Hanging of Patriot Nathan Hale
After being discovered as an American spy behind enemy lines, Nathan Hale was hanged on September 22, 1776.
Born in Coventry, Connecticut, Nathan Hale graduated with first class honors from Yale College in 1773. He accepted a lieutenant’s commission from the Connecticut Assembly, and took part in the siege of Boston.
When the British left Boston and entered the New York area, Hale was among the patriots that went to continue fighting there. Hale’s bravery and leadership had already earned him the rank of captain in the Continental Army. His leadership in the capture of a British supply vessel guarded by a warship won him a place in the Rangers. This elite fighting group was used for the most dangerous and crucial missions.
Preparing for the Battle of Long Island, General George Washington asked the Ranger’s commander to select a man for a surveillance mission. Before he could pick anyone, Hale volunteered.
Disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster, Hale managed to pass through enemy lines. But, he was captured before he could return. Hale was found to be a spy and condemned to hang.
The 21-year-old was remarkably calm before his execution. Multiple reports claim that Hale made a final speech before his hanging, claiming, “I regret that I have but one life to give my country.” Stories of Hale’s patriotic speech were relayed from British officers to American officers, who shared it with the public, making Hale a national hero.
There has been some question over the years regarding Hale’s final words. It’s been suggested his speech may have included a line from the play Cato, which states “How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue! Who would not be that youth? What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country.”
Whether the words were his own, or taken from the play, even the British officers that witnessed his final moments admitted that Hale exhibited bravery and composure, making him a true American hero.
Click the images to add this history to your collection.