Capt. Nathan Hale (Continental Army)

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Nathan Hale

Birthdate: (21)
Birthplace: Coventry, Tolland County, Connecticut
Death: September 22, 1776 (21)
New York, New York County, New York (Hanged by the British for espionage)
Place of Burial: Coventry, Tolland, Connecticut, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Deac. Richard Hale, Sr. and Elizabeth Hale
Brother of Samuel Hale; John B. Hale; Joseph Hale; Elizabeth Hale; Rev. Enoch Hale and 7 others

Occupation: Revolutionary War Captain, Spy, PATRIOT HERO OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Capt. Nathan Hale (Continental Army)

Patriot of the Revolutionary War, Nathan was hung as a spy. Remembered for his oft quoted words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." In 1985 Captain Nathan Hale was designated the official state hero of CT.

At age 14, he enrolled at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. While at Yale, he became close friends with Benjamin Tallmadge, a fellow Yale student who would later become George Washington's head of intelligence during the Revolutionary War. Hale graduated from Yale with honors and became a school teacher in nearby East Hadaam, and later in New London. When the war began, he joined the Connecticut militia and became a first sergeant. In 1776, he was promoted to captain in the Continental Army's 7th Connecticut Regiment.

In August and September of 1776, during the Battle of Long Island, Hale volunteered to spy on British troop movements. Disguised as a school teacher, he was captured by British forces near present-day Queens following the torching of New York City. British officials, suspicious of Hale's school-teacher facade, pretended to be Patriots and succeeded in convincing him to reveal his espionage (spy) activities. He was then questioned by British General William Howe. Apparently, some evidence was found on him, and he was subsequently hanged for treason the next day. According to eyewitness accounts, Hale's composure in the moments before his execution were astounding. His final words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," have been immortalized forever. Today, statues of Nathan Hale can be seen at the Nathan Hale Homestead, Yale University, the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), and Andover Academy in Massachusetts.

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See his "pedigree" at the Nathan Hale Society -

Nathan Hale Homestead'he Nathan Hale Homestead was the home of the family of State Hero, Nathan Hale. Constructed in 1776, the current house is the second dwelling built on the property. Nathan’s father, Richard Hale, was a prosperous livestock farmer and built the house for his large family. Ardent patriots, six of Richard’s eight sons served in the patriot army. One son, Capt. Nathan Hale was caught and hanged as a spy at age 21 by the British in September of 1776. He is famous for his alleged last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Following the American Revolution, three Hale sons died from wounds received in the war. Their widows and children moved to the family homestead, so that an average of 12-20 people lived in the house at any one time.

The Homestead is a pristine example of a Georgian-style home. Although sold out of the Hale family in the 1820s, the house has remained virtually intact. The house was first restored by George Dudley Seymour, who saved the house in the early 20th century. Recent paint analysis has resulted in the repainting of the house interior in historic colors. The house is furnished with Hale-family pieces and period antiques and is based on the family inventories. The house was deeded to Connecticut Landmarks in the 1940s. Much of the acreage associated with the Hale farm, is now the Nathan Hale State Forest.


__________________ Hale: the Martyr -hero of the Revolution with a Hale Genealogy

A statue of Nathan Hale stands proudly in front of Tribune Tower, a memorial to one of a America's heroes, a true patriot.

Captain Nathan Hale (1755 - 1776)

On a September morning in 1776 a 21-year old American captain faced the most trying moment of his young life. He was shortly to die -- and to die the death of a criminal, of a traitor -- he was to hang, convicted without benefit of a trial. We cannot know the thoughts of this soldier in the last moments of his young life, but his behavior and legendary last words catapulted him to the pantheon of American heroes. “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” Fourteen words and the life of Captain Nathan Hale ended and his reputation as the Martyr-Spy of the American Revolution began.

Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755, in Coventry, Connecticut, to Richard Hale, a prosperous farmer, untiring patriot and church deacon, and his wife, Elizabeth Strong Hale. Nathan was the sixth child, one of nine sons and three daughters, ten of whom survived to adulthood. Nathan’s mother did survive the birth of her twelfth child, but only by a few months, leaving Nathan motherless at age 12. With young children to raise and a large farm to manage, Deacon Richard Hale remarried two years later to a wealthy widow from Canterbury, Abigail Cobb Adams.

Little detail is known about Nathan’s childhood but he certainly would have helped with the many farm and household chores and spent many happy hours hunting, fishing, and “bathing” in the nearby lake. His fowling piece hangs in the family home today. Sundays were spent in church, morning and afternoon. Another treasured item at the Homestead is Nathan’s Bible, signed by him, with a few verses marked: “In my father’s house are many mansions and I go to prepare a place for you,” a famous passage. Nathan and his brother Enoch were prepared for Yale by the well-known Congregational divine, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Huntington. School was the local minister’s home, two miles away; the curriculum was Latin, Greek, Hebrew, penmanship, among other subjects.

In 1769, at age 14 Nathan had demonstrated sufficient knowledge of the classics in addition to New Testament Greek and set off with Enoch for Yale College in New Haven. The boys lodged in Connecticut Hall, the only Yale building now standing that Nathan knew; his statue stands in front of it today.

Dubbed “Hale Secundus,” (Enoch being “Primus”) Nathan was a good student who also enjoyed the sports of the day. Legend has it that his record for the broad-jump held till some years after his death. In his second year, Nathan was elected to a secret literary fraternity known as Linonia for which he was scribe, librarian, and finally president. He was apparently a popular and respected student though not perfectly well behaved. His quarterly bills indicate that he was charged for broken window glass and other damages, and he was once fined four shillings as “Punishment.” Nathan was active in debating and dramatic productions and organized the fraternity’s library, even donating a copy of “The Travels of Cyrus” and “the Spectator” to the collection.

Letters from Deacon Hale to his sons during their years at Yale are much the same as letters from parents are today: all relate to money, clothes and behavior. “I hope you will carefully mind your studies that your time be not Lost and that you will mind all the orders of College with care and be sure above all forget not to Learne Christ while you are busy in other studies,” Deacon Hale writes a few months after their arrival. “Shun all vice especially card playing,” he writes a year later. “Read your Bibles a chapter night and morning. I cannot now send you much money…”

Hale did not graduate first in his class but he was among the better scholars, graduating with 35 other young men on September 8, 1773. One of the day’s highlights was a forensic debate in which Hale and others argued the then pertinent question, “Whether the Education of Daughters Be Not, Without Any Just Reason, More Neglected Than That of Sons.” Tradition has it that Nathan took the side of the girls and won.

After graduation, Nathan journeyed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to visit his uncle, Major Samuel Hale, a Harvard graduate, and headmaster of a well-known Latin School there, probably seeking career advice. That fall he embarked on a teaching career in East Haddam, Connecticut., in a schoolhouse that still stands today. He was well-liked but at 18 years old probably lonely for friends and entertainment in the remote town. “Everybody loved him,” said Hannah Pierson of Nathan during his stay there. “He was so sprightly, intelligent, and kind and so handsome.” It is during this time however that Nathan may have found love, albeit perhaps briefly. A few lines of doggeral written by him to an unnamed person speak of a special friendship:

I trust, our Friendship though begun of late,

Hath been no less sincere, than intimate.

O f this I’m sure; I’ve not as yet regretted,

That to your Company I’ve been admitted.

After five months in Haddam Landing, Nathan applied and was accepted as headmaster of the Latin School in New London. “I love my employment; find many friends among strangers; have time for scientific study,” writes Nathan of his new position. “ My school is by no means difficult to take care of. It consists of about 30 scholars; ten of whom are Latiners (college bound) and all but six of the rest are writers. ”

Nathan was a popular teacher among the students though controversial among some adults. For one thing Nathan believed in giving rewards and praise to students who had worked hard—not a universally accepted idea at the time. But even more radical, Nathan admitted girls to the secondary school. Of course the young women who wanted a higher education had to come to school at 5 in the morning before the boys arrived.

Recalled one of his students: “Scholars old and young (were) exceedingly attached to him respected highly by all his acquaintance fine moral character. Face full of intelligence and benevolence manners mild and genteel.”

By all accounts Hale was very good-looking and his female students may have found this to be an added motivation for attending school at that early hour. “Why all the girls in New Haven fell in love with him and wept tears of real sorrow when they heard of his fate,” remembered one of his early admirers.

Hale’s athleticism was probably a big hit with his male students. Recalled one: “He (Nathan) would jump from the bottom of one hogshead up and down into a second and from the second up and down into a third like a cat. He used to perform this feat often; He would also put his hand on a fence high as his head and jump over it.”

In the 18th century, teaching was usually a stepping-stone to the Congregational ministry but it is not known what Nathan’s plans were. It is also during this period that Nathan kept up quite a correspondence with Yale classmates, their letters full of news of friends, jobs, romances, and politics.

When the news from Lexington and Concord reached New London in 1775, Nathan decided to give up teaching and join the army. His speech in favor of rebellion at a town meeting inspired many to join the army. Nathan applied to the Connecticut General Assembly for a lieutenancy and received it. From August to September 14, Hale was stationed in New London. His company reached the American camp at Roxbury, Mass., at the end of September 1775.

Duty outside Boston in 1775 turned out to be pretty boring for many of the young soldiers. They were engaged in a holding action, a stalemate, with the British occupying the city and the Americans surrounding them. Nathan’s diary from this period indicates he spent a lot of time reading about how to be an effective officer. “It is of the utmost importance that an Officer should be anxious to know his duty, but of greater that he should carefully perform what he does know: The present irregular state of the army is owing to a capital neglect in both of these,” he writes in his diary.

He also drilled his men, played football and other games, and visited with friends. “Clean’d my gun—pld some football, & some chequers.” And on another day “Dine at Brown (Tavern), drink 1 bottle (of) wine…walk’d about street, called at Josh. Woodbridge’s.” But life as an officer certainly tested one’s commitment to the cause: “Promised the men if they would tarry another month they should have my wages for that time,” writes Nathan toward the end of 1775. By the time Boston was evacuated in March of 1776, Nathan had been promoted to captain. Nathan may also have begun to make contacts for his future occupation as spy, but this has not been proven from the known surviving letters or diaries. In March 1776 the British finally left for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Washington, thinking they were off to occupy New York, sent most of his troops there. Nathan and his men arrived is New York City on April 30 and while stationed there, Nathan went on one or more trips through Long Island. This may be inferred from letters and diaries, but his whereabouts and purpose of his activities are unknown.

In July 1776 the British landed on Staten Island, unopposed, and on August 27 they defeated the Americans at the Battle of Long Island. Nathan’s regiment was not directly involved in the fighting but may have played a role in ferrying the Americans back across the East River to New York after this defeat. On August 29, all American troops had been evacuated to Manhattan. Soon afterwards, Hale was detached for service and in September he was sent on his spying mission, back behind British lines on Long Island.

Nathan became one of four captains in the select regiment known as Knowlton’s Rangers, formed after the defeat at Long Island, probably for the purpose of reconnaissance and forward action. This still remains one of the jobs of the Rangers today—getting information from behind the enemy lines. After the Battle of Long Island, it was only a matter of time before the British would make an assault on New York Island (as Manhattan was then known), and with autumn coming on, the sooner it could be captured, the better, if a winter haven was to be secured.

The American’s main object then, was to make it as difficult as possible for the British, and despite official reports to the contrary, to burn the city at the last possible moment in order to made it uninhabitable. A delay would also allow Washington to assemble a network of undercover agents who could later report on British activities once the Americans had withdrawn from the area. Such a network was in fact in place by the time the British took over New York.

We don’t know what Knowlton’s Rangers were instructed to find out in late summer of 1776, nor do we know what they accomplished, but New York was a spy center at that time. “The Rebels have good intelligence of what we are doing……” wrote one British officer. For obvious reasons, records of covert actions were not kept, and the secret agents’ names are mainly unknown even to this day. Nor do we know what Nathan was expected to do on Long Island or if he accomplished anything.

The date 1776 on the seal of the Army's intelligence service today refers to the formation of Knowlton's Rangers.

We do know that Washington was justifiably concerned with the British recruitment of American Loyalists at this time, a recruitment that was in high gear all along the coast of Long Island Sound in the spring and summer of 1776. Had the British done a better job mobilizing American sympathizers, the Patriots might well have lost the war. Nathan’s letter to brother Enoch during this time underscores the feelings of many patriots:

“It would grieve every good man to consider what unnatural monsters we have as it were in our bowels. Numbers in this Colony, and likewise in the western part of Connecticut, would be glad to imbrue their hands in their country’s Blood. Facts render this too evident to admit of dispute. In this city such as refuse to sign the Association have been required to deliver up their arms. Several who refused to comply have been sent to prison. It is really a critical Period. America beholds what she never did before. Allow the whole force of our enemy to be but 30,000, and these floating on the Ocean, ready to attack the most unguarded place. Are they not a formidable Foe? Surely they are.”

Little is known about Nathan Hale’s work as an undercover agent. His missions, his whereabouts, his experiences are only dimly understood. This uncertainty has made him a popular subject with writers of historical fiction, who thus feel free to add their own details. Contemporary newspaper accounts are contradictory. The memories of his colleagues about what happened, mostly recorded decades later, are of uncertain value. Hale compounded the problems because he stopped writing a detailed diary. Even the Army order books are vague.

According to a friend and schoolmate of Nathan’s, William Hull, Nathan debated about whether to go on a covert mission in August of 1776. William, who later became a General, reported a number of years after the Revolution that he had tried to dissuade Nathan from accepting his last spying mission. He told Nathan that being a spy was dishonorable in the eyes of the world and to be caught meant certain and inglorious death. Even success would not bring honor, William reasoned. Nathan argued back and finally concluded: ‘I wish to be useful, and every kind of service, necessary to the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary.”

According to the best evidence, Nathan left the American camp at Harlem Heights, New York, around 10 September 1776 for Norwalk, Connecticut, where he was ferried across the Sound to enemy-held Long Island taking with him his college diploma. Hale had performed reconnaissance on Long Island before it had fallen to the British, and he likely had established contacts in the heavily Loyalist towns there. On 21 September he was arrested as a spy, probably in the vicinity of present-day LaGuardia Airport and taken to British headquarters in Manhattan. He was ordered executed the next morning.

At the gallows, in front of “Artillery Park” (present-day Third Avenue at 66th Street), Hale made a sensible and spirited speech,” among others things making a perfectly apt reference to a famous play by Joseph Addison about giving up one’s life for liberty. His body was left hanging for a period of days as a warning to the rebels and was thrown into an unmarked grave.

Two last letters written by him to his beloved brother Enoch and his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Knowlton were lost or destroyed after his death along with his Yale diploma.

Why, many scholars have wondered, would a spy carry his own identity papers?

Of course, carrying his diploma would have been a useful credential in his “cover” as a schoolmaster among Long Island Loyalists. But there may have been more to it than that. To prove a person was a spy, it was usually necessary to show that he or she had been going under an assumed identity. Such, in any event, was the basis of cases against other accused spies at the time. Thus, Nathan Hale agreed to spy but not to lie, and this may have been his specific instruction. Further evidence supporting this theory is that when Nathan was caught, he made no attempt to lie about who he was or what he had been doing. Perhaps this was his own moral scruples at work, but it may also have been judged by his commanding officers to be the wisest course of action.

According to an early newspaper account, Nathan was betrayed to the British by his first cousin, a Loyalist from Newburyport, Mass., Samuel Hale who was on Long Island at the time. Nathan’s boyhood friend and army orderly Asher Wright in his 82nd year dictated his story and talked of Nathan; “Some say his cousin, Samuel Hale, a tory, betrayed him, I don’t know; guess he did.”

Stephen Hempstead, a friend from Nathan’s New London days, echoes the same theme. “He was met in the crowd by a fellow-countryman, and an own relation (but a tory and a renegado) who had received the hospitality of ths board, and the attention of a brother from Captain Hale, at His quarters at Winter Hill, in Cambridge, the winter before. He recognized him, and most inhumanely and infamously betrayed him…”

Both men were of sterling character and were close to Nathan. However, their stories were told in their much later years and Hempstead’s contains some factual errors. Neither were eye-witnesses to any part of Hale’s mission or execution.

After the war, Samuel firmly denied any part in Nathan’s death. “Depend upon it there never was the least truth in that infamous newspaper publication chargeing me with ingratitude, &c. I am happy that they have had recourse to falsehood to vilify my character. Attachment tp the old Constitution of my country is my only crime with them…” Nathan’s father disbelieved the newspaper account, though he assumed his son had been pointed out to British by someone. “Betra’d he doutless wass by somebody…” Since Nathan carried his own diploma, however, a villain need not have been involved. Still, the story of the betrayal has found acceptance among many writers and makes for an interesting subplot.

Not only are we unsure of the circumstances of Nathan’s capture; we don’t even know where he was caught whether on Long Island or in New York or by whom. British accounts are the most credible but the information is sketchy. One contemporary account mentions Hale as being caught on Long Island by Major Robert Rogers, hero of the French & Indian War, turned Loyalist recruiter on and off Long Island at the time.

We do know for sure that he was hanged without benefit of trial the morning after his capture, on September 22, 1776, in what is today mid-town Manhattan, a short distance from the American lines. As was the custom, he was left hanging for several days as a warning to the Americans and buried in an unmarked grave that has never been located. The fact that the event was noticed at all is remarkable considering other events: the burning of New York City and the Battle of Harlem Heights.

Just as Nathan was being arrested, the American patriots were engaged in a serious of maneuvers that materially helped their cause: the movement of American troops up the east side of Manhattan and the burning of New York City—located at the lower tip of the island. A decisive victory for the Americans, a skirmish known as the Battle of Harlem Heights, in which Nathan’s commander officer, Thomas Knowlton was killed and several of Nathan’s own brothers were engaged, had just taken place, on September 16.

Soon after his death, rumors about Nathan must have circulated through the American camp, but no American letters or other documents written in New York at the time survive. The only contemporary accounts are very brief and were written by British soldiers. It wasn’t until some time later that Nathan’s brother Enoch came to New York to investigate the rumor that had reached Coventry concerning Nathan’s execution. Luckily, Enoch kept a diary.

“September 30. Hear a rumour t(hat) Capt Hale belonging the east side Connecticut river near Colchester who was educated at College was seed to hang on t(he) enemies lines at N York being taken as a spy –or reconnoitring t(heir) camp—hope it is without foundation—something troubled at it sleep not ver y well.”

“October 14 – Accounts from my brother t(he) Capt are indeed melancholly!—That about the 2d week of Sept. he went to Stanford crossed to long Island(Doct Waldo writes) & had fin(s\ished) his plan but before he could get off was betrayed taken & hanged without ceremony! Tis said by his counsin Sam Hale! Some entertain hope that all this is not ture but it is a gloomy dejected hop. Time may determine. Conclude to go to (the) Camp next week.”

In response to Nathan’s death, an aide of Washington spoke of retribution, and early news accounts tried to fire up support for the American cause by blaming the loyalist cousin Samuel for the betrayal. Nathan’s grief-stricken family erected a cenotaph in the Coventry cemetery with the inscription “He resigned his life –a sacrifice to his country’s liberty at New York, Sept. 1776

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Capt. Nathan Hale (Continental Army)'s Timeline

June 6, 1755
Coventry, Tolland County, Connecticut
Age 17
Age 17
September 22, 1776
Age 21
New York, New York County, New York
Age 21
Coventry, Tolland, Connecticut, United States
New York
New York