Thanks to brother Liam Murphy for sharing additional information on a man we had mentioned as one of Washington’s Irish back in July of 2009 on the New York State Website NYAOH.COM and allowing us to share it with you.
The 25th of November, 1783, was the last day of America’s War of Independence. After more than seven years of occupation, the British finally evacuated New York City and General Washington, leading members of the Continental Army, entered the city in triumph. To celebrate the event, Brigadier-General George Clinton, New York’s first and longest-serving Governor and a man of Irish descent, hosted an Evacuation Day celebratory dinner at Fraunces Tavern with Washington as the guest of honor. Washington thanked all of his officers and shortly thereafter, revealed his spy network. He said, There is nothing more necessary than good intelligence to frustrate a designing enemy, and nothing that requires greater pains to obtain.
Although he had a Spymaster in Benjamin Tallmadge of the Culper Spy Ring, Washington was his own (and could be considered the nation’s first) Director of Central Intelligence. On the morning after the Evacuation Day dinner, Washington made a special point of very publicly having breakfast with his most valuable secret agent in New York City — Hercules Mulligan, a key member of the Culper spy ring. Mulligan, an Irish immigrant, spent most of the war as a tailor to British and Hessian officers and wealthy Tories, all of whom regarded him as a true Loyalist due to his marriage to the daughter of Royal Navy Admiral Charles Sanders. As a result, they were at ease discussing sensitive material in his presence. Mulligan also had a winning personality and a way with words which allowed him to interrogate his customers during a fitting in such a way that they hadn’t a clue that they were being pumped for information – information that was then passed to Washington.
Mulligan was born in Coleraine, County Derry, on 25 September 1740. His parents, Hugh and Sarah Mulligan, emigrated to 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 officers. In the 1760s, he became involved in secret armed militia companies, including a Sons of Liberty club and the New York Committee of Correspondence and Observation. Mulligan’s wife and his brother Hugh, a banker who handled British accounts, were his partners in clandestine patriotism. During the early 1770s, before the outbreak of the Revolution, Mulligan influenced to patriotism his young friend, Alexander Hamilton, who was residing in Mulligan’s home. (In a complete failure of intelligence, these facts were never discovered by the British occupation forces).
On one occasion Mulligan sent his servant Cato (also a Patriot and willing accomplice) to warn Washington of a coming raid which could have resulted in his capture and that of his staff. Cato’s personal friendship with Alexander Hamilton insured that the message would get through. Washington later mentioned, in a letter to Lafayette in 1780, the escape of Rochambeau’s French army from a planned British attack, as a result of a similar warning. On another occasion, Mulligan was the first to warn Washington of a planned British incursion into Pennsylvania. Mulligan later freed Cato, and urged others to free their slaves as well.
The bravery of Nathan Hale, who was hanged as a spy on 22 September 1776, made him an icon, but he was a poor intelligence officer as he was given virtually no training for his perilous mission. However, years later, President Ronald Reagan’s Director of Central Intelligence, William Casey, pointed to Hercules Mulligan as a better role model than Hale for his intelligence officers. Mulligan was a ‘stay-behind’ agent who reported successfully on the British from their capture of New York City in 1776 until they left in November of 1783. As a result, Mulligan, like William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan – Medal of Honor recipient, Commander of the Fighting 69th in WWI and originator of the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS) in WWII – is regarded as a progenitor of the American Central Intelligence Agency (the CIA).
After the war and Washington’s return to New York City as President of the United States, he patronized Mulligan’s shop for tailoring, as well as to reminisce. In fact, correspondence from Washington exists to demonstrate that Mulligan was his personal tailor as late as 1792. Hercules Mulligan died at the age of 85 in 1825, and was laid to rest in Trinity Church yard on Wall Street, just steps away from his friend, Alexander Hamilton. Hercules Mulligan’s successful, though quiet, contributions to the creation of his adopted homeland serve as his true lasting monument.
(Hercules Mulligan’s signature from the New York Manumission Society to promote the abolition of slavery, 1786)