Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“I only regret that I have but one life to give my country” – The Death of Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale (June 6, 1755 – September 22, 1776) was a soldier in the Continental Army who was hung for being a spy during the Revolutionary War. Nathan hailed (forgive me) from Coventry, Connecticut. He was a Yale graduate who worked as a schoolteacher prior to the Revolutionary War. Before his death, he volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission. The British were moving from Staten Island across Long Island during the Battle of Long Island. On September 8, 1776 Nathan Hale volunteered to go behind enemy lines and report on troop movements. While hiding in a tavern in disguise, he was tricked into revealing that he was a patriot by a British soldier and apprehended. Spies were hanged as illegal combatants, and Nathan Hale was treated no differently. Before being hanged on September 22, 1776, Hale is reported to have said, “I regret that I have but one life to give my country.” Nathan Hale has been celebrated for his actions and honored since his death. A statue of Nathan Hale stands at the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Fairfax County, Virginia as well as in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1985, Nathan Hale was designated the official hero of the State of Connecticut.

An interesting aspect of Hale’s story is whether or not he actually uttered his famous final words. Some sources suggest he gave a different version of that line, or that he at least spoke for more then one sentence. When questioning the reliability of any historical event it is important to consider the sources that exist to tell the story. A British soldier who witnessed the hanging initially reported Nathan Hale’s last words. Enoch Hale, Nathan’s brother, also wrote in his diary what witnesses reportedly heard Nathan say after the fact when Enoch sought out those present. Sometimes when we learn about history we need to not only accept what is being taught, but question how we know what we know.

[Image via sahallquist]

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