During 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.
- “Nathan Hale”, Trey F., The Blue Darter’s Guide to the American Revolution, http://darter.ocps.net/classroom/revolution
- “Patriot Nathan Hale was Hanged -September 22, 1776”, America’s Library, http://www.americaslibrary.gov
- “The Execution of Nathan Hale, 1776”, Eyewitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2000)
- “Nathan Hale”, Wikipedia, www.en.wikipedia.org
- “The State Hero: Nathan Hale, 1755-1776”, State of Connecticut, www.ct.gov (2002)
- “Captain Nathan Hale (1755-1776)”, by Rev. Edward Everett Hale, The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, www.connecticutsar.org
- “Captain Nathan Hale (1755-1776)”, (c) Mary J. Ortner, Ph.D, The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, www.connecticutsar.org (2001)
- “Nathan Hale -Wars and Battles, 1755-1776”, U-S-History, www.u-s-history.com
- “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, ww.loc.gov
- “Nathan Hale”, The American Revolution Home Page, Ronald W. McGranahan, http://americanrevwar.homestead.com (2004)
- “The Last Days and Valiant Death of Nathan Hale”, American Heritage Magazine, American Heritage Publishing, www.americanheritage.com ( 2008 )