Nathan Hale, Hero of the American Revolution
Posted by elainemcooper on September 21, 2012
Posted by Elaine Marie Cooper
Some people live a very long life without making much of an impact on the world. Others live a short life—and yet are remembered for centuries after their death. Such is the legacy of Nathan Hale.
And on this 236th anniversary of the hanging of this young patriot during the American Revolution, I will honor his legacy once more. It never ceases to amaze me that this brave man caught spying for the Americans behind British enemy lines was a mere twenty-one years old at the time of his execution.
Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut in 1755, the sixth child in a family of twelve. His father Richard was a successful farmer who was able to send two of his sons—Nathan and Enoch—to Yale University. Nathan graduated at the age of eighteen. While Enoch went into the ministry, Nathan chose teaching as his profession. He was an instructor at the one room schoolhouse in East Haddam, Connecticut, for five months, working from 7 AM to 9 PM each day. He had a class of both boys and girls, ranging in age from six years to eighteen years of age.
When offered a position at a larger school in New London, Connecticut, Nathan had to teach boys and girls separately. His day then began at 5 AM to 7 AM teaching the young ladies, while the rest of the day he was instructing young men.
According to friends and students, Nathan was extremely likeable, kind, intelligent, athletic, and “so handsome.” He seemed to have everything to live for. Yet when revolution stirred the colonies, Nathan bid his saddened students farewell, and joined the militia. He was given the commission of lieutenant in 1775, and by 1776 was named a captain.
In September of that year, General George Washington was desperate to infiltrate the enemy camp in New York City to glean valuable British intelligence. Frustrated by the numbers of British-sympathizing Tories in that city, General Washington sent out a plea for a spy from an elite group of troops in which Nathan was a member. The request was met with silence at their meeting—until a late-arriving Nathan Hale, pale from a recent illness, stepped forward to offer his services.
One of his fellow militia who was an old college friend, tried to dissuade him. Nathan replied, “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.”
Nathan managed to get behind enemy lines and gather valuable information for the Continental Army. He wrote these secret reports in Latin and hid the notes in his shoe. But before he could return this intelligence to General Washington, Nathan was captured by the British. He was subsequently sentenced to the gallows and was hung on September 22, 1776.
According to the Essex Journal, February 13, 1777, these remarks were noted about Nathan Hale: “At the gallows, (he) made a sensible and spirited speech; among other things, he told them they were shedding the blood of the innocent, and that if he had ten thousand lives, he would lay them all down, if called to it, in defense of his injured, bleeding country.”
From the Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, May 17, 1781, Nathan reportedly said, “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is, that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.”
Statements written by a British officer who was present at the execution indicate that Nathan Hale requested a Bible, but was refused. Asked by the officer in charge of the execution to state his dying speech and confession, Nathan Hale replied, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
The loss of this twenty-one-year-old patriot stands out as a hallmark of bravery in the fight for freedom. May his courage always be an inspiration for lovers of liberty.
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