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Hercules Mulligan

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Hercules Mulligan
Born(1740-09-25)September 25, 1740[1]
DiedMarch 4, 1825(1825-03-04) (aged 84)
Alma materKings College, New York
OccupationSpy, Tailor
Known forSecret agent for George Washington during the American Revolutionary War
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Sanders Mulligan
Children3 sons, 5 daughters

Hercules Mulligan (September 25, 1740 – March 4, 1825) was an Irish-American tailor and spy during the American Revolutionary War. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty.

Early life[edit]

Born in Ireland to Hugh and Sarah Mulligan, Hercules Mulligan and his family emigrated to North America in 1746, settling in New York City. Mulligan attended King's College (now Columbia University) in New York City. After graduating, Mulligan worked as a clerk for his father's accounting business. He later went on to open a tailoring and haberdashery business, catering to wealthy British Crown force officers.

On October 27, 1773, Mulligan, an Episcopalian,[2] married Elizabeth Sanders at Trinity Church. Sanders was the niece of Admiral Charles Sanders of the British Royal Navy. The couple had eight children: five daughters and three sons.[3]

Mulligan was introduced to Alexander Hamilton shortly after Hamilton arrived in New York. The men were introduced by Mulligan's brother, Hugh; Mulligan also knew the Crugers, for whom Hamilton had clerked in St. Croix.[4] Mulligan helped Hamilton enroll at the Elizabethtown Academy in New Jersey, and later, the College of New Jersey at Princeton (now Princeton University). After Hamilton enrolled at King's College, he lived with Mulligan in New York City. Mulligan had a profound impact on Hamilton's desire for revolution.[5]

Involvement in the American Revolution[edit]

In 1765, Mulligan became one of the first colonists to join the Sons of Liberty, a secret society formed to protect the rights of the colonists and to fight British taxation. In 1770, he helped to mob British soldiers in the Battle of Golden Hill. He was a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, a group that rallied opposition to the British through written communications.[6] In August 1775, he and the Corsicans, a New York volunteer militia company, under fire from HMS Asia, captured four British cannons in the Battery.[4] In 1776, Mulligan and the Sons of Liberty knocked down a statue of King George III in Bowling Green, then melted the lead in its center to cast bullets to use against the British. Mulligan continued to fight for liberty following the Declaration of Independence.

While staying with the Mulligan family, Alexander Hamilton came to share Mulligan's views. Initially siding with the British before coming to New York, Hamilton was persuaded to change his views and joined the Sons of Liberty. As a result, Hamilton wrote an essay in 1775 in favor of independence. When George Washington spoke of his need for reliable information from within New York City in 1776, after the Continental Army was driven out, Hamilton recommended Mulligan due to his placement as tailor to British soldiers and officers.[7]

This proved to be incredibly successful, with Mulligan saving Washington's life on two occasions. The first occurred when a British officer, who requested a watch coat late one evening, told Mulligan of their plans: "before another day, we'll have the rebel general in our hands." Mulligan quickly informed Washington, who changed his plans and avoided capture.[8]

Mulligan's slave, Cato, was a Black Patriot who served as a spy together with Mulligan, and often acted the role of courier, in part through British-held territory, by exploiting his status as a slave, letting him pass on intelligence to the Continental Army without being stopped.

After the Revolutionary War[edit]

Mulligan was cleared of suspicions of possible Loyalist sympathies when George Washington had breakfast with him on the day after the British evacuated New York City and Washington entered it at the end of the war.[9]

It is not known what happened to Mulligan's slave, Cato. However, on January 25, 1785, Mulligan, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay,[10] became one of the 19 founders of the New York Manumission Society, an early American organization founded to promote the abolition of slavery.

Following the Revolution, Mulligan's tailoring business prospered. He retired in 1820 and died in 1825, aged 84. Mulligan was buried in the Sanders tomb behind Trinity Church. When the church was enlarged, the Sanders tomb was covered. Today, there is a tombstone located in the southwest quadrant of the churchyard bearing Mulligan's name.[11]

In pop culture[edit]

The Culper Ring is depicted in the fictionalized AMC American Revolutionary War spy thriller period drama series, Turn: Washington's Spies, based on Alexander Rose's historical book Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring (2007).[12] Mulligan and Cato are portrayed in the fourth and final season.[13]

In the 2015 hit Broadway musical Hamilton, Mulligan was portrayed by actor Okieriete Onaodowan, who also played James Madison.[14] Mulligan appears in the first act of the play as a friend of Alexander Hamilton, John Laurens, and Marquis de Lafayette, working as a tailor's apprentice and subsequently a soldier and spy in the American Revolution.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Misencik, Paul R. (2014). The original American spies : seven covert agents of the Revolutionary War. McFarland. p. 92. ISBN 0786477946.
  2. ^ Mulraney, Frances (20 July 2016). "Hercules Mulligan - the Irish-born tailor and spy who saved Washington twice". Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  3. ^ O'Brien, Michael J. (1997). In old New York : the Irish dead in Trinity and St. Paul's churchyards. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield. ISBN 0806347090.
  4. ^ a b Brookhiser, Richard (2000). Alexander Hamilton, American (1st Touchstone ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 21,26. ISBN 0684863316.
  5. ^ Misencik, Paul R. (2013). The original American spies : seven covert agents of the Revolutionary War. pp. 95–98. ISBN 1476612919. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  6. ^ Martin, Paul. "He saved George Washington's life...twice!". Fox News. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  7. ^ O'Brien, Michael Joseph (1937-01-01). Hercules Mulligan, Confidential Correspondent of General Washington (1st ed.). P. J. Kenedy & Sons. p. 89.
  8. ^ Troy, Gil. "Hercules Mulligan: The Spy Who Saved George Washington—Twice". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  9. ^ Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0-14-303475-9. Originally published New York, Penguin Press, 2004. p. 185.
  10. ^ Chernow, 2005, p. 214.
  11. ^ Ó Coısdealha, Tomás (15 November 2008). "Hercules Mulligan (1740-1825)". Fenian Graves. Fenian Graves Association. Retrieved 6 February 2016.
  12. ^ Andreeva, Nellie. AMC Picks Up ‘Halt & Catch Fire’ & ‘Turn’ To Series. Publisher: Deadline. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  13. ^ Internet Movie Database cast list for Turn. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  14. ^ "Hamilton @ Richard Rodgers Theatre". Playbill. 2016. Retrieved 2018-03-16.