By Bob Betz
Once again we take an article from “Ballou’s Monthly magazine. This time concerning American hero Nathan Hale. The article expands on what is commonly written about him and we find different last words.
(Hamilton, NY) Of all the young men who gave up their lives in the colonial cause, during our war for independence, none perished more heroically than the one whose name stands at the head of this sketch, and history has hardly done him justice. While the name of the British Major Andre is familiar in almost every American household, there are comparatively few who are acquainted with the brief and sad career of Nathan Hale.
Rev. J. F. Richmond, in his very valuable and interesting volume, “New York and its Institutions,” furnishes sketches of both Andre and Hale, from which we condense the following in regard to the latter:
Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Conn., June 6th, 1755. He graduated with honors at Yale College, at the age of eighteen, and for a time very successfully pursued the avocation of teaching. His parents designed him for the ministry; but the crash of arms at Lexington so aroused his patriotic impulses that he immediately wrote to his father that a sense of duty urges him to “sacrifice everything for his country.”
He soon after entered the army as lieutenant and within a few months was promoted to the rank of captain. For a time he was stationed with the forces near Boston, and there became known as a vigilant and trusty officer. In September, 1776, while in New York, he, with an associate, planned and captured a British ship laden with provisions, taking her a midnight from under the guns of a frigate.
Just previous to the capture of New York, Washington became exceedingly anxious to learn the plans of the enemy then encamped in force on Long Island. A council of war was held, and an appeal was made for a discreet officer to enter the British lines and gain information.
Captain Hale, who was only twenty-one years of age, came nobly forward, and volunteered to undertake the perilous mission. He entered the enemy’s lines in disguise, examined the Island, made drawings and memoranda of everything most important, and ascertained their plans, conducting his enterprise with great capacity and address, but was accidentally apprehended in making his escape.
But while Hale was making discoveries at Long Island, a portion of the British army was had crossed the East River under cover of their fleet, and captured New York, General Howe taking up temporary headquarters in the vicinity of Fiftieth Street. Before him Captain Hale was conducted, and by him was ordered to be delivered to the notorious Cunningham, with instructions he be executed the following morning, unless he would renounce his colonial cause and enter the British service.
This alternative, proffered by his contemptible foe, Hale spurned, and was unmercifully hanged on an apple tree, and his body thrown into an unmarked grave, without shroud or coffin!
All the favors and privileges that were generously and kindly given Major Andres, soon after, by his American captors and judges, were cruelly denied Hale, and he was even deprived of the consolation of writing a last farewell to his father and sisters, or sending a dying message to any of his friends. But he maintained the dignity and bearing of a true soldier to the last, and with his dying words proved his devotion to his country, only regretting that he “had not more lives to lose in its service!”
Bob Betz is an independent historian who volunteers in the Madison County Clerk’s Office Archives. While working there, Betz has recaptured stories of Madison County’s past ‘out of the dust.’ His columns are taken from historic documents and written in the language of the era. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.