Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755 in Coventry, Connecticut. He was the sixth of ten children who survived. His parents were very strict Puritans who taught religious devotion and work ethic in their home. His father, Richard Hale, was a successful farmer and very respected in their community. Like other children at that time, Nathan Hale received his early education from his mother, Elizabeth Strong. Then Reverend Joseph Huntington, the minister from their church, tutored him. Reverend Huntington encouraged him to continue his education.
In 1769, when Nathan Hale was fourteen years old, he went to Yale College with his brother Enoch who was two years older. While Nathan Hale was at Yale, he experienced another way of life that was different from his family's Puritan farm life. He joined a secret club, Linonia, where they would discuss astronomy, literature and the ethics of slavery. He became famous for his debating talents and graduated in 1773 with honors when he was eighteen.
At this time after graduation most men taught school as a temporary job while they decided what they wanted to do as a career. He first taught in East Haddam, Connecticut, but it doesn't look like he was real happy in this town.
He soon received an offer to teach a Union School in New London, Connecticut, where records show he seemed more happy. Here he taught thirty men Latin, writing, mathematics, and the classic literature. He even had a early morning swimming class for the young women in the summer. Most Yale graduate didn't enjoy teaching and found jobs in other fields as soon as they could. Nathan Hale totally enjoyed teaching and towards the end of 1774 accepted a permanent position as the Master of the Union School.
In 1774, the colonists were organizing local militia to protect their rights against the British soldiers who kept coming to the colonies to protect the British laws made by King George III. Nathan Hale joined immediately even though he wasn't old enough.
When news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord reached New London, Nathan Hale spoke at a town meeting. "Let us march immediately, he said, and never lay down our arms until we obtain our independence. This is the first time that the word "independence" was used in connection with the Patriots' war against the British. Even though, local militias were traveling to Massachusetts to help their countrymen in the Siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill, Hale stayed in New London to finish his contract with the Union School that expired in June.
In July, Nathan received a letter from one of his best friends, Benjamin Tallmadge. Tallmadge had gone to Massachusetts to see the siege himself. When he returned he wrote to Nathan: "Was I in your condition...I think the more extensive Service would be my choice. Our holy Religion, the honour of our God, a glorious country, & a happy constitution is what we have to defend." Nathan Hale joined the Army the day after receiving the letter and accepted a commission as First Lieutenant in Colonel Charles Webb's Seventh Connecticut regiment.
During the Siege of Boston, Nathan Hale kept a very detailed journal that gives historians today a good look at what happened there. Nathan seemed to enjoy the military life and became very committed to helping the Continentals win the war against Britain. His unit was soon sent to New York to fight against General Hale's British forces who were planning to invade and conquer that city.
In January 1776, the Continental Army was reorganized and Nathan was promoted to Captain in the new 19th Connecticut regiment. In the spring, the Continentals moved to Manhattan to stop the British from taking New York City. Nathan spent almost six months there, building fortifications and preparing for the a battle against the British.
Nathan Hale didn't see much action in the time he had been in the Army. During the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1775, his regiment protected forts but were never attacked. This gave him a lot of time to write in his journals and keep records of the events around him.
During September 1776, General George Washington knew he needed to get information about what the British were going to do next. He formed a group of soldiers who would try to get this information and called them the New England Rangers. General Washington trusted Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton and put him in charge of the Rangers. Nathan Hale was given the command of one of the four companies and assigned to patrol the shorelines around Hell Gate. Later, Hale volunteered to go behind the enemy lines and try to find out where the next invasion would be.
At that time, spying was not a respected position in the Army. They felt it was wrong for a gentleman to do. Captain William Hull was Hale's best buddy then and tried to talk him out of it, but Hale insisted that he was doing it for the good of the colonies.
He crossed the Long Island Sound from Norwalk, Connecticut disguised as a schoolmaster and carrying his Yale papers. He found out that the British were going to invade Manhattan at Kip's Bay, but before he could tell anyone, the British invaded and took control of Manhattan on September 15th and 16h. So he decided to go to New York City and see what he could learn there. General Washington and his men were behind the bluffs at Harlem Heights.
New York City was set on fire on September 20th. There was a lot of confusion and rioting, which made the British even more suspicious of things. On Nathan Hale's way back to the Long Island Sound, on September 21, 1776, he was scoped by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rogers of the Queen's Rangers and arrested.
The British found all kinds of secret information on him. Historical records show that he admitted who he was and what he was doing in New York. Some people think that his cousin, Samuel Hale, who was working for General Howe, had found out what Nathan was doing and told the British authorities. General Howe ordered that Nathan Hale be hung as a spy the next morning.
Early the next morning, September 22, 1776, British soldiers marched Nathan Hale 5 and 1/2 miles out of the city and started preparing for the hanging. Captain Montresor, an English officer, was there for the execution. General Howe allowed Nathan Hale to sit in the shade of Captain Montresor's marquee. During that time he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to his brother, Enoch. These letters were probably destroyed by the British after the hanging. Nathan Hale's example that he would gladly give his life for something he believed in was not something the British wanted other Continental soldiers to hear. Hale asked for a Bible, but they would not give him one.
Nathan Hale was executed by hanging on September 22, 1776 in Rutgers' apple orchard at the age of 21. When asked if he had any last words, he said "I only regret I have but one life to lose to my country." This quote is a paraphrase from "Cato," a popular play by Addison. It is a quote now connected with Nathan Hale.