George Washington in Lower Manhattan

Hercules Mulligan and Trinity

Hercules Mulligan was an Irish American tailor and spy during the Revolutionary War, member of the Sons of Liberty and New York Manumission Society, and a Trinity Church vestryman from 1784 to 1786. 

Without Mulligan's espionage, George Washington may not have survived the Revolutionary War.

Coleraine, UK (Northern Ireland)
Coleraine, in Northern Ireland and currently part of the UK, is the hometown of Hercules Mulligan. ​

Mulligan was born in Coleraine, Ireland, in 1740, and immigrated to New York with his family in 1746. He attended King’s College, later known as Columbia University. King's College was built on land provided by Trinity Church in 1754. Mulligan married Elizabeth Sanders at Trinity in 1773.

He became friends with Alexander Hamilton not long after Hamilton’s arrival in New York City and Hamilton lived with Mulligan for some time while he also attended King’s College. The two had many late-night political discussions and Mulligan is credited for swaying Hamilton away from British loyalty and towards American independence.

Sons of Liberty Broadside from 1765
The Sons of Liberty, of which Hercules Mulligan was a member, formed in 1765 in opposition to the Stamp Act, a tax enacted by the British.


Hercules Mulligan was one of the first colonists to join the Sons of Liberty, a secret organization founded to advance the rights of the citizens of the colonies and to fight against taxation by the British government.

In his role as a tailor, considered a lowly position at the time, he was able to listen in on the conversations between British generals who patronized his business. He was also able to gauge troop movement by the timing of when they picked up their uniforms from his shop. The intelligence gleaned through his business was then reported back to George Washington’s camp in New Jersey by Cato Howe, a man enslaved by Mulligan.

Battle of Golden Hill
The Sons of Liberty confronted British troops in the Battle of Golden Hill, fought in January 1770 near the present day intersection of John and William Streets, not far from Trinity Church. ​ ​
Grave of Cato Howe, patriot enslaved by Hercules Mulligan
The final resting place, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, of Cato Howe and other Blacks who fought for the cause of U.S. independence during the Revolutionary War.


Mulligan’s information, passed on by Howe, is credited with saving the general’s life on two occasions: the first, in 1779, when a British officer revealed a plot to capture Washington. The second incident happened in 1781, when Mulligan’s brother, Hugh Jr., discovered through his import/export business that several hundred British troops were being sent to Connecticut to intercept Washington.

NY Manumission Society records
Records of the New York Manumission Society 1785-1849

After the Revolutionary War, despite being an enslaver himself, Mulligan became one of the founders of the New York Manumission Society, an organization founded to promote the abolition of slavery, alongside Hamilton and John Jay.

His tailoring business continued to flourish, before his retirement in 1820. George Washington kept Mulligan in mind for clothing even after Washington became President and the capital moved to Philadelphia, authorizing an aide in 1792 to request "some black mole skin, like that of which you made him a pair of breeches when he was in New York."  

Hercules Mulligan died in 1825 and is buried in the Sanders vault in Trinity Churchyard alongside his wife and members of her family. Because the footprint of the third and current Trinity Church building is larger than its predecessors, the Sanders vault is now under the church and not visible.

Whaley-Mulligan Vault
The final resting place in Trinity Churchyard of several members of Hercules Mulligan's family.

His mother, sister, brother-in-law, son, grandson, and granddaughter are buried in the Whalie vault, also in the churchyard.

Changemakers in the Churchyard

Hercules Mulligan is one of many changemakers buried in the Trinity Churchyard. We remember their lives of service because of the impact they had on those around them in their time. Today, there are also many opportunities to get involved and make the world better. Here are a few ways to volunteer, get involved, and learn through our Trinity community. You can also subscribe for weekly updates.

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