OP-ED: MTA should honor forgotten patriot with bridge

Bowling Green Association chairman Arthur Piccolo wants the MTA to name the new footbridge on the battery Tunnel entrance after the under-appreciated patriot-spy Hercules Mulligan.
Photo by Milo Hess

BY ARTHUR PICCOLO

Have you ever heard of Hercules Mulligan? You should have.

Over 100 years ago, at its annual meeting at Fraunces Tavern, the American Irish Historical Society noted the fact that the great Irish American Hercules Mulligan had yet to receive the recognition he deserved for his role in American history. They expressed their hope that day that the fearless patriot spy of the Revolutionary War soon would.

A century later, Hercules Mulligan still has not!

Hercules Mulligan represents a class of heroes who escape the recognition other, better known individuals have received in history and from us today. Mulligan is of particular importance here in Lower Manhattan, because it is where he spent most of his life, did most of his espionage for George Washington,  and where he is now buried — in Trinity churchyard, near his friend and far more famous fellow patriot, Alexander Hamilton.

This is a story about finally recognizing Hercules Mulligan as we should.  At the same time, it is a story about how government does and does not work.

There are some very big, well-known bridges in New York, and there are also many very small bridges that are practically invisible, but maybe none smaller or more invisible than the simple foot bridge across the Manhattan entrance to the Hugh Carey Battery Tunnel at Morris Street near Bowling Green.

What I see in this modest, nameless bridge is our opportunity to finally provide Hercules Mulligan the visibility and recognition he deserves.

As the founder of the Bowling Green Association, I haves a passion for Lower Manhattan history. Most recently I was responsible for co-naming Bowling Green’s northern plaza “Evacuation Day Plaza” in honor of the November 25, 1783, the day the American Revolution officially ended at Bowling Green. Now I am championing naming this unnamed footbridge for Hercules Mulligan. Yes Hercules Mulligan. Absolutely Hercules Mulligan!

For those who have seen the musical “Hamilton,” you know Mulligan was a very good friend of Alexander Hamilton. For myself and others Mulligan is much more. Hercules Mulligan, born in 1740, was a young Irish immigrant who arrived with his family here in Lower Manhattan at the age of six.

Mulligan became very active in Lower Manhattan while still in his late teens in the rebellion against British rule, and was an early member of the Sons of Liberty. Mulligan is one of the patriots who destroyed the infamous statue of King George III in Bowling Green on the night of July 9, 1776 after word of the Declaration of Independence reached New York City that fateful day.

Even earlier, there is reason to believe Hercules Mulligan may have played an instrumental role in one of the most famous parades in history. The very first St. Patrick’s Day Parade anywhere took place in New York on March 17, 1762, as a protest of British rule in America and Ireland, beginning at Bowling Green as a simple march up Broadway that day by Irish colonists and Irish soldiers who had been conscripted into the British army. Someone had to spark such a bold and unprecedented demonstration, and Hercules Mulligan fits the profile.

There is no doubt at all, however, that it was Mulligan who befriended the very young immigrant Alexander Hamilton when Hamilton first arrived in Lower Manhattan from St. Croix in the Caribbean in 1772. The Mulligans provided Hamilton his first home in New York City. Hercules Mulligan is credited with inspiring Hamilton’s own revolutionary passion for American independence, leading to a lifelong friendship.

But all of this is just prologue for the story of Hercules Mulligan role in helping the patriots win the Revolutionary War. In fact, the CIA has a full page on its website celebrating Hercules Mulligan as one of America’s greatest spies, who risked his life again and again spying for General George Washington in Lower Manhattan, which was the main British headquarters during the war.

Working as a master tailor serving the sartorial needs of British officers stationed in New York City, Mulligan eavesdropped and learned British plans for battle. As a spy for our side, Mulligan repeatedly saved Washington’s life — and the revolution — by uncovering British plots to capture and hang Washington to end the patriot uprising, along with many other secrets he provided Washington and Hamilton at great risk to his own life.

Despite his vital and perilous service to the founding of United States, there are no monuments to Hercules Mulligan, save the humble granite slab marking his grave in the Trinity churchyard.

I was inspired by the fact that the 60-year-old footbridge without a name over the Battery Tunnel near Bowling Green was just replaced by the MTA with a gleaming new pedestrian bridge. That provided me the idea to request that the MTA finally give the bridge a real name by honoring Hercules Mulligan.

Unfortunately for Mulligan — and history — MTA officials did not agree with me. They told me that I should try and get the New York State legislature to pass a law requiring MTA to name it the Hercules Mulligan Bridge. Put another way, the MTA placed a herculean barrier in the way of naming The Hercules Mulligan Bridge.

Looks like MTA wants Hercules Mulligan to stay “under cover” forever. As for me I will not rest until we are all able to remember and honor Hercules Mulligan by proudly walking over The Hercules Mulligan Bridge!

Arthur Piccolo is chairman of the Bowling Green Association.

Bowling Green Association chairman Arthur Piccolo wants the MTA to name the new footbridge on the battery Tunnel entrance after the under-appreciated patriot-spy Hercules Mulligan.
Photo by Milo Hess

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