Today, on George Washington's birthday, Feb 22, we remember the incredible tale of the native Irishman, a proud Republican, who saved the president's life... twice!
In an era where Russian spying and stealing state secrets are the order of the day, it is timely to remember the greatest American spy of all.
If you have seen 'Hamilton,' the Broadway musical, you will know of whom I speak, but alas, Hercules Mulligan is played by an African American, a needless piece of miscasting given Mulligan was a native of Ireland and a proud Irish Republican.
Mulligan saved George Washington's life twice, and the Revolution would have turned out very differently were it not for the Irishman.
In addition, it was Mulligan who took the young and penniless immigrant Alexander Hamilton under his wing and fired him with enthusiasm for the American cause.
Indeed, were another Broadway show to be made about the period, Mulligan’s story would have powerful impact. He is arguably the most underrated Irish hero in history, as much a founding father as any other figure of the time with the exception of Washington.
Mulligan moved with his family from Coleraine in County Derry to New York in 1746 when he was six years old. He graduated from Columbia University and became active in the Sons of Liberty, the underground movement to make America independent.
The ties with Britain were loosening and what had once been benevolent oversight had turned into mutual hostility.
By 1776, when the British occupied New York City, Mulligan embarked on his secret life, a tailor by day who fitted English generals for their uniforms, and informant by night, smuggling information he gleaned via his servant Cato to the American lines.
Marriage to the daughter of a leading British officer made him an even more trusted figure by the British top brass.
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In 1779, Mulligan saved Washington's life for the first time. A British officer came calling on the Irish tailor seeking a warm watch coat immediately.
When Mulligan inquired about the haste the officer replied they had Washington in their sights. “Before another day, we'll have the rebel general in our hands,” he said.
Mulligan immediately sent Cato to warn Hamilton, who was by now Washington’s aide de camp. The message arrived just in time.
The in 1781, two years after his first escape, the British came to capture Washington again. Mulligan’s brother Hugh, who ran a goods company, received a huge order for supplies for 300 soldiers whose general believed they had Washington in their sights and were about to hunt him down.
Hercules Mulligan warned Washington in advance, and once again the leader escaped.
After the rebels had won, Washington would not forget his chief spy who had saved the day on two occasions. On November 26, 1783, Washington led the Evacuation Day parade and called to Mulligan at what is today 218 Pearl Street. He tethered his horse, dismounted and ate breakfast with Mulligan, calling him “a true friend of liberty.” Washington generously ordered a full set of civilian clothing. Mulligan proudly erected a sign outside his shop: “Clothier to Genl. Washington."
Mulligan detested slavery and became one of the 19 founding members, with Hamilton and John Jay, of the New York Manumission Society, an early organization to abolish slavery.
He prospered as a businessman with Washington’s seal of approval. He retired in 1820 and died in 1825, aged 84. Few Irishmen have done more for liberty.
* Originally published in Dec 2017.