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Nathan Hale: The Spy Who Loved His Country More Than His Life

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• Part 2: Spywork and Punishment

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Part 1: Beginnings and Revolution

Nathan Hale, the first man killed for spying for the young United States, didn't grow up thinking he'd be a spy. It just happened that way.

He was born on June 6, 1755, into a family that eventually had 12 children. He was the sixth child of Richard and Elizabeth Hale. The family home was a farm in Coventry, Connecticut.

Young Nathan grew up a "normal" boy, at least normal for that time. He was healthy and athletic. He was smart. His parents loved their new homeland.

When Nathan was 14, he went to college, as was the custom for many young boys then. He went to Yale and dreamed of being a schoolteacher. He learned quickly and graduated in just two years. Soon after, he got his dream job—teaching school.

He worked at Union Grammar School in New London, Conn. He was happy teaching school, helping youngsters learn, showing them the appreciation of learning that he had. But something inside him burned hotter than his desire to learn and to teach.

The early 1770s in America were a difficult and dangerous time. The decade had begun with the Boston Massacre and continued with the Intolerable Acts and other taxes and restrictions by Great Britain and its American colonists. The call for independence was being heeded by many, and the First Continental Congress was discussing ways of expressing the colonists' displeasure to the British government.

Strong among the call for political action was the call for military action. The Sons of Liberty became experts at doing physical things that rankled the British lawmakers and soldiers (such as the Boston Tea Party). As the number of restrictions piled up and the level of resentment came to a fever pitch, Patrick Henry was delivering his famous "Give me Liberty or Give me Death!" speech and fighting was breaking out on Lexington Green.

Into all this stepped Nathan Hale, who loved his country and wanted to see it free from British restrictions. Young Nathan (for he was still relatively young at that time) joined the Connecticut militia and then the Continental Army. He wanted to fight to make sure that Americans' rights were protected.

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