On this date in 1755, patriot spy and American Revolutionary hero Nathan Hale was born.
Hale was born on June 6, 1755, to a deeply religious family in Coventry, Connecticut.
At 14, Hale was admitted to Yale College, and he graduated with first-class honors in 1773. After graduating, Hale worked as a teacher.
After hearing about the battles of Lexington and Concord, Hale attended a town meeting in his home of New London, Connecticut, and urged his fellow residents to support the American cause.
In the spring of 1775. Hale joined a Connecticut militia unit and was elected to the rank of first lieutenant. His company fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, but Hale was not there. He may have been hindered from joining his unit due to his teaching obligations. There is also some speculation that he was reluctant to fight.
In July 1775, Hale’s friend and former Yale classmate Benjamin Tallmadge sent him a letter to convince him to fight for the patriot cause.
“Was I in your condition, I think the more extensive service would be my choice. Our holy Religion, the honor of our God, a glorious country, & a happy constitution is what we have to defend.”
Hale apparently took the appeal to heart. A short time later, He accepted a commission as a first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment.
In early May 1776, Hale led a raid on a British supply sloop. His unit captured the ship, and Hale earned the notice of his commanders.
When the New York City defenses fell, Gen. Washington asked for volunteers to stay behind and gather intelligence on British troop movements. Hale was the only one to step forward. In September 1776, he entered the British-controlled city disguised as a teacher looking for work.
His work as a spy didn’t last long. According to an account written by a Connecticut shopkeeper and Loyalist named Consider Tiffany, Major Robert Rogers of the Queen’s Rangers spotted Hale in a tavern and recognized him. The British officer tricked Hale into betraying his allegiance by pretending to be a fellow Patriot. There is also a possibility that Hale’s identity was revealed by Samuel Hale, his loyalist cousin.
Under the laws of war at the time, spies were considered illegal combatants and subject to the death penalty.
Before carrying out the death sentence, the British held Hale for several days. Frederick McKenzie, a British officer, wrote about Hale in his journal and praised his composure.
“He behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good officer, to obey any orders given him by his commander in chief; and desired the spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.”
The British hanged Hale on the morning of Sept. 22. He was just 21 years old.
A British engineer who witnessed the execution said Hale proclaimed, “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
There are no official records of Hale’s last words and it’s unclear if Hale actually said the famous quote.
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