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Hercules Mulligan (1740-1825)

Irish-born American patriot,  Tailor, Member of the Sons of Liberty,  George Washington spy.

Hercules Mulligan was born in Co. Antrim, Ireland in 1740 to Hugh and Sarah Mulligan.  At that time the Irish people were victims of the Penal Laws that restricted their right to education, to hold office, to vote, to possess arms and to own property of any monetary value.  This was the Ireland that the Mulligan family left in1746 to come to the American colonies in search of a better life.  They settled in New York City where the family prospered and went on to own and operate their own accounting business.

After graduating from King's College (now Columbia University), Hercules worked in his father accounting business as a clerk.  Being an ambitious young man he went on to open his own custom tailoring and haberdashery business that catered to wealthy clients including British Crown force officers stationed in the city.  He married Elizabeth Sanders, daughter of John Sanders of NY and niece of Admiral Sanders of the British Navy. 

Hercules was an active member of the Sons of Liberty, the Committee of Correspondence Observation and other Revolutionary Committees. He befriended Alexander Hamilton (who would go on to become a soldier, lawyer, statesman and founding father) after his arrival from his home in the West Indies in 1772.  Hamilton's took up lodgings in the Mulligan household while attending King's College.  During this period Hercules was influential in convincing Hamilton that the cause of the American colonists was just, not that of the British government whom Hamilton tended to side with.  

In July of 1776, Hercules together with William Mooney, Isaac Sears and other patriots toppled the statue of King George II that stood on Bowling Green, then, proceeded to break it into pieces, melt it and turn it into bullets for the Continental Army.

In March of 1777, after Alexander Hamilton was appointed Washington aide-de-camp he recommended to Washington that his old friend Mulligan be appointed Washington's confidential correspondent in the City of New York.  From past experience, Washington understood that reliable intelligence was critical if they had any chance of winning the war. In this regard Mulligan proved to be an extremely valuable intelligence asset.  He took full advantage of his access to British officers in his capacity as a tailor and to officers billeted in his house by cajoling them with guile and whiskey to loosen their lips and reveal tidbits of information that proved invaluable to Washington and the war effort.

Amongst the best known items of intelligence passed on to Washington by Hercules and his network was Howe's planned expedition to Pennsylvania in April of 1777. Also passed along was 1) critical intelligence that foiled the planned capture of Washington by the British and 2) intelligence that foiled a planned attempt to assassinate Washington by Loyalists.   

The Mulligan network included his brother, Hugh, a banker and importer, who did business with the British commissariat in New York. Hugh provided Washington with vital information of British supplies and shipping schedules. Another member of the Mulligan network was a Polish born Jew named Haym Solomon who spoke a number of languages including German.  He had access to vital British military intelligence in his role as an interpreter for the British and their Hessian soldiers of fortune. Another very important member of the network was Cato, Mulligan’s Afro-American servant who rowed across the Hudson, who in today’s parlance, to make make the drops.

 The British evidently never learned that Alexander Hamilton, Washington's aide-de-camp, had once lived in the Mulligan home and had recruited Mulligan to spy for the American colonists.  Mulligan had a number of close calls during his career as a patriot and spy.  He was arrested by the British in September of 1776, during General Howe's cleanup of New York Patriots. Mulligan was released after a month's imprisonment.  After Benedict Arnold, the traitor, came to New York in 1780; he had Mulligan arrested as a spy but was unable to convict him.

After the American victory those who had remained loyal to the British were attacked and their homes and had their businesses burned.  Because of Mulligan's close contact with the British, albeit as a spy, he became suspect and was in danger of being killed and/or having his property destroyed.   His old friend Alexander Hamilton came to his rescue by inviting General George Washington to have breakfast with the Mulligan family at No. 23 Queen Street, now 218 Pearl Street, after Washington reviewed the victorious American troops at Bowling Green in 1783.  After that word got around about Mulligan  role in America's fight for freedom.

Hercules Mulligan was a highly successful agent for the Revolutionary Army in New York City who reported on the British from 1776 when they captured  the City until they left in 1883 seven years later.

Hercules died in March of 1825 and, according to an account by his son William, was buried in the Sanders tomb located behind Trinity Church.  Later, when the church was enlarged some vaults, including Saunders, were covered over.  Today, there is a tombstone located in the southwest quadrant of the churchyard bearing his name.

Contributed by Tomás Ó Coısdealbha


Hercules Mulligan was too young to engage the British before he left Ireland in 1742.  However, it would not be unreasonable to assume that he was influenced in his decision to become a Son of Liberty here in America by the horrors recounted by his parents who witnessed first hand British atrocities in Ireland.  His deeds and his love of liberty were an inspiration to succeeding generations of his countrymen and women who fought to preserve America's liberty and Ireland's freedom.  He helped create a land of refuge and liberty for his fellow countrymen and women and for countless millions of others from around the world who fled the yoke of tyranny. 

cemetery AND grave location

Name:          Trinity Churchyard                                   

ADDRESS:       74 Trinity Pl, New York 10006

GRAVE LOCATION:       Southwest Quadrant




Posted 11/15/08

email: tcoisdealba@hotmail.com