See "Hamilton" and Continental Army spy, Hercules Mulligan at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts
By Susanna Speier
Denver Private Investigator Blogger
Near the end of the first act of Hamilton, as anyone familiar with the musical and American military history already knows, the Battle of Yorktown turns the tide for the Continental Army, led by General George Washington and wins the decisive victory against the British Army, led by General Lord Charles Cornwallis.
Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette both played critical roles in cinching the Yorktown victory however a New York tailor named Hercules Mulligan also played a prominent role in the victory by obtaining British intelligence that enabled the Continental Army to plan, in advance, for the attack.
When Alexander Hamilton asked Mulligan to help him obtain British intelligence for General Washington, Hercules Mulligan's fashionable tailor shop, which catered to wealthy British businessmen and high ranking British officers, was well positioned to charm proprietary intelligence out of his British customers. Performed by actors Lin-Manuel Miranda and Okieriete Onaodowan in the original broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton and Hercules Mulligan sing in hip-hop infused rhyme explaining,
How did we know that this plan would work?
We had a spy on the inside. That’s right,
A tailor spyin’ on the British government!
I take their measurements, information and
then I smuggle it!
To get more context I visited several secondary sources online including the CIA's Hercules Mulligan tribute that explains, "When General Washington mentioned to Alexander Hamilton, now Washington’s aide-de-camp, that he was looking for a spy on the inside within New York City, Hamilton recommended his old friend Hercules Mulligan. Hercules excitedly agreed."
The CIA's biography (written by an uncredited author) goes on to explain that "Hercules continued to provide service for British officers, collecting their measurements and secrets alike" as mentioned in the musical.
The fashionable tailor, unbeknownst to his customers was also an active member of the Sons of Liberty organization and strategically and deliberately "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."
Mulligan's African-American slave, Cato is among many slaves who --with the exception of Sally Hemings-- went unmentioned in the musical, however it is clear from the several secondary accounts I reviewed, Mulligan succeeded because he did not operate in isolation but with a support team of equally courageous individuals. This team consisted also consisted of his wife, Elizabeth Sanders who was the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral and gave him access to officers who would talk about military matters, according to Revolry.
Frances Mulraney's Irish Central article claims Mulligan "met his customers at the front door and personally took taking their measurements despite his own social stature. Mulligan often offered a glass of whiskey to keep conversation flowing.
With the help of yet another team member --his brother Hugh Mulligan, who supplied him with information on British supplies and shipping schedules through his work with the British commissariat in New York-- Mulligan learned of two separate plots to capture George Washington. Each time he was able to warn Washington before the plots could bear fruit."
Gil Troy's Daily Beast article reiterates this, portraying Mulligan as " a discrete but silver-tongued Irish immigrant in New York City, who prospered as a haberdasher, tailoring garments for colonial aristocrats and British officers. He was also a member of the Sons of Liberty, and his passion helped recruit Alexander Hamilton to the Revolutionary cause. His work also happened to make him a great, meaning oft-overlooked, spy."
According to Thomas Fleming's Journal of the American Revolution article, Less well known is the story of a working class Irishman, big hearty Hercules Mulligan. He shocked his American friends by welcoming the red coated British regiments when they captured New York in 1776. A skilled tailor, Mulligan was soon making money outfitting British officers and wealthy Americans who had remained loyal to the king.
Beyond the city limits, Americans shook their heads. Who could believe Mulligan had become a traitor? He had seemed to be a fervent patriot. Mulligan still was, but only a few people knew it. One of these insiders was General George Washington. Another was Washington’s aide, Colonel Alexander Hamilton, who was a close friend of Mulligan. Throughout the war, the Irishman was one of America’s most valuable spies. Among other things, he warned Washington of a well-organized British plot to kidnap him."
After the war, Washington stopped by tailor shop, had breakfast with Mulligan and pronounced him a "true friend of liberty" before commissioning his first civilian wardrobe. Shortly after, the sign to Mulligan's 218 Pearl street (then 23 Queen street) tailor shop read “Clothier to Genl. Washington."
When I google mapped the address of the location that once housed Hercules Mulligan's New York tailor shop. This is the image that came up:
When I arrived at the Buell Theater early the mood was giddy with Denverites about to see Hamilton for the first time. Then I opened the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Applause program to discover yet another local overlap. The actor who plays Hercules Mulligan in the traveling show (which performs at the DCPA through April 1st) Mathenee Treco, is a returning Denver local!
If you are a Denver based private investigator heading to the the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex (located at 1101 13th street in Downtown Denver) to see Hamilton before it closes on April 1st be sure to raise a glass to Hercules Mulligan, performed by Mathenee Treco, along with the rest of history's un or under acknowledged covert military operatives. And I do recommend you go.
Seeing Hamilton is kind of like watching the hidden blueprint of our hardwired political, social and emotional identity rolling out onto a folding table. It is also inspiring, humbling and insanely humanizing in a way that leaves you inspired to push to becomes more than what you are. Private investigators, surveillance operatives, background check detectives, personal injury attorneys and fraud investigators alike will identify with this uniquely American but also very universal story about the immigrant founding father who built the legal system that we support in our professional lives.
Yes, tickets to see "Hamilton" in Denver are expensive and difficult to obtain. It took me five tries with the box office to get tickets I could afford, however the lottery also enables you to try for $10 orchestra tickets everyday. Additional information on the lottery is available via the DCPA website.
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