedon’s adopted son, a painter who also happened to be deaf, William Mercer.

Mercer’s biological father was Hugh Mercer, the original owner of the apothecary shop and a Revolutionary War general who was killed in the Battle of Princeton.

William Mercer is now recognized as the first deaf American artist, but he originally faced challenges in finding support because of his disability. His formal training with Peale helped lead to eventual success, which the new exhibit notes with a printed copy of a Revolutionary War painting.

The exhibit was designed by Andrea Hickman, who was limited by the small space of the room and the fragility of the walls. The display includes four prints, a board chronicling Hugh Mercer’s life, and Weedon’s original letter in a double-sided glass case.

“The hardest part was gelling all the different ideas together,” Hickman said.

A newly-decorated room houses a Revolutionary War-era letter (in case, center) from Gen. George Weedon to artist Charles Willson Peale at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary shop in Fredericksburg, Va. (Wednesday, April 17, 2013) (ROBERT A. MARTIN / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

More artifacts will be added to the exhibit, including original receipts and a prescription. Two smaller prints by William Mercer will be added to the collection, as well.

Hickman worked closely with Gail Braxton, who, as president of Washington Heritage Museums, is in charge of the apothecary shop, the Mary Washington House, the Rising Sun Tavern and the St. James House.

“The idea grew from the initial [letter] case to an upgrade of the room,” Braxton said. About 30 to 40 people stopped by Wednesday to view the letter and hear the elementary school group perform.

“They were thrilled,” Braxton said of the guests.

Dressed in 18th-century garb, site coordinator Genevieve Bugay agreed.

“Everyone had a lovely time,” she said. “The exhibit shows what an exceptional man Hugh Mercer was.”

Charlotte Rodina: 540/374-5444

crodina@freelancestar.com

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