Great American Men

Statue of Nathan HaleDuring the summer of 1755, a patriot was born in Coventry, Connecticut. His name was Nathan Hale, and he was the sixth of twelve children born to Richard Hale, a prosperous farmer, and his wife Elizabeth (nee Strong). Nathan was raised in the Christian faith by his Puritan parents, and studied under the village minister until he was fourteen.  In 1769 he before enrolled in Yale University with his older brother Enoch. He played sports and joined a literary fraternity, and was among the thirteen highest-ranking scholars in his class. After his graduation at age eighteen, Hale became a schoolmaster at East Haddam and later in New London, probably intending to become a Christian minister at some point.  But the Revolutionary War interrupted his plans.

On April 19, 1775, Nathan’s five brothers fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  Risking his career and reputation for what he believed, Nathan himself joined the 7th Connecticut Regiment as a first lieutenant in July of that same year.  He worked hard in his position as an officer.  Once, when his men were despairing, Nathan offered them his own slender salary if they would just stay on another month.  When General Washington reorganized the army, Nathan was placed in the 19th Connecticut Regiment as a Captain.  Several men asked to be put under his command.

By the spring of 1776, General Washington moved the army to New York to guard it against an impending British invasion.  Nathan was stationed at Bayard’s Mount, erecting fortifications and breastworks, but he saw no combat.  The British slowly forced the American army to retreat farther and farther back.

September of 1776 arrived, and General Washington desperately needed to know where the British intended to invade Manhattan Island.  Espionage was considered highly dishonorable, but it was the only thing to be done.  General Washington called for volunteers.  Hale stepped forward.

He went behind enemy lines on September 12th, disguised as a Dutch schoolteacher looking for work.  He was glad to finally be doing something valuable for the cause he believed in, and worked hard to gather the information the patriots needed.

Nine days later, on September 21st, he was returning to American lines when he was stopped by the British on Long Island.  Because of the incriminating maps and information he carried, Hale was taken to General William Howe, commander of the British forces.  He readily stated his name, rank, and object in crossing the British lines.  The General sentenced him to death on charges of espionage.  His execution was to take place the next day, on the morning of September 22nd.

Placed in the custody of the cruel Provost Marshall, he spent the night alone.  He asked for a minister and then for a Bible; both requests were refused.  Finally, he asked for paper, pen, and ink.  Provost Marshall refused this, too, but another British officer had compassion on the young man and brought him the writing materials.  Captain Hale wrote two letters, which were never delivered and probably destroyed.

The next morning at 11 a.m. Captain Nathan Hale was hung for a spy.  His reported last words, a paraphrased quote from Joseph Addison’s play Cato, will forever be remembered in American history.  “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  Hale was 21 years old.

His body was left hanging for several days as a warning and example.  Then it was taken down and lain in an unmarked grave.  Captain John Montresor of the British army crossed the American lines under a white flag to report Hale’s capture and execution.  He and other British soldiers had noticed the young man’s composure and bravery even in the face of death.

Captain Nathan Hale, America’s first spy, was a man of firm convictions, strong moral character, and deep faith.  He was willing to pay the ultimate price for “his country”…even though his country was in poor shape during that September of 1776.  This was the lowest point of the American Revolution.  Countless battles were being lost and many soldiers were deserting.  But Nathan Hale still believed in the young nation.  Before his executors, he announced that he considered the United States of America worth dying for.  He probably believed that no one would know his fate, and if they did, would be ashamed of his dishonorable death.  But he gave his all anyway.  Now, over two hundred years after his death, the country Nathan Hale fought to free remembers him as one of its greatest fathers and greatest patriots.



  1. “Nathan Hale”, Trey F., The Blue Darter’s Guide to the American Revolution,
  2. “Patriot Nathan Hale was Hanged -September 22, 1776”, America’s Library,
  3. “The Execution of Nathan Hale, 1776”, Eyewitness to History, (2000)
  4. “Nathan Hale”, Wikipedia,
  5. “The State Hero: Nathan Hale, 1755-1776”, State of Connecticut, (2002)
  6. “Captain Nathan Hale (1755-1776)”, by Rev. Edward Everett Hale, The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution,
  7. “Captain Nathan Hale (1755-1776)”, (c) Mary J. Ortner, Ph.D, The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, (2001)
  8. “Nathan Hale -Wars and Battles, 1755-1776”, U-S-History,
  9. “Nathan Hale Revisited: A Tory’s Account of the Arrest of the First American Spy”, by James Hutson, published in the Library of Congress Information Bulletin, July/August 2003 – Vol. 62, No. 7,
  10. “Nathan Hale”, The American Revolution Home Page, Ronald W. McGranahan, (2004)
  11. “The Last Days and Valiant Death of Nathan Hale”, American Heritage Magazine, American Heritage Publishing, ( 2008 )
Artist's conception of Crispus Attucks

Artist's conception of Crispus Attucks

George Washington. Samuel Adams. Paul Revere. These names are part of the story and legacy of our nation. But the name of Crispus Attucks may not be recognized by many. In fact, he was a man we know very little about, although he has been called “the first to defy, the first to die” and “the first to pour out his blood as a precious libation on the altar of a people’s rights”. To this day, his life remains shrouded in mystery.

On October 2, 1750, an advertisement was printed in the Boston Gazette.


“Ran away from his Master, William Brown of Framingham, on the 30th of Sept. last: a mulatto Fellow, about 27 years of age, named Crispus, 6 Feet and 2 inches high, short curl’d Hair, his Knees near together than common; and had on a light colour’d Beaverskin Coat, plain new buckskin breeches, blue yarn stockings and a checked woolen shirt.”

The piece went on to promise a reward to anyone who would find and return the runaway slave. The advertisement was printed again on November 13th and November 20th.

No one knows for sure who this slave was, but many scholars speculate that it could have been one Crispus Attucks, who, in March of 1770, was a dockworker and sailor in the ports of Boston. He was of African, and perhaps Wampanoag Indian, heritage. Very little is known of this man, but he was probably born into a family of slaves. His father may have been a man named Prince Yonger, who was brought to America on a slave ship from Africa and married a Native American woman named Nancy Attucks.

Many historians believe that Crispus, yearning for freedom at a young age, escaped to Nantucket in Massachusetts and found work as a harpoonist on a whaling ship. Following his dream of liberty, Crispus worked for 20 years as a merchant seaman before that fateful March of 1770, which found him in Boston, possibly awaiting passage to the Carolinas.

Tensions between the colonies and the motherland across the sea had been mounting ever since the French and Indian War. Many of the American colonists vehemently believed that certain acts passed by King George III and the heavy taxation without colonial representation he had enacted were violations of their rights as Englishmen. After the American complaints reached London, the king ordered some of his troops to encamp in Boston. These soldiers made life difficult for the Bostonians with their drunken brawls and rowdy, spiteful ways. They often terrorized the streets at night or disrupted church services with their riotous singing. At last, Samuel Adams called for the sailors and dockworkers of Boston to demonstrate against the British troops planted by the king. Crispus Attucks, well knowing the value of freedom, was quick to answer this call.

On March 5, 1770, about 40 to 50 colonists, armed with sticks, clubs, and snowballs, were gathered at King Street. Tensions had finally reached a boiling point. Scattered fights and rumors of beatings had flown throughout the city that day until a small crowd had begun taunting the British sentry on duty at the Customs House. When the sentry called for backup, the mob refused to be daunted. The townspeople gathered snowballs from the thick drifts at their feet, and tossed them angrily at the British troops. Suddenly, a British musket fired and three men lay dead in the snow. Others were wounded; two were wounded fatally. Crispus Attucks was the first to fall.  This tragedy became known as the Boston Massacre, and it was one of the biggest sparks to light the fire of the impending Revolution.

Boston honored these men as martyrs for the cause of liberty. Crispus’s body lay in honor at Faneuil Hall, awaiting burial. On the day of the funeral, much of the city closed. Bells were rung, and thousands of people joined the solemn march to the Old Granary Burial Ground, where the bodies were lain in a common grave. This was one of the oldest cemeteries in Boston and other notables such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere were later buried here.

Crispus Attucks has been remembered throughout American history in a number of ways. He was a hero and a martyr during the Revolutionary War. The abolitionists of the mid-nineteenth century lauded him as a great African-American hero and patriot, and declared a “Crispus Attucks” day on March 5. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote of him as an example of moral courage. A monument on Boston Commons bears his name and the names of the other four men who died. Poet John Boyle O’Reilly wrote a poem for the unveiling of this monument, calling Crispus “the leader and voice that day.” The United States Treasury minted a special commemorative coin in 1998 called “The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Silver Dollar”, which bears the image of Crispus Attucks on one side and a family of African-American patriots on the other. James Neyland wrote this of Attucks:


“He is one of the most important figures in African-American history, not for what he did for his own race but for what he did for all oppressed people everywhere. He is a reminder that the African-American heritage is not only African but American and it is a heritage that begins with the beginning of America.”

As long as history is told, the first fallen fighter in America’s struggle for independence will be remembered. His story is all the more remarkable because Crispus Attucks began life as a slave. His African and Wampanoag heritage make him a hero to Americans whose skin is not white; reminding them that they, too, have a birthright in this nation. But in truth, he is a hero to all of us. Without letting bitterness towards the country that had enslaved him overrule his convictions, Crispus Attucks gave his life for the cause of freedom. And in doing so, he gave the freedom he loved to a nation. His was the first sacrifice for liberty, and after it was made, there would be no looking back.


  1. “Crispus Attucks”
  2. Crispus Attucks Association: “About Crispus Attucks” by Robin N.
  3. Africans in America: “Crispus Attucks c. 1723-1770”
  4. “Crispus Attucks”
  5. “Crispus Attucks: American Revolution Hero”
  6. “The Murder of Crispus Attucks” American Treasures of the Library of Congress
  7. “All American History” Student Reader by Celeste W. Rakes, Bright Ideas Press, © 2006, Chapter 19, p. 226-227 “The Boston Massacre (1770) – Seventh Step to War”

Ronald Wilson Reagan was the fortieth President of the United States of America.  He believed in his country and in its people, and inspired a nation with his vision of confidence and hope for the future.  His was an ideal of “peace through strength” during a turbulent time in world history, believing that “no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.”  He was born in 1911 in Tampico, Illinois and died in 2004, a victim of a 10-year struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.  He left behind his wife, Nancy, to whom he had been lovingly married for 52 years, and three children (one adopted during a previous marriage to actress Jane Wyman).  Throughout a lifetime of struggles against Communism, the Cold War, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, divorce, the death of two children, an assasin’s attempt on his life, and other tragedies, Ronald Reagan remained strong and kept a sense of humor that touched a hurting and confused nation at its deepest level.

Reagan attended high school in Dixon, Illinois, and went on to work his way through Eureka College, where he played football and acted in school plays in between his studies of sociology and economics.  After graduation, he worked as a radio sports announcer until 1937, when he won a contract as a film star in Hollywood, California (the same year he joined the Army Reserves).  Reagan went on to act in 53 films, and became president of the Screen Actors Guild.  While serving in this capacity, arguments over Communism caused Reagan to change his political position from liberal to conservative.  He soon became enthusiastically involved in his new party, working as a television host and a spokesman for conservatism.  He won the Governorship of California in 1966 by a margin of over a million votes, and his term was renewed in 1970.

In 1976 Reagan fought for the Republican Presidential nomination against Gerald Ford, but lost the bid by a narrow margin.  Ford went on to lose the election against Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter.  In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the Republican Party’s nominee, and Reagan selected former Texas Congressman and U.N. Ambassador George H.W. Bush as his running mate.  He took the election and won a re-election in 1984; this time receiving all the electoral votes but those in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.  At almost 70 years of age, he was the oldest man yet to be elected President.

69 days into his first term, Reagan was shot by a crazed young man named John Hinckley Jr.  Reagan wrote later that, as he lay in the hospital and watched Jim Brady, one of the men who had been shot trying to protect him, being wheeled past his room in a coma, he said a prayer for him, but thought, “I didn’t feel I could ask God’s help to heal Jim, the others, and myself, and at the same time feel hatred for the man who had shot us, so I silently asked God to help him deal with whatever demons had led him to shoot us.”

Ronald Reagan believed in forgiveness, faith, strength and perserverance in pain.  He also lived these things.  He believed in “better tomorrows”.  He believed in “empathy”; in “developing a knack for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”.  He believed that “a people free to choose will always choose peace”, that “democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”  Ronald Reagan trusted in the importance of small-town America and the traditional family, stating that “all great change in America begins at the dinner table”; and in the power of small businesses (“entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States”). That “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”  He wanted to be able to “…be sure that those who come after will say of us…that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”  He kept to his famous philosophy of “peace through strength”, exhorting his countrymen to fight oppresors and tyrants (“when you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”).  He fought drug addiction (“Let us not forget who we are. Drug abuse is a repudiation of everything America is.”).  He was adamantly opposed to racism and discrimination, saying, “The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.”  He was also a strong, born-again Christian, believing that “without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure” and “within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems men face.”

His marriage to Nancy was one of the most important parts of his life.  He loved her with a deep and lasting love that a nation whose view of marriage had been rocked noticed.  And she was devoted to him, heart and soul.  He saw her as a gift from God, writing in his diary, “I pray I’ll never face a day when she isn’t there[,] of all the ways God had blessed me, giving her to me was the greatest – beyond anything I can ever hope to deserve.”  Later, he wrote, “…it is almost impossible for me to express fully how deeply I love Nancy and how much she has filled my life.  From the start, our marriage was like an adolescent’s dream of what a marriage should be. It was rich and full from the beginning, and it has gotten more so with each passing day. Nancy moved into my heart and replaced an emptiness that I’d been trying to ignore for a long time. Coming home to her is like coming out of the cold into a warm, firelit room. I miss her if she just steps out of the room.”

Ronald Reagan was a high successful President and, most importantly, a truly patriotic American citizen.  He loved his God, his family, his country, his brothers and sisters of America.  And up until the end of his life, these things were his driving passions.  In November of 1994, Ronald Reagan penned a hand-written letter to America, announcing his recent diagnosis.

“I have recently been told that I am one of the millions of Americans who will be afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease… At the moment I feel just fine. I intend to live the remainder of the years God gives me on this earth doing the things I have always done… I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead. Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.”

On June 5, 2004, at the age of 93, Ronald Reagan passed away.  But the things he lived for will remain, and he will always be remembered as a truly great American.


  1. “Ronald Wilson Reagan”
  2. “Assasination Attempt”
  3. “Ronald Reagan…In Hollywood”
  4. “Biography of President Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004”
  5. “Racism Quotes and Quotations”
The Virginia Convention on the ratification of the Constitution was just getting started on June 4, 1788, when George Nicholas stood up to speak. This beloved soldier and patriot was said to have been the first man to fire a shot against the British as they invaded Philadelphia. Those on the floor were concerned that the newborn Constitution would prove too weak to prevent future tyranny and so would bring about the abolition of the freedom these young colonies had so recently fought to win.

“An enlightened people,” said Nicholas, “Will never suffer what was established for their security to be perverted to an act of tyranny.”

This statement was simple, but it made all the difference. The Convention members understood his meaning. An enlightened citizenship would never allow power-hungry men to twist the original meaning of the Constitution into something which would suppress their freedom. The founding fathers had installed enough safeguards to ensure this. All it required was that the people of America remain enlightened.

We must ask ourselves this question: are we an enlightened people? Are we protecting ourselves against tyrants who would take away our liberties? Or have we become lazy and ignorant, not educating ourselves as to the Constitution and the decisions being made in our courts today?

Dr. Michael Farris writes, “If we are honest about our situation, we have to conclude that George Nicholas’s optimism has not been fulfilled. The Constitution was intended for our liberty. The Supreme Court was especially intended to protect our liberties. Instead, the Court has twisted the Constitution and made it an instrument of tyranny.”

We the people must once again educate ourselves. We must once again prove ourselves enlightened. By reading Supreme Court cases, studying Constitutional law, making informed voter choices, letting our elected officials hear our voices, and paying attention to the decisions they make, we will be enlightened, we will have freedom and we will not be tyrannized. I believe that if many people studied the recent Supreme Court cases they would be absolutely shocked at how our freedoms are being usurped. The founding fathers would be dismayed and outraged. We, the people of America, have a responsibility to ourselves, to our children, to our forefathers, and to this great land itself.

Let us be enlightened.


March 23, 1775 dawned in Richmond.  The nip of a fading winter was still in the air; the ladies and gentlemen had not yet abandoned their warmer clothing.  But within St. John’s Church, a debate was raging hot.

Proceedings in Philadelphia had reached a fever pitch.  The colonies would fight for their liberty, and Virginia was smugly sure that Britain would bend.  Aye, America would win her freedom with hardly a fight…the redcoats would be gone with the next ship.  The Revolution could be won peacefully.

The Virginia Assembly was now listening to a man who was not so sure.  This young lawyer from Hanover County saw the danger of approaching British troops and urged Virginians to take arms.  The Revolutionary Convention prepared itself to hear his unpopular position.  What could this Patrick Henry say to change their minds?

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided,” he was saying, “and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House.”

Assemblymen shifted uncomfortably.  Had not they themselves seen the great ships in their own harbors?  The marching armies drilling in the squares?

This fearless lawyer spoke upon that knowledge.  “Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.”

His voice was rising, his speech impassioned.  “If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”

His voice rose above the clamor.  “Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. ”

And now his voice grew louder still, speaking each word with the fervor of one who believed it with all his soul. 

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

The Virginia Revoluntionary Convention was on its feet, shouting.  The mood had turned, the tempest swelled.  Moments later, when a vote was called, Patrick Henry’s position won by a mere half dozen votes.  Virginia was called to arms…called to protect itself bravely against the British.  Virginia had entered the Revolution.

Who was this man?  During his life, Patrick Henry was many things.  First a shopkeeper, opening a store with his elder brother William, which quickly failed.  Then a farmer, working to till the land of his young bride, Sarah Shelton.  But when fire destroyed this place, called Pine Slash, Patrick Henry once again tried his hand at storekeeping.  This, too, failed, and so he worked at Hanover Tavern, owned by his father-in-law, and studied books of law.  In 1760, this young self-taught jack-of-all-trades convinced the panel of Virginia attorneys to admit him to the bar, despite his lack of education and knowledge.  He quickly made good in the courts of Hanover and nearby counties, and soon found fame in winning the famous Parsons’ Cause case at Hanover Courthouse, in which he argued against a law which would diminish the pay of ministers in the colonies, on behalf of one Reverend James Maury.  His speech defied the authority of Britain and earned him fame in the colonies.

Soon, this radical lawyer became as one with the fight for independence.  He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1765 and the Second Continental Congress in 1775.  He argued on behalf of persecuted Baptist ministers and against the Stamp Act (nearly committing treason in the process).  His eloquence gained him recognition as the most celebrated orator of early America.  His firey words and rebellious beliefs gained him popularity as well as enemies in this turbulent time, and to the crown, he was the face of insubordination in Virginia (an edict was issued against him by Governor Dunmore in 1775).  For a brief time he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Virginian forces, despite his inexperience, but it was soon apparent that the military was not his calling.  George Washington said, “I think my countrymen made a capital mistake when they took Henry out of the senate to place him in the field.”  Although his men were fiercely loyal to him and threatened to desert if he resigned, Henry refused to allow his pride to hurt the cause he believed in, and urged his men to respect their new commanders.

Patrick Henry went on to serve five terms as governor of Virginia (1776-1786).  He declined a sixth and continued with his law practice.  He declined a position in the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, but was elected to the Virginia Convention a year later.  He strongly opposed the Constitution at first because it did not contain a Bill of Rights, but his opposition helped cause one to be written in 1791.

In the years 1794-1796 Patrick Henry declined the offices of governor of Virginia, U.S. Senator, Chief Justice, Secretary of State, and ambassador to Spain and France.  His health was failing.  He retired to Red Hill with his second wife, Dorethea Dandridge (his first wife having died in 1775), where he eventually died on June 6, 1799, shortly after his election to the state legislature.  He was 63 years old.  The Virginia Gazette reported the death of this great man, writing, “As long as our rivers flow, or mountains stand, Virginia . . . will say to rising generations, imitate my Henry.”

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Patrick Henry never served in high office or sought political power for himself.  His convictions were radical and deeply held.  He made the Revolution understandable and important to the common American men and women with his passionate, honest speaking, and was “”the man who gave the first impulse to the ball of revolution.”  As Thomas Jefferson said, ““It is not now easy to say what we should have done without Patrick Henry.  He was before us all in maintaining the spirit of the Revolution.”

Even in his death, Patrick Henry worked to build up the young nation he loved.  In a letter written to be opened after his passing, he said that whether or not the independence of America “will prove a Blessing or a Curse will depend on the Use our people make of the Blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary Character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a Nation. Reader! whoever thou art, remember this, and in thy Sphere, practice Virtue thyself, and encourage it in others. P. HENRY”



  1. “Patrick Henry Speech -Liberty or Death”
  2. “Patrick Henry”
  3. “Henry’s Early Life and Times (and other life events)”
  4. “Biography of Patrick Henry”
  5. “Patrick Henry (Featured in Revolutionary City)”
  6. “Patrick Henry”
  7. “Patrick Henry -Virginia House of Burgesses”
  8. “Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” (transcript of March 23, 1775 speech)