Hanging of Patriot Nathan Hale 

Hanging of Patriot Nathan Hale 

U.S. #551 – Hale was designated Connecticut’s state hero in 1985.
U.S. #551 – Hale was designated Connecticut’s state hero in 1985.

After being discovered as an American spy behind enemy lines, Nathan Hale was hanged on September 22, 1776.

Born in Coventry, Connecticut, Nathan Hale attended Yale College where he belonged to the Linonian Society, which debated astronomy, mathematics, literature, and slavery. He graduated with first class honors at the age of 18 in 1773.

U.S. #704-14 – 1932 Washington Bicentennial stamps.
U.S. #704-14 – 1932 Washington Bicentennial stamps.

Hale served as a teacher for a few years but when the Revolutionary War broke out, he joined the Connecticut militia. Within five months, he received 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.

U.S. #653 is based on a statue of Hale by Bela Lyon Bratt.
U.S. #653 is based on a statue of Hale by Bela Lyon Bratt.

Preparing for the Battle of Long Island, General George Washington asked the Rangers 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. While on his mission, New York City fell to the British on September 15, 1776, and Washington and his forces retreated. Then, on September 21, the Great New York Fire destroyed much of the lower portion of Manhattan. In the wake of the fire, the British rounded up 200 Americans to find out who was to blame.

U.S. #1003 pictures Washington evacuating his troops from the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn).
U.S. #1003 pictures Washington evacuating his troops from the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn).

There are conflicting accounts as to how Hale was discovered. One story claims Major Robert Rogers of the Queen’s Rangers recognized Hale and posed as a patriot to get Hale out himself as an American spy. According to other sources, it was his own loyalist cousin, Samuel Hale, who turned him over to the British.

Item #93034 – Commemorative cover marking the 200th anniversary of Nathan Hale’s hanging.
Item #93034 – Commemorative cover marking the 200th anniversary of Nathan Hale’s hanging.

British General William Howe personally questioned Hale. And when he found documents supporting the claim Hale was an American spy, he was condemned to hang. He spent the night before his hanging in a greenhouse and requested a bible and a clergyman. Both of his requests were denied.

Hale, 21 years old at the time, was remarkably calm before his execution. Multiple reports say that he made a final speech before his hanging, claiming, “I regret that I have but one life to lose for 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.

U.S. #UX72 – Postal card depicting Hale’s death.
U.S. #UX72 – Postcard depicting Hale’s death.

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 Hale exhibited bravery and composure, making him a true American hero.

Click here to read last year’s discussion about This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
[Total: 14 Average: 4.9]

Share this article

9 responses to "Hanging of Patriot Nathan Hale "

9 thoughts on “Hanging of Patriot Nathan Hale ”

  1. How very far we Americans have drifted from admiring a hero like Hale to being lost in the pursuits of “likes” on our Facebook pages and wondering and caring about what some celebrity wore to the Emmy Awards. Is it any wonder that our choice for our next President is between a a compulsive liar and a reality tv star, when in Hale’s day the people wanted and got Geo. Washington. I think, in the end, The tragedy is that unserious people will get what they want.

    Reply
    • Amen to that. We have not only drifted, but over the last seven years we have begun to run away at a rather fast pace. Maybe with a beneficial presidential election and having an intelligent, patriotic leader, we will see a positive change in our government and a new positive mind set for all Americans.

      Reply
  2. Washington was not successful militarily in New York but he did go on to enlist a team of spies that kept him well aware of the British comings and goings in the New York area. He learned from his error with Nathan Hale. All the others were civilians. The British were in the dark when it came to knowledge of the Continentals but George Washington had his pulse on the British. The TV series “Turns” only portrays a theatrical version of the story.

    Reply
  3. We still have heroes who gave their lives for our country, and they belong to the Gold Star families. D.T. is NOT one of them and continues to be a compulsive liar and reality TV star.

    Reply
  4. D.T just told the nation that he earned an A+ for handling the Covid outbreak. What an idiot and is a compulsive liar. Vote please.

    Reply
  5. Nathan Hale was indeed a great American Hero because of what he accomplished during his short 21-year lifetime. After graduating from YALE with top Honors at age 18, he achieved the rank of Captain in the Continental Army. His time on duty included combat and, in serving his Country, he was hanged by the British Army, charged as being an American spy. He served his Country well as an Honorable American Patriot and contributed his life to help our Nation become the greatest and ONLY free and open Nation of the planet. In my personal opinion, Nathan Hale should never be forgotten. I served in the U.S. Army on active duty in a Combat Engineer Division at Ft. Benning, GA, (I was not an officer) and, in the Army in Reserves, I served in a Military Police unit and a Medical unit in two different locations. I know and understand what Nathan Hale went through and, frankly, believe that EVERY capable American male AND female should serve at least one year in the U.S. Army to clearly understand and appreciate the difference between living and being a citizen of the United States as opposed to having to live under a dictatorship, so-called “royalty,” a socialist state or communism ! God bless ALL American Citizens who support and understand our open and free Society, so FUTURE American generations can do the same and avoid a CRAP-life under left-leaning, socialist-oriented or “CONTROLLED,” lifetime.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Love history?

Discover events in American history – plus the stamps that make them come alive.

Subscribe to get This Day in History stories straight to your inbox every day!