Hercules Mulligan Tailors Intelligence For The Continental Army
Hercules Mulligan was an American spy who operated in New York City during the Revolutionary War.
Mulligan had first-hand knowledge of British strategy because his tailor shop fit garments for Redcoats at the highest levels.
Hercules Mulligan was a successful tailor in New York City. Many of Parliament’s tax increases just before the Revolutionary War hurt his business because they effected the fabrics he imported (though he did also manufacture his own cloth).
Mulligan took part in many early demonstrations against the tax collectors.
In 1773, one of the merchants he worked with asked Hercules to take in a brilliant young student who was being sent from the Caribbean to study in America. This student was Alexander Hamilton.
Hamilton, who until his arrival supported the Mother Country, grew his revolutionary roots while living in the Mulligan Household.
After the British invaded New York City, Hercules stayed around to continue running his tailor shop.
Despite having protested Great Britain, Mulligan was not accused of treason. He continued his business, providing tailoring services for the British soldiers.
This was a mistake, as Mulligan continued working for the Patriots in secret.
Hercules Mulligan was now a spy.
Mulligan’s time in espionage was extremely successful.
Among the information he collected were troop movements and battle strategies.
Most notably, Hercules discovered a plot by Thomas Hickey to assassinate General Washington. This information was quickly sent to the Continental Army and Washington’s location was changed. This exchange saved his life.
A few years later, after the British rushed an order of new uniforms through his shop, Mulligan learned they were planning a second attempt to capture Washington. This time the plan was a surprise raid through Connecticut. Once again, Hercules’ information saved the Commander-in-Chief’s life.
Mulligan was repeatedly questioned by the British authorities.
The most severe questioning was after Benedict Arnold’s treason. Arnold gave Hercules’ name as a spy, but somehow the fast talking Patriot was able to persuade his accusers that he’d done nothing wrong.
One part of the reason Mulligan could get away with this is that he would have had to been in two places at once to accomplish the feat of passing along the sensitive information.
Well, most of the information was passed by Cato, the Mulligan family’s slave. Before we jump on Hercules for having a slave do the work for him, bare in mind that slavery in New York City was viewed much differently than in the plantations of the South.
Cato was considered part of the family. Additionally, after the Revolutionary War was complete, Mulligan was one of the founders of the New York Manumission Society. This group worked towards the abolition of slavery in the State, a goal they accomplished in 1799.
Dinner with George
When the British evacuated New York City, and the Continental Army marched in, the first person George Washington dined with was Hercules Mulligan.
This was done to ensure that anyone who had seen him working closely with the British did not ‘take action into their own hands.’ It was a symbolic moment which let the people of that city known Mulligan was a Patriot, while simultaneously thanking him for his service.
That was the last time Mulligan would participate in the new government.
He returned to his tailor shop, only participating in public life when he sent President Washington a pair of breeches he could not seem to find anywhere else.
Although there are several books about spies during the American Revolution which have been written lately, none give much attention to the work of Hercules Mulligan. Most of the focus is given (and rightfully so) to the work of the Culper Ring. The one (that I've read) which speaks the most about Mulligan is 'George Washington's Secret Spy War' which focuses mostly on Washington himself but includes stories about pretty much every spy under his command. Pick it up at the library or through our affiliate link below.
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