Who was Nathan Hale?



At the gloomy moment after General Howe victory at Long Island, Washington called a council of war (September 13, 1776), when it was resolved to send the military stores to Dobb's Ferry, twenty-two miles up the Hudson, to evacuate the city and to retreat to and fortify the Heights of Harlem toward the northern end of the island, and so keep open a communication with the country beyond. It was a timely decision, for the next day, the sixteenth anniversary of Wolfe's victory at Quebec, in which Howe bore a conspicuous part, had been chosen by that commander as the time for making a descent in force on New York. On that morning the sick were taken from the city into New Jersey, and under the direction of Colonel Glover the removal of the stores by water was begun. The main body of the army, accompanied by a host of Whigs, moved toward Mount Washington, leaving a rear-guard of four thousand troops under Putnam to hold the city as long as it might seem safe. The army marched slowly, watching with keen vision the movements of the British; and on the 16th, they were on Harlem Heights, and Washington had made his headquarters at the house of his companion-in-arms on the field of the Monongahela, Colonel Roger Morris, which is yet standing. He had spent most of the 14th at the house of Robert Murray, on the Incleberg (now Murray Hill), sending out his scouts toward various points on the East River. There he gave instructions to Captain Nathan Hale, who entered the British camp as a spy, and whose sad fate we will consider presently.

During that period Washington gained much information respecting the British army. He greatly lamented the death of Knowlton, whose Rangers, called "Congress' Own," had acted as a sort of body-guard for the commander-in-chief before the Life-Guard were organized. Captain Nathan Hale was one of Knowlton's most trusted officers, and was chosen by his colonel from among other volunteers for the perilous service of a spy. He entered the British camp as a plain young farmer, and made sketches and notes unsuspected. At length a Tory kinsman betrayed him, and he was taken before General Howe at the Beekman mansion. Hale frankly avowed his name, rank, and his character of a spy, which his papers revealed, and Howe ordered him to be hanged the next morning (September 22, 1776), without even the form of a trial. All night he was tortured by the taunts of a brutal jailer in Beekman's green-house, in which he was confined; and in the morning he was delivered to the savage Provost-marshal Cunningham for execution. Hale was denied the services of a clergy man and the use of a Bible; but the more humane officer who superintended the execution, furnished him with materials to write letters to his mother, betrothed, and sisters. These Cunningham destroyed in the presence of the victim of his brutality, while tears and sobs marked the sympathy of the multitude of spectators of the scene. Hale met death with firmness. With unfaltering voice he said: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." These were the last words uttered by the young patriot, then only a little more than twenty-one years of age.





Return to Our Country, Vol II