Nathan Hale: Wikis

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Nathan Hale
Nathan-hale-cityhall.jpg
Nathan Hale, by Frederick MacMonnies, 1890, City Hall Park, New York
Allegiance United States
Born 6 June 1755
Coventry, Connecticut
Died 22 September 1776 (aged 21)
New York City, New York

Nathan Hale (June 6, 1755 – September 22, 1776) was a soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Widely considered America's first spy,[1] he volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission, but was captured by the British. He is best remembered for his speech before being hanged following the Battle of Long Island, in which he said, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country."[2] Hale has long been considered an American hero and, in 1985, he was officially designated the state hero of Connecticut.[3] A statue of Nathan Hale is located at the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Fairfax County, Virginia,[4] ,the Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C., downtown Chicago, on the campus at Yale University, and in the Tulane University Law School reading room.

Contents

Background

Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut in 1755. In 1768, when he was fourteen years old, he was sent with his brother Enoch to Yale College. Nathan was a classmate of fellow patriot spy Benjamin Tallmadge.[5] The Hale brothers belonged to the Yale literary fraternity, Linonia, which debated topics in astronomy, mathematics, literature, and the ethics of slavery. Graduating with first-class honors in 1773, Nathan became a teacher, first in East Haddam and later in New London. After the Revolutionary War began in 1775, he joined a Connecticut militia and was elected first lieutenant. When his militia unit participated in the Siege of Boston, Hale remained behind, but, on July 6, 1775, he joined the regular Continental Army's 7th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Charles Webb of Stamford. He was promoted to captain and in March 1776, commanded a small unit of Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton's Rangers defending New York City. They managed to rescue a ship full of provisions from the guard of a British man-of-war.

Espionage

Beekman House

During the Battle of Long Island, which led to British victory and the capture of New York City, via a flanking move from Staten Island across Long Island, Hale volunteered on September 8, 1776, to go behind enemy lines and report on British troop movements. He was ferried across on September 12. It was an act of spying that was immediately punishable by death, and posed a great risk to Hale.

During his mission, New York City (then the area at the southern tip of Manhattan around Wall Street) fell to British forces on September 15, and Washington was forced to retreat to the island's northern tip in Harlem Heights (what is now Morningside Heights).[6] On September 21, a quarter of the lower portion of Manhattan burned in the Great New York Fire of 1776. The fire was later widely thought to have been started by American saboteurs to keep the city from falling into British hands,[7] though Washington and Congress had already denied this idea. It has also been speculated that the fire was the work of British soldiers acting without orders, intending to punish and/or intimidate any remaining Patriots in the city — with unintended consequences, however. In the fire's aftermath, more than 200 American partisans were rounded up by the British.

An account of Nathan Hale's capture was written by Consider Tiffany, a Connecticut shopkeeper and Loyalist, and obtained by the Library of Congress. In Tiffany's account, Major Robert Rogers of the Queen's Rangers saw Hale in a tavern and recognized him despite his disguise. After luring Hale into betraying himself by pretending to be a patriot himself, Rogers and his Rangers apprehended Hale near Flushing Bay, in Queens, New York.[8] Another story was that his Loyalist cousin, Samuel Hale, was the one who revealed his true identity.

Greenhouse on the Beekman Estate. Sketched in 1850.

British General William Howe had established his headquarters in the Beekman House in a rural part of Manhattan, on a rise between 50th and 51st Streets between First and Second Avenues[9] Hale reportedly was questioned by Howe, and physical evidence was found on him. Rogers provided information about the case. According to tradition, Hale spent the night in a greenhouse at the mansion. He requested a Bible; his request was denied. Sometime later, he requested a clergyman. Again, the request was denied.

According to the standards of the time, spies were hanged as illegal combatants. On the morning of September 22, 1776, Hale was marched along Post Road to the Park of Artillery, which was next to a public house called the Dove Tavern (at modern day 66th Street and Third Avenue), and hanged.[10] He was 21 years old. Bill Richmond, a 13-year-old former slave and Loyalist who later became famous as an African American boxer in Europe, was reportedly one of the hangmen, "his responsibility being that of fastening the rope to a strong tree branch and securing the knot and noose."[11]

Nathan Hale scholar Mary Beth Baker has argued that some of Hale's posthumous fame arose from a desire by alumni of Yale to claim a Revolutionary War hero.[12]

The speech

Nathan Hale appeared on US postage stamps issued in 1925 and 1929. Likeness is from statue by Bela Lyon Pratt.

By all accounts, Hale comported himself eloquently before the hanging. Over the years, there has been some speculation as to whether he specifically uttered the famous line:

I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.

But may be a revision of:

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.

The story of Hale's famous speech began with John Montresor, a British soldier who witnessed the hanging. Soon after the execution, Montresor spoke with the American officer William Hull about Hale's death. Later, it was Hull who widely publicized Hale's use of the phrase. Because Hull was not an eyewitness to Hale's speech, some historians have questioned the reliability of the account.[10]

If Hale did not give the famous speech, it is possible he instead repeated a passage from Joseph Addison's play, Cato, an ideological inspiration to many Whigs:

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.

No official records were kept of Hale's speech. However, Frederick MacKensie, a British officer, wrote this diary entry for the day:

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.

It is almost certain that Nathan Hale's last speech contained more than one sentence. Several early accounts mention different things he said. These are not necessarily contradictory, but rather, together they give us an idea of what the speech must have been like. The following quotes are all taken from George Dudley Seymour's book, Documentary Life of Nathan Hale, published in 1941 by the author.

From the diary of Enoch Hale, Nathan's brother, after he went to question people who had been present, October 26, 1776: "When at the Gallows he spoke & told them that he was a Capt in the Cont Army by name Nathan Hale."

From the Essex Journal, February 13, 1777: "However, at the gallows, he made a sensible and spirited speech; among other things, 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 defence of his injured, bleeding Country."

From the Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, May 17, 1781: "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."

From the memoirs of Captain William Hull, quoting British Captain John Montresor, who was present and who spoke to Hull under a flag of truce the next day: "'On the morning of his execution,' continued the officer, 'my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal [the infamous William Cunningham] to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer.' He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, 'I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.'" Incidentally, Hull is better known as the brigadier general who later surrendered the entire U.S. northwestern army to the British during the War of 1812.

Two early ballads also attempt to recreate Hale's last speech. They are probably more imaginative than accurate, but are included here for completeness:

From Songs and Ballads of the Revolution, collected by F. Moore (1855), "Ballad of Nathan Hale" (anonymous), dated 1776: "'Thou pale king of terrors, thou life's gloomy foe, Go frighten the slave; go frighten the slave; Tell tyrants, to you their allegiance they owe. No fears for the brave; no fears for the brave.'"

From "To the Memory of Capt. Nathan Hale" by Eneas Munson, Sr. written "soon after" Hale's death:

Hate of oppression's arbitrary plan, The love of freedom, and the rights of man; A strong desire to save from slavery's chain The future millions of the western main, And hand down safe, from men's invention cleared, The sacred truths which all the just revered; For ends like these, I wish to draw my breath,' He bravely cried, 'or dare encounter death.' And when a cruel wretch pronounced his doom, Replied, 'Tis well, —for all is peace to come; The sacred cause for which I drew my sword Shall yet prevail, and peace shall be restored. I’ve served with zeal the land that gave me birth, Fulfilled my course, and done my work on earth; Have ever aimed to tread that shining road That leads a mortal to the blessed God. I die resigned, and quit life's empty stage, For brighter worlds my every wish engage; And while my body slumbers in the dust, My soul shall join the assemblies of the just.

Munson had tutored Hale before college, and knew him and his family well, so even though the particulars of this speech may be unlikely, Munson knew firsthand what Hale’s opinions were.

Quotes about Hale

Hale is in the American pantheon not because of what he did but because of why he did it. Nathan Hale spied on the British because the general's tent was right next to his schoolhouse. On his way back to the Continental Army, the British broke into his school house and attacked him.
—Former CIA chief Richard Helms
And because that boy said those words, and because he died, thousands of other young men have given their lives to his country.
Edward Everett Hale, great-nephew of Nathan Hale, at the dedication of the Hale statue in New York, 1893.

Hanging site(s)

Besides the site at 66th and Third, there are two other sites in Manhattan that claim to be the hanging site:

Nathan Hale's body has never been found. An empty grave cenotaph was erected by his family in Nathan Hale Cemetery in South Coventry, Connecticut.[5]

Statues and appearance

Nathan Hale statue overlooks the Tulane University Law School reading room.
Nathan Hale statue by Bela Lyon Pratt at Chicago Tribune Tower.
Nathan Hale statue by Bela Lyon Pratt at Fort Nathan Hale.

Statues of Nathan Hale are based on idealized prototypes: no contemporaneous portraits of him have been found.[5] Documents and letters reveal Hale was an informed, practical, detail-oriented man who planned ahead.[5] Of his appearance and demeanor, fellow soldier Elisha Bostwick wrote that Nathan Hale had blue eyes, flaxen blond hair, darker eyebrows, and stood slightly taller than average height (of the time), with mental powers of a sedate mind and pious; Lieutenant Elisha Bostwick wrote:[5][13]

I can now in imagination see his person & hear his voice- his person I should say was a little above the common stature in height, his shoulders of a moderate breadth, his limbs strait & very plump: regular features— very fair skin— blue eyes— flaxen or very light hair which was always kept short— his eyebrows a shade darker than his hair & his voice rather sharp or piercing— his bodily agility was remarkable. I have seen him follow a football and kick it over the tops of the trees in the Bowery at New York, (an exercise which he was fond of)— his mental powers seemed to be above the common sort— his mind of a sedate and sober cast, & he was undoubtedly Pious; for it was remark’d that when any of the soldiers of his company were sick he always visited them & usually Prayed for & with them in their sickness.[13]

Hale has been honored with two particularly famous standing images:

  • A statue designed by Frederick William MacMonnies was erected in 1890 at City Hall Park, New York. The statue established Hale's modern idealized square-jawed image.

There is also a memorial for him located in Huntington, New York where he landed for his fatal spying mission, as well as a marker in Freese Park, Norwalk, Connecticut that is denoted as the embarkation point.

Additionally, Hale presides over the reading room of the law library at Tulane University Law School. The statue was a gift of alum Morris Keil. It was presented to Tulane University in 1963. Viewed from behind, the statue reveals that Hale's hands are bound by rope.

Famous relatives

Hale was the great-grandson of John Hale, an important figure in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Nathan Hale was also the uncle of orator and statesman Edward Everett (the other speaker at Gettysburg) and the grand-uncle of Edward Everett Hale (quoted above), a Unitarian minister, writer, and activist noted for social causes including abolitionism. He was the uncle of Nathan Hale who founded the Boston Daily Advertiser, and helped establish the North American Review.[14]

Named after Hale

References

  1. ^ A copy of Frederick MacMonnies' statue of Hale is located outside the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, in Langley,Virginia.
  2. ^ Crocker III, H. W. (2006). Don't Tread on Me. New York: Crown Forum. pp. 57. ISBN 9781400053636. 
  3. ^ "Sites, Seals, Symbols". Interactive Connecticut State Register & Manual. State of Connecticut. 2006. http://www.sots.ct.gov/RegisterManual/SectionX/SITESEALSYMB.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-04. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ a b c d e Mobed, Desiree; Baker, Mary Beth. "FAQ". The Nathan Hale website. http://www.hartnet.org/als/nathanhale/faq.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  6. ^ Hale, Edward Everett. "Captain Nathan Hale". AmericanRevolution.com. http://www.americanrevolution.com/NathanHale.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  7. ^ "Nathan Hale". U-S-History.com. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h550.html. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  8. ^ Hutson, James (July/August 2003). "Nathan Hale Revisited— A Tory's Account of the Arrest of the First American Spy". Information Bulletin. The Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0307-8/hale.html. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  9. ^ Jacob Radcliffe, Reminiscences of New York: "The Beekman House".
  10. ^ a b Ortner, Mary J. (2001). "Captain Nathan Hale (1755 - 1776)". Patriots. The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. http://www.connecticutsar.org/patriots/hale_nathan_2.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-09. 
  11. ^ Kevin R. Smith, Black Genesis: The History of the Black Prizefighter 1760-1870, pg. 14. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2003.
  12. ^ [2]
  13. ^ a b "The Last Days and Valiant Death of Nathan Hale". American Heritage Magazine. American Heritage Inc.. April 1964. http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1964/3/1964_3_50.shtml. Retrieved 2007-01-22. 
  14. ^ Sherman, Sherman (1911), The Century, 29, New York, NY: The Century Co., p. 339 

External links

Bibliography

  • Rose, Alexander. Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring. Random House, New York, New York, 2006. ISBN 0-553-80421-9.
  • Durante, Dianne, Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide (New York University Press, 2007): description of MacMonnies's Nathan Hale at City Hall Park, New York.
  • Phelps, William M. "Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America's First Spy" St. Martin's Press, New York, New York, 2008. ISBN 0312376413
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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

Nathan Hale (6 June 1755 - 22 September 1776) was a captain in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Captured by the British, he was hanged as a spy.

Sourced

  • I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious.
  • I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.
    • Last words (22 September 1776), according to the account by William Hull based on reports by British Captain John Montresor who was present and who spoke to Hull under a flag of truce the next day:
‘On the morning of his execution,’ continued the officer, ‘my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer.’ He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, ‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.’
Some speculation exists that Hale might have been repeating or paraphrasing lines from Joseph Addison's play Cato:
What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country.
Another early variant of his last words exists, as reported in the Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (17 May 1781):
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.

Quotes about Hale

  • 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.
    • Robert MacKensie, a British officer, in his diary entry regarding Hale's execution.
  • However, at the gallows, he made a sensible and spirited speech; among other things, 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 defence of his injured, bleeding Country.
    • Hale's execution, as reported in the Essex Journal (13 February 1777)
  • ‘Hate of oppression’s arbitrary plan,
    The love of freedom, and the rights of man;
    A strong desire to save from slavery’s chain
    The future millions of the western main,
    And hand down safe, from men’s invention cleared,
    The sacred truths which all the just revered;
    For ends like these, I wish to draw my breath,’
    He bravely cried, ‘or dare encounter death.’
    And when a cruel wretch pronounced his doom,
    Replied, ‘Tis well, — for all is peace to come;
    The sacred cause for which I drew my sword
    Shall yet prevail, and peace shall be restored.
    I’ve served with zeal the land that gave me birth,
    Fulfilled my course, and done my work on earth;
    Have ever aimed to tread that shining road
    That leads a mortal to the blessed God.
    I die resigned, and quit life’s empty stage,
    For brighter worlds my every wish engage;
    And while my body slumbers in the dust,
    My soul shall join the assemblies of the just.’
    • "To the Memory of Capt. Nathan Hale" by Eneas Munson, Sr.
  • And because that boy said those words, and because he died, thousands of other young men have given their lives to his country.
    • Dr. Edward Everett Hale, great-nephew of Nathan Hale, at the dedication of the Hale statue in New York, 1893.
  • Hale is in the American pantheon not because of what he did but because of why he did it.

External links

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