How Fishhooks Got His Name

Dr. Robert C. Ritchie | September 24, 1998

Samuel Mulford of East Hampton, a member of the General Assembly of New York, fought bitterly against the King's tax on whaling. In 1716, at the age of 70, he boarded a ship for London to take his case right to the top - King George I.

In England, this country whaler was truly a fish out of water. His informal dress, New World language, and unsophisticated air gave him little chance with the aristocrats in London.

Day after day he worked his way through the crowded London streets, across the common, to petition the government just to hear him. Each time he failed - and each time, his pockets were picked. No matter how careful he was, the precious little money he had was quickly draining away.

Mulford could not afford the losses any longer. He went back to his rented flat and sewed fish hooks into the linings of his pockets. The next day, as he began his pilgrimage once more through London, an unsuspecting cutpurse attempted to separate Samuel from his money. But, to the thief's dismay, he became firmly and painfully attached to the old man's trousers.

The authorities had their pickpocket and a rather amusing story. Word spread quickly among the London thieves about an old man with a gimpy walk whose pockets contained nothing but fish hooks. Soon almost everyone in London seemed to resemble Samuel Mulford. Pickpockets took a holiday rather than mess with the man from the colonies.

Mulford became an instant celebrity, the man who had single-handedly fooled the London thieves. So quickly did his notoriety spread that he not only got to address the members of the House of Commons but he was given an audience with King George himself.

Within a year, the whale tax was revoked. The governor of the colony of New York, Robert Hunter, was furious at Mulford for his impetuous behavior, and had him expelled from the New York Assembly - whereupon East Hampton re-elected him the following year.

Samuel Mulford died at the age of 80 in 1725. His tombstone reads "Honest Sam Mulford," but in history he has come down as Fishhooks Mulford, the East Hampton whaler who defended the principle of "no taxation without representation" almost 50 years before the American Revolution.


Excerpted from "East Hampton versus New York," Dr. Robert C. Ritchie's 350th Anniversary lecture in April. The full text of Dr. Ritchie's talk may be found on the Internet at http://www.350easthampton.org .