What Would You Give for Freedom?
Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755. He was born in Coventry, Connecticut. At the time of his birth we had the 13 colonies. He was from a large family which was common during that time. He was number 6 in the total of 12!
Nathan loved the outdoors. He was a good student and an avid reader. His father wanted to prepare him for a career in ministry. His father set him up with a tutor named Reverend Joseph Huntington. His tutoring paid off because by the time he was age 14 he was ready to go to Yale!
During his time at Yale there was the growing conflict between the Britain and the colonies. Boston happened to be the center for many of these conflicts. While at Yale he often heard of the conflicts. At the age of 18 he graduated the top of his class from Yale! He was the speaker for the graduation ceremony.
In his speech at graduation he discussed his thoughts on women being educated. Many who heard his speech thought he was clearly crazy for making such a bold statement. At this time women often received little to no education especially at a major university. Nathan Hale believed if women were educated they could better care for their households and children.
Upon his graduation he decided to be a teacher and not go into ministry as his father had desired. After teaching at a small town school in Connecticut he took a job teaching at Union School in New London. He was given permission to teach girls but it had to be early in the morning so it wouldn’t interfere with the education of the males.
In 1774, during his time at Union School he got news of the Boston Tea Party and the first meeting of the Continental Congress. He wished he could have participated in events such as these. He also heard of Tory hunts. Tory hunts were done by groups of patriots. They would go out and force British supporters to change their opinions or leave the colonies.
Hearing all these events prompted Nathan Hale to start attending town meetings. After going to a couple he began to stand up and speak his mind. He encouraged the town folks,” Let us march immediately, and never lay down our weapons until we gain independence.” Shortly after this he decided that he would leave his teaching career and join the fight against the British.
He joined the Connecticut Regiment. In July 1775 he completed his teaching duties and was ready to head to battle. He was given commission of Lieutenant in Colonel in Charles Webb’s 7th CT Regiment.
The battles were fierce. After losing more than 1,000 soldiers, Britain finally overcame the colonists at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Although the colonists lost that fight we surprised the British by showing that we’d fight fiercely for our liberty.
Nathan Hale kept a diary during this time. It can still be seen today in a museum in Connecticut. All of the entries showed that he loved military life. He wanted to be a great leader. When some of his men grew weary and wanted to quit he offered to divide his salary among them if they’d stay. Back then soldiers signed up for short intervals at a time. When their time was up they were eager to return to their normal lives. When time was up for many men it took the persuasion of leaders like Nathan to convince them to stay. He made sure his soldiers had proper uniforms and were housed well. He took care of his men.
One day he received a letter from a close friend which discussed a pamphlet titled Common Sense by Thomas Paine. He explained how it had been sold or a penny a piece and how it had reached thousands of the colonists.
Winter arrived and General Washington was preparing for another battle with the British. But surprisingly they sailed home. Washington knew they’d attack New York when they returned in the spring. He began to try and strategize and prepare for this attack. Many troops went to New York to prepare including Nathan Hale’s.
Upon arriving in New York, Hale planned a mission to capture a British supply ship. He did so with much success and gained great respect for his actions. His actions led him to be chosen to serve along Thomas Knowlton and his group called the Rangers. The Rangers patrolled the shorelines along Manhattan Island.
General Washington was growing more and more desperate for info on the British. He needed a spy. He went to Colonel Knowlton to ask if any of his men would be interested in taking this on. The soldiers gathered and Colonel Knowlton explained the needs of General Washington. One soldier said,” I’m willing to be shot but not hanged.” Anyone who was caught during this time and thought to be a spy was hanged. Hale boldly volunteered feeling it might be his only opportunity to serve his country and do his duty. His friends all tried to talk him out of it. Before he set off for this mission he said,” I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to public good becomes honorable by being necessary.”
Within a few short months Nathan Hale believed he had acquired the info that General Washington needed. He was on his way to inform him when he learned the British had taken New York. So he went back to gather more information wanting to help General Washington and the others.
General Washington decided to burn the British out and had troops set fire to New York. There is no record but it is thought that Nathan Hale helped set the city on fire. These actions angered the British and they began questioning all American soldiers. If a soldier was not recognized they accused him of being a spy.
Nathan Hale had a cover story but when he was captured the British found the notes he had taken about the British plans which were hidden in his shoes. His fate was sealed.
General Howe was over the British troops in New York. He wanted Hale to confess to being a spy. If he did his life would be spared. Hale finally gave in and confessed to being a spy! Then Howe promised that if Hale simply signed a pledge to the King of England that his life would be spared. Hale knew his life was a small price to pay in comparison to giving up his freedom and betraying hid general.
While he was being held the Declaration of Independence was written and signed. During his captivity Hale continued to refuse to sign the pledge. Howe grew angrier with Hale each day he wouldn’t sign the pledge. Howe was so upset that he refused Nathan Hale and trial which was his right as a soldier.
Major Cunningham was the man in charge of overseeing Nathan Hale’s execution. He was known for being a down right evil man. Major Cunningham denied Hale of all his final rights including a Bible and a minister. He also refused to send Hale’s letters to his brothers.
The day had come. As the noose went around his neck he prayed for freedom for his countrymen. When speaking his last words it is noted he could have been thinking of the play Cato by English poet Joseph Addison. It was the story of a statesman who was honest, upright and dedicated to the ideas of liberty.
Hale’s famous last words spoken, “You are shedding the blood of the innocent. I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country. If I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down in defense of my injured bleeding country. “
This brave young man who had a patriot’s heart died at the young age of 21. He gave his life for the freedom we so love in this country. Yet today we are being invaded. We need thousands of patriots just like Nathan Hale. Will you give your life for your “injured bleeding country?”
Lough, Loree, (2000). Nathan Hale Revolutionary Hero. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers.