Captain Nathan Hale of the American Revolutionary Army listened intently to Colonel Knowlton's briefing. Britain's superior force, occupying New York, had inflicted 1,100 casualties in an attack on the Americans. America's General Washington desperately needed information. How strong were the British? Where were they posted? What were their plans? Would an officer risk getting the facts? Nathan's fellow captains quickly rejected the idea. Hang as a spy if caught? No way! But to Nathan the matter was not so clear cut. Wasn't there a duty here?
Twenty-one year old Nathan was well-equipped to make this moral decision. Born in central Connecticut in 1755, he was reared in a Christian home. His father Richard Hale was deacon in the local Congregational church and his older brother was on the way to becoming a pastor.
By the time Nathan entered Yale, he had matured into a handsome, courteous and athletic young man. He knew vast amounts of scripture by heart. His strength was legendary. He could kick a ball over fullgrown trees, leap straight up out of one hogshead (a large barrel) into another and then into a third. Placing his hands on a fence as high as himself, he could vault over.
During Nathan's college years, the colonists were in constant friction with England. He heard fiery speeches in behalf of freedom. By the time he took his first teaching job, war was a distinct possiblity. In the Summer of 1775 Nathan resigned his school to join the army. Hearing the news, one of his friends exclaimed, "That man is a diamond...last but not least a Christian."
In the army, Nathan showed the character that made him loved. When morale dropped, he divided his extra pay with his men. When his men became ill, he visited each and prayed with them.
After Knowlton asked for a volunteer, Nathan consulted a close friend, Captain William Hull. The two had attended Yale together. "What is your opinion?" Nathan asked his friend. Hull was blunt. Nathan was too open for disguise. He'd be seen through in an instant. To be a good spy, one had to pretend to be a friend of the very persons he was about to betray. Nathan stood a good chance of being caught and hanged.
Hull did not see Hale for several days and feared he had gone into New York after all. On September 22, 1776, a British officer appeared in the American camp under flag of truce. Then Hull learned that Nathan had almost pulled it off. Dressed in farm clothes and carrying his Yale diploma, he passed as a Dutchman seeking a school position. He went through the entire British position, estimating their numbers and sketching their fortifications. He took notes in Latin. He was just a mile and a half from safety when caught.
Nathan immediately acknowledged his true identity. The notes were found in his boot. Jailed that night, he was told he would hang in the morning. Nathan asked to see a chaplain. His request was denied. Could a Bible be brought to him? The jailer, a hardened refugee from Europe, refused this request also.
On this morning, an officer had allowed Hale to write a couple letters. As he prepared to die, Nathan remained calm. He spoke briefly, telling the spectators that he considered it his duty to obey a commader in chief. He urged them to be prepared to die at any moment. His last words before the rope swung him into eternity were, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
- Seymour, George Dudley.Documentary Life of Nathan Hale. Private printing, New Haven, CT, 1941.
- Katz, Joyce. One Life to Lose; the story of Nathan Hale. Antiquarian and Landmark's Society, Inc. of Connecticut, 1977.
- Various encyclopedia articles.
Page last updated March, 2007.