Today, September 22, 1776: Patriot Schoolteacher Hanged for Espionage

Call him a schoolteacher, Yale graduate, America’s first spy or Captain in the Continental Army, but above all, you must call this man a true American patriot. Who am I speaking of?

On June 6, 1755, the Hale family of Coventry, Connecticut welcomed a new baby boy into the family whom they named Nathan.

In 1768, young Nathan along with his 16-year-old brother were sent to Yale College.

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In 1773, Nathan graduated from Yale college with first-class honors. He was only 18-years of age. He became a schoolteacher.

On July 1, 1775, Nathan joined the Connecticut militia as part of the effort of the Revolutionary War. He was following five of his brothers who fought at Lexington and Concord. Five months later, Hale was made a first-lieutenant.

In 1776, Hale was promoted to Captain after his participation in the Siege of Boston, and placed in the command of General George Washington.

On September 16, 1776, Washington, engaged in the Battle of Harlem Heights against British General William Howe, asked for a volunteer for a spy mission behind Howe’s British lines. Hale was the first to step forward, volunteering for the mission and becoming America’s first official spy.

Hale, who was already a schoolteacher, disguised himself as a Dutch schoolteacher and entered New York City where he spent nearly a week gathering vital information on the placement of British troops and artillery.

On September 21, Hale was captured while trying to leave New York City on way back to Washington. The British found papers on Hale that detailed their locations and was quickly found guilty of espionage. Howe sentenced him to be hanged the following day. Supposedly, one of Hale’s cousins was a British sympathizer and turned him in to the British.

Hale asked the guard for a clergyman but was refused. He then asked for a Bible and was again refused.

On this day, September 22, 1776, at the age of only 21, Nathan Hale was hanged by the British in New York City. Howe sent a British officer under a flag of truce to notify Washington of Hale’s capture and execution. The British officer reported first to Captain Alexander Hamilton, saying:

“On the morning of his execution, 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.’”

Hale’s last words have been preserved in American history for all time and have rang true for many American patriots since.


Sources for the above includes: Patriot Nathan Hale Was Hanged September 22, 1776; The Execution of Nathan Hale, 1776;  Patriot Executed for Spying; Nathan Hale Biography; Nathan Hale Revisited

Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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