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Hercules Mulligan: The True Story

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Stephen McCracken, a Derry-based historian, has disproved commonly held beliefs about Hercules Mulligan, whose story was covered by The Gaelic American’s Evacuation Day article. Recently it was reported by The Irish Echo and Irish Central that the Bowling Green Community Association, led by Arthur Piccolo, was looking to honor Hercules Mulligan by naming a bridge after him in Lower Manhattan, where Mulligan conducted espionage for George Washington with the help of his slave, Cato.
Firstly, while Hercules Mulligan was believed to be from Derry, McCracken found that the Mulligan family papers as reported by a newspaper state that he was from “Coleraine, County Antrim.” It has to be considered that the Mulligan family left Ireland from the port of Coleraine in Derry, having come from County Antrim.
Secondly, Hercules Mulligan is credited with having been a founding member of the Manumission Society, which was dedicated to the gradual abolition of slavery. After reviewing the documents of the Manumission Society, which are available online, McCracken found that a “H. Mulligan” had signed the minute book, though was not a founding member. However, this H. Mulligan had a significantly different signature than Hercules [see below]. It is possible this H. Mulligan was Hercules’s brother Hugh, or an unrelated Irish abolitionist of the time Hugh Mulligan, or somebody completely different.
H. Mulligan in the Manumission Society Records
The signature of Hercules Mulligan
In fact, McCracken found that right to the last census Hercules Mulligan was a part of in 1820, four years before his death, he was listed as a slave owner. The incorrectly held beliefs of Hercules Mulligan have been so long established that many are unaware of the true full story. This oversight extends to highly respected historians and includes the CIA’s own history of Mulligan, who they consider a progenitor. Needless to say, it is important for history to be accurate. Yet, articles in The Irish Echo and Irish Central that covered the call to name the bridge after Hercules Mulligan completely failed to mention the actions of Mulligan’s slave Cato, whom the espionage ring depended on.
A statement from McCracken stated that, “Belfast’s community group “Reclaim the Enlightenment” and Limavady’s “Limavady Area Ancestry” has and will always take a firm stance on slave ownership and show the evidence as to why these people should not be memorialized with the actual history from the time. Films and musicals should really present the real history, rather than a fabricated view which suits a production narrative. We would call on the Bowling Green Association to review the evidence available in the census records and the Manumission signatories to make a reasonable judgement call on the ethical reasoning behind memorializing a slave owner in this way. Maybe his slave Cato, who put his life in harm’s way for the American Revolution, would be a better fit as a name for this bridge.”

Contributed by Stephen McCracken, Genealogy by Fiona Pegrum QG

Editor’s Note: Attempts to reach Arthur Piccolo and the Bowling Green Community Association for comment were unsuccessful.

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