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Hercules Mulligan: The Spy that Sews

By: Beth Gillem
On Behalf of Van Gillem
| May 13, 2021 |

Since the release of the Broadway musical, Hamilton, the story of Hercules Mulligan has become well known and loved. The musical shows him as a tough and strong man who wants to improve his station in life by helping the Americans defeat the British. How much of the character is true to life? 

My 10-year-old son wrote the following research paper for one of his classes. I found it interesting to learn more about this man and wanted to share it. 

Let’s look at what history has to say about this tough tailor. 

His Beginning

Hercules Mulligan was born in Ireland. When he was 6 years old, he immigrated with his parents to New York City. His father owned a successful accounting company. When Hercules was older, he attended King’s College. It was there that he first met and became friends with Alexander Hamilton. They were such good friends that they became roommates!

Hercules was a patriot who wanted freedom from England. Alexander wanted to stay loyal to the King and remain under England’s control. I can imagine their late-night political discussions! Hercules Mulligan was a huge influence on Alexander Hamilton changing his view on the King’s rule of the colonies. Once Alexander became a patriot, he and Hercules joined a secret group called the Sons of Liberty. The goal of the Sons of Liberty was to protect the rights of the colonists. 

After Hercules graduated from King’s college he worked for a short time as a clerk for his father’s accounting business. Soon though he decided his passion and calling was to be a tailor. Success found him quickly as he sewed the clothes for the upper class and many high-ranking British officers. Although he had many employees working for him, he chose to take measurements and sew himself.

As Hercules’ sewing business was growing, Alexander was working hard to advance himself and became an aide to General George Washington. When Washington told Hamilton that he needed a spy “on the inside,” Hamilton turned to Hercules. 

Sewing and Spying

Since Hercules preferred to measure and sew for his customers himself, it was easy for him to talk to many British officers. He complimented them and led them to believe they could trust him. Enter the espionage. According to an article from the Central Intelligence Agency, “He played to the officer’s vanities, stroking their egos to elicit statements of speculation. When officers requested repairs to their uniforms, he would ask the date they needed them back. When customer after customer gave the same date, he could surmise the day of their next movement. He would then dispatch his African-American slave, Cato, to Washington’s headquarters in New Jersey to share the information on the redeployment of a particular unit.” 

Hercules’ spying was crucial to the Revolutionary War. His information also saved General Washington not once, but two times from capture! Once the war was over, many believed Hercules Mulligan was a Loyalist. After all, they saw how he buddied up to so many British officers. His business suffered because of this, he suffered because of this and was even imprisoned for a short while.

George Washington wanted to help end the rumors and decided to take action. He paid a visit to Hercules’ clothing shop and ordered a new wardrobe from him. He made sure the townspeople saw him doing it so they would no longer doubt his loyalties. Hercules put a sign outside his store that read “Clothier to General George Washington.” The town knew he was a true patriot!

Once the war was over, Hercules worked to end slavery in the new nation. He is buried in Trinity Cemetery in New York near Alexander Hamilton and many other heroes of the Revolution. Who would have thought that a spy that sews would save Generals and play such a crucial role in our nation’s fight for freedom? 

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