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


Part 2: Spywork and Punishment

He rose to the rank of commander (after fighting the siege of Boston) and arrived in New York City in the early summer of 1776. New York at this time was a hotbed of revolutionary activity. The state itself was also the site of many major British soldier encampments.

Hale was named a member of the famous Knowlton Rangers, who specialized in "gathering intelligence." General George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, wanted one of the Rangers to spy in British troops camped on Long Island. Hale volunteered, and Knowlton agreed to let him go.

Hale's friend William Hull (who would later hand over Detroit to the British in the War of 1812) tried to talk young Nathan out of going. Hale replied: “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary."

Hale assumed the role of a Dutch schoolteacher and wandered into enemy territory, determined to report back the size and strength of the British troops to Washington.

He was gone a week, gathering intelligence as he was supposed to. He had arranged to escape from enemy territory at night by signaling a boat sailing up the Hudson River, the same boat that had dropped him off a week before and was traveling under cover of darkness for fear of being discovered by the British Navy.

On the night of September 20, 1776, Hale was at the rendezvous point. He saw the ship coming and signaled to it. But it wasn't his ship; it was a British frigate, full of sailors and soldiers. Hale tried to get away, but he was caught. A search revealed evidence of his spywork, and he was sent to British General William Howe.

The British response was swift and brutal. They ordered him killed, as was the custom at that time.

He died on September 22, 1776. As was also the custom at the time, he was offered a chance to say a last few words. What he uttered has become the stuff of legend: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

His bravery in the face of death inspired his fellow Americans to continue the fighting, when things seemed bleak. He is still known today as one of America's first famous patriots.

First page > Beginnings and Revolution > Page 1, 2

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