Northern Ireland council withdraws plan to honour Hercules Mulligan

A Northern Ireland borough council has withdrawn a plan to honour a Northern Ireland emigrant who played a key role in the American revolution after discovering he had owned a slave.

The Causeway Coast and Glens borough council decided last month to recognise Hercules Mulligan, who was born in Coleraine, County Derry, for his exploits during America’s war of independence.

The tailor spied on British officers in New York, reputedly saved the life of George Washington and mentored Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers. He was also a founder of the New York Manumission Society, which promoted the abolition of slavery,

The actor Okieriete Onaodowan played Mulligan in the Broadway musical Hamilton.

However, the council’s plan to recognise the Mulligan in heritage trails prompted swift criticism from a Derry historian, Stephen McCracken, and community groups on the grounds that Mulligan had owned slaves.

The North West Migrants’ Forum sent an open letter, endorsed by other groups, condemning the planned honour.

“Hercules Mulligan subscribed to and practised the ideology of holding people in enslavement. Portraying him as a hero when he was still a slave owner five years after he helped set up the New York Manumission Society is glorifying slavery and that is disgraceful.”

Yvonne Boyle, an Alliance party councillor who had made the original proposal, withdrew it this week, saying history was a “messy business”.

Mulligan was a boy when he moved to New York. In the 1770s he sided with those resisting British rule and used his job as a tailor to gather intelligence from British officers who discussed military operations while being fitted for uniforms.

Some historians credit Mulligan with twice saving Washington from capture and execution and with helping the rebel forces to defeat the troops of King George III. Mulligan is said to have toppled a statue of the king that was melted down to make 40,000 bullets.

He is buried close to Hamilton in a Manhattan church cemetery.

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