Nathan Hale One Life To Lose
Nathan Hale, one of the great hero's of the American Revolution. You may remember the famous phrase, "I regret that I have but one life to lose". The man who defied the British to his last breath. Liberty Education Series, Gloucester, Virginia Links and News. Visit us for more incredible content.
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nathan Hale One Life To Lose
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JEAN CHRISTIE ROOT
"O Beautiful! my Country! ...,
What were our lives without thee?
What all our lives to save thee?
We reck not what we gave thee;
We will not dare to doubt thee,
But ask whatever else, and we will dare!"
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
THE WORLD SYNDICATE PUBLISHING CO.
Cleveland, O. New York, N. Y.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1915. Reprinted
August, 1925; March, 1929.
NATHAN HALE'S EARLY YEARS
It is to-day a recognized fact that no life worthy of our reverence, or even a life
calculated to awaken our fear, is the result of accident. Whatever may be the character,
its basis has been the result of long-developing causes. This the life of Nathan Hale well
illustrates. He was born at a time and under influences that were sure to develop the best
qualities in him. He was an immediate descendant of the best of the Puritans on both
sides of the sea. His great-grandfather, John Hale, was the son of Robert Hale, who came
to America in 1632. John Hale graduated from Harvard in 1657 and was the first pastor
settled in Beverly, Massachusetts, remaining there until he died, an aged man. An ardent
patriot, this John Hale, in 1676, gave about one-twelfth of his salary, some seventy
pounds, for defense in King Philip's War. When need arose in[Pg 2] the French War, he
went to Canada as a volunteer, for a threefold purpose,—so that he might accompany a
number of his own parishioners, act as chaplain for one of the regiments, and fight when
his aid was needed.
Living during the witchcraft trials, he was one of the first to be convinced of the
mistaken course pursued. We are not certain as to his approval or disapproval of the
progress of the excitement in regard to witchcraft until it became intensely personal to
his own family. His wife was, fortunately as the results proved, accused by some
misguided person of being a witch. The well-known nobility of her life, and her lovely
character, at once convinced all who knew the circumstances that some terrible mistake
had been made by her accuser. And if a mistake had been made in her case, why not in
others? At once the deadly power of the delusion was broken and, happily, the tide
turned back forever. There was no question after this of the Rev. Mr. Hale's viewpoint as
In the very darkest depths of the witchcraft delusion, some illustrations of splendid
courage and noble unselfishness were exhibited. Grewsome as it is, we cannot forbear
quoting the example of one Giles Cory, condemned to die as a witch, who knew that if
he did not confess he had[Pg 3] bewitched people, his estate, which he wished his wife
and family to inherit, would be forfeited, and that he would be pressed to death instead
of being hanged.
Being hanged is a comparatively brief experience, while the other way is prolonged and
agonizing. But, for the sake of his family, brave old Giles Cory calmly faced this
terrible, lingering death. He must have won from some, if not from all, the feeling that a
stout-hearted and generous man had proved his love for his own as no mere words could
John Hale appears to have been a worthy ancestor of the youth Nathan Hale, who, a
hundred years later, so freely made a sacrifice of his life.
John Hale's son, Samuel, was Nathan's grandfather; he made his home in Portsmouth,
New Hampshire. One of Samuel Hale's sons, bearing his own name, Samuel, was a
Harvard man. Another son, Richard, Nathan's father, born February 28, 1717, looking
about to find the best farming lands for the support of a future family, moved to
Connecticut, and became a farmer in South Coventry, thirty miles east of Hartford.
Distinguished from the beginning for his success in whatever he undertook in business
affairs, and also as a man of singularly upright character,[Pg 4] Deacon Richard Hale
won the warmest regard of all who knew him. His advice and help were sought, both in
political and religious affairs, to the full limit of the time at his command.
His farm was among the best in that section. The house that he first occupied, probably
one already on the place, was as comfortable and convenient as the usual homes of the
earlier colonists. Later a larger house was built, big enough to accommodate a family of
a dozen or more, and many guests as well. The house in which Nathan lived as a boy is
still standing, and has fortunately come down to us with almost no mutilation.
Though the forms and the voices of those who dwelt in them have long since vanished,
there still linger about these vacant rooms the most tender and inspiring memories of the
lives once developing there, now gone forward; nothing wasted or lost, as we will
believe, of anything permanent they strove for or cared for in their dear, earthly home.
To this home Richard Hale, married May 2, 1746, at the age of twenty-nine, brought his
young bride, Elizabeth Strong. If Richard Hale's pedigree was a good one, his wife,
Elizabeth Strong, came from a family even more finely endowed. The first of her
ancestors who came to America was Elder John Strong. He was one of the found[Pg
5]ers of Dorchester, now a part of Boston; later he helped to found Northampton,
Mrs. Hale's grandfather, Joseph Strong, represented Coventry for sixty-five sessions in
the General Assembly of Connecticut, and when he was ninety years of age he presided
over the town meeting, suggesting by that deed a man of some vigor, for town meetings
were no playdays in those early years. His descendants, active in whatever their hands
found to do,—in the ministry, the law, business, or politics,—were long prominent in
New England and New York, and doubtless many are to-day still helping to mold their
The son of this Justice Joseph Strong was also named Joseph, and called Captain Joseph
Strong. In 1724 he married his second cousin, Elizabeth Strong. He, too, was a noted
man among the colonists. She, later, became the "grandmother" to whom Nathan so
warmly alludes in one of his last letters to his brother. Captain Joseph Strong and his
wife were the parents of Elizabeth Strong who, in her nineteenth year, married Richard
To Elizabeth Strong Hale we can give but a passing notice. There is not, it is believed,
one word that she wrote now in existence, nor any record left of that gracious
womanhood, save a[Pg 6] name on an obscure gravestone. But what brave-hearted
mother would not count it well worth while to leave, for the coming years, the impress
she left upon her many children; one of them alone destined to carry to coming
generations of Americans the assurance that such a son could only have been borne by
one of the noblest of mothers. Dying at the age of forty,—April 21, 1767,—after a
married life of twenty-one years, she had performed all the duties then expected from
the mistress of a farmer's household in a section where the principal help that could be
secured in any time of need came from the voluntary kindnesses of neighbors; for, like
one large family, they felt it necessary to "lend a hand" whenever any one of their
number was in need. Mrs. Hale had been the mother of twelve children when she died.
Two of her children, named David and Jonathan, were twins. One of the twins, Jonathan,
died when only a week old. David lived to be graduated from Yale and to become a
minister at Lisbon, Connecticut. A little daughter, Susanna, lived but a month, but ten of
Mrs. Hale's twelve children grew to maturity.
Nathan, the sixth child, born June 6, 1755, was the first of the ten to die, leaving to his
surviving brothers and sisters a memory that in later[Pg 7] years must have been an
unfailing inspiration. He was delicate at first, but owing to his mother's care he later
became as robust in body as he was in mind. For an older brother, Enoch, the plan was
formed of sending him to college to prepare for the ministry, a custom then prevalent
among many of the large and prosperous families in New England. Nathan was at first
destined for a business life; but because of the urgent desire of his mother, heartily
seconded by that of his Grandmother Strong, he was allowed to enter college with his
brother Enoch in 1769, when he was fourteen years old; this was two years after the
death of his mother. Four of Mrs. Hale's immediate relatives were graduates of Yale,—a
fine illustration of the value those progressive pioneers attached to education.
As a boy Nathan was to his mother what he later became to all who knew him; and the
bond between such a mother and such a son must have been very tender and strong. It is
a comfort to those who know what such mothers desire for their children, to remember
the gladness and hope with which this mother, overworked and dying long before her
time, looked forward to the days coming to her children. For Nathan, through her
influence, was to become one of Yale's noblest sons.[Pg 8]
As Nathan's mother died nine years before he did, we understand the full meaning of the
line in Judge Finch's poem,
"The sad of Earth, the glad of Heaven,"
written many years later in honoring Nathan's splendid sacrifice. The poem to which the
line belongs, read more than sixty years ago on the one-hundredth anniversary of the
Linonian Society, an organization of Yale College of which Nathan Hale had been an
early and an active member, had much influence in rousing first Yale men, and then
other patriotic Americans, to recognize Nathan Hale as one of America's bravest
Mrs. Hale died in 1767. About two years later Deacon Hale married again, bringing to
his home this time a widow, Mrs. Abigail Adams, of Canterbury, who must have been
well fitted to take her place as the new head of the family. No ignoble mother could rear
such children as she had reared, and Deacon Hale's second choice of a wife proved a
wise and happy one. Providence appears to have smiled upon him when he opened his
doors and invited Mrs. Adams and her children to share his home, and even the affection
of some of his sons. It is said that two of Deacon Hale's sons fell in love with her
youngest daughter, Alice[Pg 9] Adams, who, at Deacon Hale's desire, came to live
permanently in the family in 1770 or 1771, while his second son, John, married her
eldest daughter, Sarah Adams, on December 19, 1770.
The lives of both these women, Sarah and Alice Adams, are sufficient witnesses to the
high character of the new mother added to the Hale household. To several of his
biographers it has seemed quite probable that Nathan Hale wrote one of his last two
letters to this mother. We grant that it may have been addressed to her, while intended
for the reading of another. Of this, later.
In regard to the marriage of John Hale and Sarah Adams it may be as well to state here
that, after a married life of thirty-one years, John Hale died suddenly in December, 1802,
his health probably undermined by his service in the Revolutionary War, where he held
the rank of major. His widow, desiring to carry out what she believed would have been
his wishes, "bequeathed £1000 to trustees as a fund, the income of which was to be used
for the support of young men preparing for missionary service,"—probably among the
Indians, as this was before the support of foreign missions was undertaken in America
—"and in part for founding and supporting the Hale Library in Coventry, to be used by
the ministers of Coventry[Pg 10] and the neighboring towns." Included in the bequest
for founding the still existing so-called "Hale Donation" was a portrait of the donor's
husband, Major John Hale;—well painted, for the period, and now of great interest. Mrs.
John Hale died a few months after her husband. It is easy to believe that, though born of
different parents, the Hale and Adams families were congenial mentally and morally,
and that Deacon Richard Hale was a wise and fortunate man in his choice of a second
mother for his children.
According to his mother's and grandmother's wishes, it was early decided that Nathan
should be prepared to enter college. After the fashion of those times, he and two of his
brothers began their preparatory studies under the direction of the Rev. Joseph
Huntington, D.D., then pastor of the church in Nathan's native town. He is said to have
been a man noted for his intellectual power, for his patriotism, and for his courteous
It may be well to say here that, in those early days, the New England ministers usually
settled in one pastorate for life, and they were not only teachers in spiritual things, but
were noted for their courteous and dignified manners; so that even before he entered
college Nathan Hale must have had ample opportunities for the cultivation[Pg 11] of the
easy manners and courteous deportment which are said by all who knew him to have
been so marked in him.
Nathan Hale, as a boy, had one more asset that must have helped to insure his future
success, and that did, as we believe, help him to die nobly. He was not overindulged; he
had always the spur of effort to urge him forward. It was told of him, many years after
his death, by the woman he had loved and who had known him well all his later years,
Mrs. Alice Adams Lawrence, that whatever he did, even as boy, he did with all his heart,
as if it engrossed his whole mind. Whether it was work, or study, or play, he gave all his
energies to the doing of it. Such a disposition, together with his fine home training, must
have helped to insure his success in Yale.[Pg 12]
In September, 1769, accompanied by Enoch, an older brother, Nathan Hale entered the
Freshman class at Yale. His personal traits easily won the hearts of his classmates, while
his quick understanding, his high scholarship, and his loyalty to the college standards
made him as popular among tutors and professors as among his classmates. It is pleasant
to know that, from the time we first learn of him until we see him standing beside the
fatal tree, he appears to have won all hearts worth winning.
But Nathan Hale had yet another gift that would surely endear him to college students of
to-day as much as it doubtless did to his own classmates. He was a powerful athlete. So
great was his skill in this line that, to successive generations of Yale men, the "broad
jump" made by Nathan Hale remained unequaled. It is said to have taken place on what
is now called "The Green" in New Haven, not far from the Old State House;[Pg 13] and
for many years the spot was marked to designate the length of the jump. Even during the
years when his courageous death appeared to be well-nigh forgotten, "Hale's jump" was
vividly remembered. But he not only "jumped," he excelled in all games then popular in
college, besides being a capital shot with his rifle, as well as a fine swimmer.
Hale could, it is said, lay one hand on the top of a six-foot fence and easily vault over it;
and, though this astonishing feat is reported as occurring while he was a teacher, he used
to delight his companions by showing them how to stand in a hogshead with his hands
on his hips, leap over the first hogshead, land in a second, leap from that into a third, and
from that out on to the ground,—all this before he was twenty.
Imagine the delight of the "other fellows" standing around to watch Hale go through his
various stunts in athletics! It almost makes one feel as if one had been a student and
shared in the cheering when Hale did these things, so easy to himself, so difficult to the
onlookers. Then fancy the talk at the supper tables, when the candles burned brightly
and the eatables tasted twice as good because "old Hale" had won laurels for "old Yale"
that afternoon by some "splendid" deed, as[Pg 14] the boys called it. Whatever he did,
we may be sure that it was done well and with all his might, and that nobody equaled
This much for the athletic life of Hale in his student days. It was only natural to such a
man that whatever he was—friend, student, teacher, or soldier—he should carry zest and
earnestness to all his work, even as he carried his manliness, his courtesy, and his
Let us now turn to the record of his years of successful work at Yale. It has been said
that whatever he did, he did with all his might, and his brain work was as notable in its
results as were the strength and agility of his body. In those early days the college bell
rang for prayers, as the beginning of the day's work, at half past four in summer and an
hour later in winter; and there are men still living who remember, in later years and at
later hours, the wild rushes half-dressed students used to make, adjusting what they
could of their hastily donned clothing on their race to morning chapel.
Hale, however, as well as his companions a hundred and forty years ago, were
accustomed to early rising, and able to fill every hour of their long days with work or
play. The course of study then was much shorter than it is now, but if lack[Pg 15]ing in
quantity it certainly made up in some of its qualities. We doubt if Freshmen to-day
would outshine their fellows of that very early time if their declamations on Fridays
were required to be in Latin, Greek, or Hebrew, "no English being allowed save by
Science as we now know it had not entered into the college course, but the little then
known, and the other studies considered essential, comparatively limited as they must
have been, were taught so thoroughly that the men who carried away a college diploma
carried a sure guarantee that they had been carefully taught whatever was then
considered essential to a college education.
Although it is true that science was then in comparative infancy, it is also true that it was
deeply absorbing to young Hale. Some of his most valued books were scientific, and,
aside from the studies he was obliged to pursue, he eagerly absorbed educational
theories and the best literary works then available. As a college student, he stood high;
as a thinker and as one interested in the finest pursuits of his period, he ranked equally
high. Before he was nineteen he had won the permanent friendship and ardent
admiration of a man who was then his tutor, Timothy Dwight, later the renowned
president of Yale College, and[Pg 16] to the end of his long life a lover of his boy-friend,
Another warm friend, a classmate, destined to be notable in future years, was James
Hillhouse, later United States Senator, the first man to leave the stamp of beauty on his
native city, New Haven, in the wonderful elms of his planting.
In addition to these two noted men, many of Hale's warmest friendships were formed at
college among the leading men of his own and of other classes. At least two or three of
these were his companions in arms, to whom we may refer later. Of his scholarship, one
sure test remains. At graduation, of the thirty-six men in his class, he ranked among the
In one other important line Nathan Hale made a notable mark in college, namely, in his
intense interest in Linonia. This society had been founded in 1753 "to promote in
addition to the regular course of academic study, literary stimulus and rhetorical
improvement to the undergraduates," and to create friendly relations among its
members. The organization lived a long and honorable life, and did a most helpful work
among its members. Nathan Hale was the first in his class to become its Chancellor, later
styled President. He was for some time also its scribe, and many of his entries[Pg 17] in
the Linonian reports are still "clear throughout and well-preserved" as is his signature at
the end, after the passing of more than a hundred years.
During his college course his name occurs in the reports of almost every meeting of the
society. At one time he delivered "a very interesting narration"; at another, "an eloquent
extemporaneous address." On various occasions he is said to have taken part in some of
the plays that were frequently acted, and to have proposed questions for discussion.
Besides taking part in the society and college exercises, he enjoyed frequent
correspondence with a number of his classmates on themes of taste and criticism and of
grammar and philology.
As incoming Chancellor at the end of the college year of 1772, Hale responded in behalf
of Linonia to the parting address from one of the graduating class.
Hale's farewell address to the Linonians of the class of 1772 is preserved to Yale College
on the society records. In reading it one must remember that the speech was made by a
boy of seventeen. The dignity of the address, the assured ease with which he speaks, the
sense of the Yale bond, as strong then as it ever has been, all show the only boyish thing
about the speaker, namely, his sense[Pg 18] of the superiority of Linonia, then nearly
twenty years old, to the struggling new society of "The Brothers," less than eight years
old. All this brings before us very vividly a boy in years, but a man in thoughts and
aspirations, ardent and scholarly, and full of a noble ambition that looked forward, as do
all ambitious students in their college days, to years of generous life.
A few paragraphs quoted from various parts of the quaintly courteous speech will
illustrate alike the youth and the maturity of the speaker. He said:
"The high opinion we ought to maintain of the ability of these worthy Gentlemen" [the
retiring members of the Society] "as well as the regard they express for Linonia and her
Sons, tends very much to increase our desire for their longer continuance. Under
whatsoever character we consider them, we have the greatest reason to regret their
departure. As our patrons, we have shared their utmost care and vigilance in supporting
Linonia's cause, and protecting her from the malice of her insulting foes. As our
benefactors, we have partaken of their liberality, not only in their rich and valuable
donations to our library, but, what is still more, their amiable company and
["This is a fine portrait of Hale painted by himself," says a friend of Hale to-day.][Pg 19]
"But as our friends, what inexpressible happiness have we experienced in their
disinterested love and cordial affection! We have lived together not as fellow students
and members of the same college, but as brothers and children of the same family; not as
superiors and inferiors, but rather as equals and companions. The only thing which hath
given them the preëminence is their superior knowledge in those arts and sciences which
are here cultivated, and their greater skill and prudence in the management of such
important affairs as those which concern the good order and regularity of this Society.
Under the prudent conduct of these our once worthy patrons, but now parting friends,
things have been so wisely regulated, as that while we have been entertained with all the
pleasures of familiar conversation, we have been no less profited by our improvements
in useful knowledge and literature."
Hale's direct address to the parting members is as follows:
"Kind and generous Sirs, it is with the greatest reluctance that we are now all obliged to
bid adieu to you, our dearest friends. Fain would we ask you longer to tarry—but it is
otherwise determined, and we must comply. Accept then our sincerest thanks, as some
poor return for your[Pg 20] disinterested zeal in Linonia's cause, and your unwearied
pains to suppress her opposers.... Be assured that we shall be spirited in Linonia's cause
and with steadiness and resolution strive to make her shine with unparalleled luster.... Be
assured that your memory will always be very dear to us; that though hundreds of miles
should interfere, you will always be attended with our best wishes.
"May Providence protect you in all your ways, and may you have prosperity in all your
undertakings! May you live long and happily, and at last die satisfied with the pleasures
of this world, and go hence to that world where joys shall never cease, and pleasures
never end! Dear Gentlemen, farewell!"
Not only in speeches but also in deeds Hale proved his love for Linonia. He is said to
have contributed some of his own books to the library of the Society, and to have
coöperated with Timothy Dwight and James Hillhouse in promoting its growth. In time
the library owned more than thirteen thousand volumes. These three Linonians were
always considered its real founders, and were so honored at the Society's centennial
anniversary on July 27, 1853.
Timothy Dwight, the first of that name to be[Pg 21] president of Yale College, was, like
Nathan Hale, a descendant of Elder Strong who founded Northampton, Massachusetts.
Dwight graduated in 1769, the year Hale entered college. He then became a tutor and
was a personal friend of Hale's. He was a teacher of extraordinary power and was made
president of Yale in 1795. He was one of the most remarkable men of his time, molding
the moral and religious, as well as intellectual, character of the college so that his
influence extended not only over the whole state but, to a great degree, over the whole
United States. He was a fine illustration of the great abilities that centered in so many of
the leading families of the colonists. Such connections as this man add even a higher
luster to the genealogy of Elizabeth Strong Hale, and lessen our wonder that a son of
hers, while hardly more than a boy, could face the duty and calmly accept the
responsibility that he felt rested upon him.
As may easily be inferred, the Hale boys, Enoch and Nathan, were not forgotten by their
home friends while making honorable records in college, and forming pleasant
friendships outside the college walls—then the happy lot of all the best men in college—
among the cultured families of what was then a small New England city.[Pg 22]
An instance of the friendships Nathan made in New Haven is shown by the words of
Æneas Munson, M.D., formerly of that city. When an aged man he spoke in the warmest
terms of Hale's fine qualities as he observed them when he was a boy in his father's
house, and he treasured a letter to his father from Hale in 1774 which will be given
Of home letters, happily a few from their father in Coventry to his two sons in college
are still preserved; these prove, as no words of any stranger could, his constant and
practical interest in all that concerned them. They show us how an upright father tried to
influence his boys' religious characters while distant from them, and at the same time
they show the economies which even well-to-do fathers then had to exercise in
providing for their sons while at college. The first letter also shows that Nathan must
have entered college when fourteen years and three months old, having been born in
June, 1755, and entering college in September, 1769. We here give the first letter, with
all its quaint old spelling, and after it two others written during successive years. We
may smile at their old-time expressions, but we must own to a sincere admiration for the
kind and thoughtful father, so interested in his boys, and[Pg 23] so solicitous concerning
their health "after the measles."
I Rec'd your Letter of the 7th instant and am glad to hear that you are well
suited with Living in College and would let you know that wee are all well
threw the Divine goodness, as I hope these lines will find you. I hope you will
carefully mind your studies that your time be not Lost and that you will mind
all the orders of College with care.... I intend to send you some money the first
opportunity perhaps by Mr. Sherman when he Returns home from of the surcit
[circuit court] he is now on. If you can hire Horses at New Haven to come
home without too much trouble and cost I don't know but it is best and should
be glad to know how you can hire them and send me word. If I don't here from
you I shall depend upon sending Horses to you by the 6th of May,—if I should
have know opportunity to send you any money till May and should then come
to New Haven and clear all of it would it not do? If not you will let me know
it. Your friends are all well at Coventry—your mother sends her Regards to
you—from your kind and loving
COVENTRY Decr. 26th
I have nothing spettial to write but would by all means desire you to mind
your Studies and carefully attend to the orders of Coledge. Attend not only
Prayers in the[Pg 24] chapel but Secret Prayr carefully. Shun all vice
especially card Playing. Read your Bibles a chapter night and morning. I
cannot now send you much money but hope when Sr Strong comes to
Coventry to be able to send by him what you want....
from your Loving Father
Coventry, Decr. 17th, 1770
LOVING CHILDREN—by a line would let you know that I with my family threw the Divine
Goodness are well as I hope these lines will find you. I have heard that you are better of
the measles. The Cloath for your Coat is not Done. But will be Done next week I hope at
furthest. I know of no opportunity we shall have to send it to Newhaven and have Laid
in with Mr. Strong for his Horse which his son will Ride down to New Haven for one of
you to Ride home if you can get Leave and have your close made at home. I sopose that
one measure will do for both of you. I am told that it is not good to study hard after the
measles—hope you will youse Prudance in that afare. If you do not one of you come
home I dont see but that you must do with out any New Close till after Commensment. I
send you Eight Pound in cash by Mr. Strong—hope it will do for the present—
Your Loving Father
COVENTRY August 13th, 1771
Some students of to-day in college with elder brothers might protest vigorously at the
idea of new suits provided for two boys of different sizes[Pg 25] being fitted for the
larger, though the younger might find some consolation in the fact that he would have
plenty of room in which to grow! At all events, good Deacon Hale's kindly letters give
us a very friendly feeling toward him, revealing as they do his love for his boys. The
letters also suggest indirectly the happy home-coming of these college boys, riding
thither on horseback over many miles, buoyed up by high spirits, college news, and the
prospect of vacation.
In their home, as time went by, they found the two new members of the family, their
stepmother's daughters, Nathan to find in Alice Adams, the youngest, some of the
happiest inspirations of his manly young life. It is pleasant to linger a moment and try to
realize the pride Deacon Hale must have felt in his boys, and their delight in being once
more home with him and with all the family circle. We can fancy them as they sat
around that generous board—none the less generous, we are sure, because of the home-
coming of the "Yale boys."
Deacon Hale was a man of remarkable energy—"a driver," in other words. As a rule, in
the busiest season of the year he would finish his meal before the family were half
through theirs, rise, return thanks, and be off to the field, leaving the others to resume
their seats around the table. Alice[Pg 26] Adams used to say of him, "I never saw a man
work so hard for both worlds as Deacon Hale."
One amusing incident was long in circulation and laughed over by many who did not
know the energetic haymaker by name. As it really happened to Deacon Hale, it is worth
telling as an example of the energy that has characterized his descendants.
One haying season Deacon Hale hired a tall, brawny countryman, of uncommon
strength, to help him house his crop. While in the field he took upon himself the task of
"packing" the load, the hired man's duty being to pitch it on to the cart. The man began
his work too slowly to suit Deacon Hale, who soon called out, "More hay!" This call he
repeated three or four times, as cock after cock of hay was still somewhat lazily pitched
up to him. Finally his tardy helper, becoming sensible that his easy way of working was
being rebuked, set himself to work with a will equal to the Deacon's, and at last pitched
the hay up so rapidly that his employer was unable to "pack" it properly upon the cart.
Very soon, therefore, to the dismay of both men, the whole load slipped off in one great
mass on to the ground, carrying the Deacon along with it!
"What do you want now, Deacon?" shouted the Hercules by his side with a satisfied
"More hay!" instantly replied the discomfited Deacon, nimbly scrambling back to his
place on the cart.
Despite this little accident at the beginning of the afternoon, it is safe to state that a
generous storage of hay took place before sunset.
But happy as were these college days and home-comings, and rich as were the harvests
gleaned in them, the four years in college halls sped swiftly, and in 1773 Enoch Hale and
Nathan turned their faces toward the future; the one to a long life and faithful Christian
service, the other toward the briefest of mortal days, but to a service whose memory will
not end till his college walls shall have crumbled, and the names of all its heroic sons
faded from the earth. For even though stones may crumble, influence lives on.
It has already been said that at graduation Nathan Hale stood among the first thirteen in
a class of thirty-six. On Commencement Day, September 3, 1773, he took part in a
forensic debate on the question, "Whether the Education of Daughters be not, without
any just reason, more neglected than that of Sons."
In "Memories of a Hundred Years" Dr. Edward Everett Hale says: "As early as 1772
there appears at Yale College the first question ever de[Pg 28]bated by the Linonian
Society. It was, 'Is it right to enslave the Affricans?' I think, by the way, that this record,
bad spelling and all, is made by my great-uncle, Nathan Hale." These debates show how
seriously, even in the colonial period, men were thinking of the urgent problems of later
In the debate first mentioned, the others taking part in it were Benjamin Tallmadge, Ezra
Samson, and William Robinson. Some account of Major Tallmadge's after life is given
in later pages. Samson was, for a time, a clergyman, and then became an editor, first in
Hudson, New York, and then of the Courant, at Hartford, Connecticut.
William Robinson was a direct descendant of Pastor John Robinson of Leyden. He
studied for the ministry and was ordained in 1780 at Southington, Connecticut. In the
winter of that year—which was one of the coldest and most severe on record—he
walked the whole distance from Windsor to Southington, about thirty miles, on
snowshoes, to be installed as pastor, an office he held for forty-one years.[Pg 29]
A CALL TO TEACH
College days behind them, Nathan, now eighteen years old, and Enoch pressed on
toward their future. Here, to some extent, we part with Enoch, catching only occasional
glimpses of him in a few straggling letters to his brother. It is probable that, as he
intended to enter the ministry, he soon began his theological studies. In 1775 he was
licensed to preach. Nathan, however, turned toward teaching as the next step in his
In the meantime Nathan's love for Alice Adams had not prospered. An older brother,
John, had married Alice Adams's elder sister Sarah, and the mother and sister of Alice
thought that she should not wait four or five years for Nathan. Perhaps they decided that
two intermarriages in one family were quite enough; anyway, they induced Alice to
accept the offer of a prosperous merchant of Coventry, Mr. Elijah Ripley, and a short
time before Nathan's graduation her marriage had apparently terminated their personal
Nathan Hale was at this time an unusually hand[Pg 30]some young man, almost six feet
in height, well proportioned, with broad chest, athletic, as we have seen, and with a
handsome, intelligent face, blue eyes, light brown hair of a rich color, and a winning
smile. These, added to a musical voice and gracious manners, gave him a personal
charm that attracted all who saw him.
As a teacher he combined unusual tact and manly dignity, making his discipline in
school as effective as it was reasonable. He also proved to be as skillful in imparting
knowledge as he had been in acquiring it, and his success as a teacher was assured from
His first school was in East Haddam, Connecticut. There was then much wealth and
business activity in the town, although, to a man fresh from college and the city, it
appeared to be a very quiet place, as one or two of his early letters indicate. Yet there too
he did with all his might what his hands found to do, and soon proved that not only his
work, but his social qualities, were endearing him to new friends, some of whom
remembered him with pleasure during their own long lives; one of them saying of
Nathan Hale in her own old age, "Everybody loved him, he was so sprightly, intelligent,
and kind," and, she added withal, "and so handsome!"[Pg 31] He had many
correspondents among classmates and friends. Sometimes he was stimulated to put his
thoughts into rhyme by some poetical epistle he received. One such was from Benjamin
Tallmadge, then in Wethersfield.
Tallmadge had apologized for his muse and Hale, in pure boyish fun, with a fine
disregard of whether he was invoking the muse or mounting Pegasus, replied as follows:
"But here, I think you're wrong, to blame
Your gen'rous muse and call her lame,
For when arriv'd no mark was found
Of weakness, lameness, sprain or wound."
Then, invoking her himself, he describes her as if she were indeed the wingèd steed,
"With me in charge (a grievous load!)
Along the way she lately trode,
In all, she gave no fear or pain,
Unless, at times, to hold the rein."
At last, on his supposed arrival at Wethersfield, he invites Tallmadge's judgment on the
appearance of the equine muse, thus:
"Now judge, unless entirely sound
If she could bear me such a round.
It's certain then your muse is heal'd,
Or else, came sound from Weathersfield."
Before the end of the first term (October, 1773, to mid-March, 1774) in East Haddam,
however, his work had aroused attention elsewhere, and in May, 1774, he took charge of
a school in New London, called the "Union School,"—a larger school and a more
lucrative position than that at East Haddam. In it Latin, English, arithmetic, and writing
were taught. The salary was seventy pounds a year with a prospect of an increase, and he
was allowed to teach private classes as well.
It will not surprise those acquainted with human nature that, as we will allow him to tell
in a letter to a relative, he soon had a class of some twenty young ladies between the
unusual hours of five and seven in the morning! It does not take a very vivid imagination
to picture the vivacity of these twenty young ladies, the becomingness of their simple
but pretty gowns, and the zest with which each studied; nor, on the other hand, the ill-
concealed, bantering interest of the big brothers of the same,—asking perhaps, now and
then, with mock gravity, if mother thought Patty would be so prompt every morning at
five o'clock if old Parson Browning were the teacher!
But whatever might have been the dominant interest of the young ladies, "Master Hale"
was quite as practical in his teaching in the early hours[Pg 33] of the day as with the
boys in the later classes. An uncle of his, Samuel Hale, was for many years at the head
of the best private school in New Hampshire, numbering among his pupils some of the
leaders in Revolutionary times. To him, September 24, 1774, Nathan wrote a letter from
which we give the following extracts:
"My own employment is at present the same that you have spent your days in. I have a
school of thirty-two boys, about half Latin, the rest English. The salary allowed me is 70
£ per annum. In addition to this I have kept, during the summer, a morning school,
between the hours of five and seven, of about 20 young ladies for which I have received
6s [shillings] a scholar, by the quarter. Many of the people are gentleman of sense and
merit. They are desirous that I would continue and settle in the school, and propose a
considerable increase in wages. I am much at a loss whether to accept their proposals.
Your advice in this matter, coming from an uncle and from a man who has spent his life
in the business, would, I think, be the best I could possibly receive. A few lines on this
subject and also to acquaint me with the welfare of your family ... will be much to the
Your most dutiful Nephew,
A letter to Enoch Hale, containing allusions to the excited feeling in the colony at this
time, runs as follows:[Pg 34]
NEW LONDON, Sept. 8th. 1774.
I have a word to write and a moment to write it in. I received yours of
yesterday this morning. Agreeable to your desire I will endeavour to get the
cloth and carry it on Saturday. I have no news. No liberty-pole is erected or
erecting here; but the people seem much more spirited than they did before the
alarm. Parson Peters of Hebron, I hear, has had a second visit paid him by the
sons of liberty in Windham. His treatment, and the concessions he made I
have not as yet heard. I have not heard from home since
I came from there.
Your loving Brother
MR. E. HALE. LYME.
A letter from Hale to his friend the senior Dr. Æneas Munson, of New Haven, has been
mentioned. It runs as follows:
NEW LONDON, November 30, 1774
SIR: I am very happily situated here. I love my employment; find many friends
among strangers; have time for scientific study; and seem to fill the place
assigned me with satisfaction. I have a school of more than thirty boys to
instruct, about half of them in Latin; and my salary is satisfactory. During the
summer I had a morning class of young ladies—about a score—from five to
seven o'clock; so you see my time is pretty fully occupied, profitably, I hope to
my pupils and to their teacher.
Please accept for yourself and Mrs. Munson the grateful thanks of one who
will always remember the kindness he ever experienced whenever he visited
On one occasion, as Hale left his house after paying a visit, Dr. Munson observed, "That
man is a diamond of the first water, calculated to excel in any station he assumes. He is a
gentleman and a scholar, and last, though not least of his qualifications, a Christian."
The son of Dr. Munson (who bore his father's name), when an aged man, said: "I was
greatly impressed with Hale's scientific knowledge, evinced during his conversation
with my father. I am sure he was equal to André in solid acquirements, and his taste for
art and talents as an artist were quite remarkable. His personal appearance was as
notable. He was almost six feet in height, perfectly proportioned, and in figure and
deportment he was the most manly man I have ever met. His chest was broad; his
muscles were firm; his face wore a most benign expression; his complexion was roseate;
his eyes were light blue and beamed with intelligence; his hair was soft and light brown
in color, and his speech was rather low, sweet, and musical. His personal beauty and
grace of manner were most charming.
"Why, all the girls in New Haven fell in love with him," continued Dr. Munson, "and
wept tears of real sorrow when they heard of his sad fate. In dress he was always neat;
he was quick to lend[Pg 36] a helping hand to a being in distress, brute or human; was
overflowing with good humor, and was the idol of all his acquaintances."
Young masters of schools, public or private, unmarried and attractive, usually rank next
in popularity to other professional men,—ministers, lawyers, or doctors, as the case may
be,—and a boy of nineteen, the object of as much attention as Nathan Hale must have
received, might well be pardoned if his head had been slightly turned, in thus becoming
the admired teacher of a large class of young ladies. One special mark of stability of
character appears to have characterized this young man in a greater degree than is
always the case at the present day. Detached as he was, as he supposed irrevocably, from
the woman he loved, he appears to have carried himself with almost middle-aged
dignity, and, what is not a little to his credit, even his intimate friends among his
classmates could not, by the most delicate cross-questioning, draw from him anything
suggesting more than a pleasant interest in any of the young ladies with whom he was
thrown in contact.
A letter that will be given in its proper place shows his courteous and cordial interest in
the little city he left when he entered the army; yet it is rather a noteworthy fact that one
of his class[Pg 37]mates, writing to him during his camp life, had to suggest that, as the
young ladies he had taught were always inquiring when he had heard from "Master," it
would doubtless give them pleasure if he could find time to write some one of them a
note with friendly messages to others, to show that he still remembered them.
Many young men would hardly have needed such a suggestion. But Nathan Hale, so far
as we can learn, while given to warm friendships among his classmates, and to the
cultivation, while in New Haven, Haddam, and New London, of the society of the best
families, appears, from the beginning, to have taken life seriously. Disappointed in the
love of the one woman for whom he cared, he had turned with sincere absorption to the
work to which he felt himself called before entering on the theological course it is
thought that his father had planned for him.
There is further evidence of Hale's notable gifts as a teacher. Colonel Samuel Green,
who had been a pupil of Hale in New London, said of him, in oldtime phrase: "Hale was
a man peculiarly engaging in his manners—these were mild and genteel. The scholars,
old and young, were attached to him. They loved him for his tact and amiability.
"He was wholly without severity and had a[Pg 38] wonderful control over boys. He was
sprightly, ardent, and steady—bore a fine moral character and was respected highly by
all his acquaintances. The school in which he taught was owned by the first gentlemen in
New London, all of whom were exceedingly gratified by Hale's skill and assiduity."
A lady of New London who was for some time an inmate of the same family with Hale,
adds her testimony:
"His capacity as a teacher was highly appreciated both by parents and pupils. His simple
and unostentatious manner of imparting right views and feelings to less cultivated
understandings was unsurpassed by any other person I have ever known."
He was, as we see, a successful teacher, and, as we learn elsewhere, had serious thoughts
of remaining a teacher.
Unexpectedly, however, events verified the truth of the old adage, "Man proposes, God
disposes." A great historical drama was to be enacted before the eyes of the wondering
world, and events were ripening that were to form a great epoch in history.
America was being led first to protest against the unjust exactions laid upon its people,
and then to resist the oppressions that were being forced upon it. Gradually the idea
prevailed that a taxation which might have been acceptable, if coupled with[Pg
39] representation in Parliament, was absolutely intolerable without representation, and
the Stamp Act in 1765 struck the first note of intense opposition. Thenceforward the
political clouds grew darker and the warning incidents multiplied.
And yet, as a people, Americans were walking as if their personal plans lay easily in
their own control. Scores of young men were fitting themselves for ordinary callings,
Nathan Hale among them. His father's plans combining with his own appeared to be that
he was to teach for a while, and then follow his brother Enoch into the ministry. As it
proved, his days as a teacher were numbered. He was never to enter a pulpit, though he
was to utter one sentence that, graven upon bronze or granite, will last while America
lasts. He was to teach, by his last, unpremeditated words, and by an example more
potent than any other in American history, what all generations of Americans must
venerate—the sublimity of a complete sacrifice.
Smoldering discontent on the part of the Americans, waxing stronger and stronger for a
decade, and the aggressive course of action on the part of the British authorities, finally
culminated in a sudden outbreak, as matches applied to gunpowder; and on the 19th of
April, 1775, the first blood of the American Revolution was shed. Settlement after[Pg
40] settlement, big and little, learned the facts as rapidly as couriers on horseback could
carry them, and the thirteen colonies arrayed themselves against one of the most
powerful monarchies of the world.
The story is too well known to need recalling here, save as it draws Nathan Hale toward
his doom. Within a few days after the fatal 19th of April, four thousand Connecticut
volunteers were on their way to Boston to help Massachusetts in its earliest struggle with
the English. Ununiformed, undisciplined, straight from whatever had been their ordinary
vocation, with whatever they owned in the way of arms and ammunition, they went
hurrying toward Boston. Israel Putnam, renowned veteran of the "Old French War," was
plowing in his fields at Pomfret, Connecticut, when he heard the stirring news. Leaving
his plow in the furrow, he hastened to his house, left a few orders for the management of
his farm and the comfort of his family, and marched at the head of a body of volunteers
toward the camp near Boston. We are told that, in some households, families sat up all
night, the fathers melting their pewter plates into bullets for ammunition to be used by
their sons, and the mothers and sisters fashioning for them, with all possible speed, the
clothing they could not go without.[Pg 41]
On the arrival of the news from Boston, the people in New London at once held a
meeting. Hon. Richard Law, District Judge of Connecticut and Chief Justice of the
Superior Court, was chairman. Hale was one of the speakers.
At that meeting a company was selected from the already existing militia and ordered to
start for Boston the next morning. This company Nathan Hale, with his keen sense of
duty, could not then join. But, for a few succeeding weeks, in addition to his regular
work in school, he did all in his power to keep alive the interest of the young men in the
town concerning their duties as Americans. With his enthusiastic nature, and broad
comprehension of what might soon confront the country, it is probable that his
seriousness and his activity were never greater than during the few weeks intervening
between his speech at the political meeting and his departure from New London to enter
the military service of his country.
Of course his becoming a soldier would greatly interfere with the plans that his father
had made for him, and he at once wrote home on the subject, stating that "a sense of
duty urged him to sacrifice everything for his country"; but he added that as soon as the
war was ended he would comply with his father's wishes in regard to a profession.[Pg
42] The father was quite as patriotic as the son. He immediately assented to his son's
desires. In those days, however, correspondence could not be conducted so swiftly as at
present, and some time must have elapsed before this matter was positively settled
between the two. As the war went on, and doubtless none the less whole-heartedly after
the news of Nathan's death had been received, Mr. Hale did all he could for the comfort
of passing soldiers. It is said of him that many a time he sat at the door of his hospitable
home and watched for passing soldiers that he might take them in and feed them; and, if
necessary, lodge and clothe them. He often forbade his household "to use the wool
raised upon his farm for home purposes, that it might be woven into blankets for the
Anxious as had been young Hale to join the army, he appears to have deferred making
any decided plans until he had received the necessary permission from his father. Having
received it, he at once took steps for securing his dismissal from his school and his
admission into the army. During the weeks of waiting it had become known that he was
anxious to enlist, and a military appointment was waiting his acceptance. To secure his
dismissal, on July 7 he addressed the following letter to the[Pg 43] proprietors of his
school,—a letter that for a young man of twenty is as dignified as it is patriotic:
GENTLEMEN: Having received information that a place is allotted me in the army, and
being inclined, as I hope for good reasons, to accept it, I am constrained to ask as a favor
that which scarce anything else would have induced me to, which is, to be excused from
keeping your school any longer. For the purpose of conversing upon this and of
procuring another master, some of your number think it best there should be a general
meeting of the proprietors. The time talked of for holding it is six o'clock this afternoon,
at the schoolhouse. The year for which I engaged will expire within a fortnight, so that
my quitting a few days sooner, I hope, will subject you to no great inconvenience.
School-keeping is a business of which I was always fond, but since my
residence in this town, everything has conspired to render it more agreeable. I
have thought much of never quitting it but with life, but at present there seems
an opportunity for more extended public service.
The kindness expressed to me by the people of the place, but especially the
proprietors of the school, will always be very gratefully remembered by,
gentlemen, with respect, your humble servant,
A CALL TO ARMS
The place "allotted" to him was that of lieutenant in the third company of the 7th
Connecticut regiment, commanded by Colonel Charles Webb. No doubt exists that
Lieutenant Nathan Hale was the same Nathan Hale who had won distinction in all his
college work, in his subsequent teaching, and in all the events thus far associated with
his early manhood, with this difference; he was now lifted to a line of service that in his
opinion seemed the highest possible for him to follow, and no one who studies his
subsequent course can question that in this following he found the loftiest consecration
thus far possible to him. Perhaps unconsciously he was to verify the poet's assertion,
"So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can."
With no trace of merely personal ambition, but with that splendid power of absorption in
duty as[Pg 45] in work, Nathan Hale followed in the steps of those devoted American
patriots whose blood, so freely shed at Lexington, was calling upon their countrymen to
shed theirs as freely, should duty demand it.
Dead almost one hundred and forty years, we still are thrilled by proofs of the splendid
manhood henceforth to be so prominent in every remaining day of Hale's brief life. A
few letters to friends, a fairly comprehensive diary for a few months, his camp-book,
and the recollections of a few of the officers and of his body-servant, give a moderately
complete picture of Nathan Hale for a few brief weeks, during which time he had been
doing all in his power to perfect himself and the men under him in the duties of soldiers.
By the middle of September the Connecticut troops, having received orders from
General Washington to proceed to the camp near Boston, the 7th Regiment, containing
Lieutenant Hale's company, went to the spot appointed, remaining there during the
winter, and leaving for New York, again by Washington's orders, in the spring. Of these
intervening months, so momentous to the little army whose many members were
impatient for the close of the war, Nathan Hale himself gives us vivid pictures; of the
work he was trying to do; of the men he was meeting; of the religious life[Pg 46] he was
in no sense forgetting, and of his own deepening patriotism. Letters written to him show
the attitude of friends at home, and their interest both in the affairs of the country and in
him personally. The following letter from Gilbert Saltonstall, a young Harvard graduate
and warm friend of Hale while in New London, shows how fully the men at home, as
well as those in the army, entered into the anxieties of the times:
NEW LONDON, Octo. 9th, 1775.
By yours of the 5th I see you're Stationd in the Mouth of Danger—I look upon
yr. Situation more Perilous than any other in the Camp—Should have thought
the new Recreuits would have been Posted at some of the Outworks, & those
that have been inured to Service advanc'd to Defend the most exposed Places
—But all Things are concerted, and ordered with Wisdom no doubt—The
affair of Dr. Church is truly amazing—from the acquaintance I have of his
publick Character I should as soon have suspected Mr. Hancock or Adams as
Of this Dr. Church, John Fiske writes: "In October, 1775, the
American camp was thrown into great consternation by the discovery
that Dr. Benjamin Church, one of the most conspicuous of the Boston
leaders, had engaged in a secret correspondence with the enemy. Dr.
Church was thrown into jail, but as the evidence of treasonable intent
was not absolutely complete, he was set free in the following spring,
and allowed to visit the West Indies for his health. The ship in which
he sailed was never heard from again."
(Then follow accounts of an affair on Long Island Sound, and extracts from a paper two
days old just brought from New York, describing army matters in the North.)
I have extracted all the material News—should have sent the Paper but its the only one
in Town and every one is Gaping for news.
Your sincere Friend
Another, also from Saltonstall, reads in part as follows:
Doctor Church is in close Custody in Norwich Gaol, the windows boarded up,
and he deny'd the use of Pen, Ink, and Paper, to have no converse with any
Person but in presence of the Gaoler, and then to Converse in no Language but
English. ... what a fall ...
Novr. 27th 1775
A letter already referred to as showing Hale's interest in New London and its people,
also his feeling as to camp life, is here given. "Betsey" was one of his pupils in his early-
morning classes. We note the little touch of good-natured fun in the last paragraph.[Pg
CAMP WINTER HILL, Octr 19th 1775
I hope you will excuse my freedom in writing to you, as I cannot have the
pleasure of seeing and conversing with you. What is now a letter would be a
visit were I in New London but this being out of my power, suffer me to make
up the defect in the best manner I can. I write not to give you any news or any
pleasure in reading (though I would heartily do it if in my power) but from the
desire I have of conversing with you in some form or other.
I once wanted to come here to see something extraordinary—my curiosity is
satisfied. I have now no more desire for seeing things here, than for seeing
what is in New London, no, nor half so much neither. Not that I am
discontented—so far from it, that in the present situation of things I would not
except a furlough were it offered me. I would only observe that we often
flatter ourselves with great happiness could we see such and such things; but
when we actually come to the sight of them our solid satisfaction is really no
more than when we only had them in expectation.
All the news I had I wrote to John Hallam—if it be worth your hearing he will
be able to tell you when he delivers this. It will therefore not (be) worth while
for me to repeat.
I am a little at a loss how you carry at New London—Jared Starr I hear is gone
—The number of Gentlemen is now so few that I fear how you will go
through the winter but I hope for the best.
I remain with esteem
Yr Sincere Friend
& Hble Svt.
TO BETSEY CHRISTOPHERS
At New London
The next letter refers to the time when, on account of their personal privations, the
Connecticut troops were thinking seriously of withdrawing from the struggle, and
returning to their homes:
NEW LONDON Decr-4th 1775
The behaviour of our Connecticut Troops makes me Heart-sick—that they
who have stood foremost in the praises and good Wishes of their Countrymen,
as having distinguished themselves for their Zeal & Public Spirit, should now
shamefully desert the Cause; and at a critical moment too, is really
unaccountable—amazing. Those that do return will meet with real Contempt,
with deserv'd Reproach. It gives great satisfaction that the Officers universally
agree to tarry—that is the Report, is it true or not?—May that God who has
signally appear'd for us since the Commencement of our troubles, interpose,
that no fatal or bad consequence may attend a dastardly Desertion of his
I want much to have a more minute Acct. of the situation of the Camp than I
have been able to obtain. I rely wholly on you for information.
To explain some of Saltonstal's references to the feelings of some of the Connecticut
troops, we quote from Captain Hale's diary of October 23:
"10 o'clock went to Cambridge with Field commission officers to General Putman to let
him know the state of the Regiment and that it was through ill usage upon the[Pg
50] Score of Provisions that they would not extend their term of service to the 1st of
Other letters to Hale from New London friends, among them one from an officer absent
on furlough, speak freely of the anxieties of those watching the progress of the
reënlistments, and the home reception that would be given to any leaving the army.
Another letter from Saltonstall reads as follows:
NEW LONDON Decr. 18th 1775
I wholly agree with you in ye. agreables of a Camp Life, and should have try'd
it in some Capacity or other before now, could my Father carry on his
Business without me. I proposed going with Dudley, who is appointed to
Commn. a Twenty-Gun Ship in the Continental Navy, but my Father is not
willing, and I can't persuade myself to leave him in the eve of Life against his
Yesterday week the Town was in the greatest confusion imaginable; Women
wringing their Hands along Street, Children crying, Carts loaded 'till nothing
more would stick on, posting out of Town, empty ones driving in, one Person
running this way, another that, some dull, some vex'd, more pleased, some
flinging up an Intrenchment, some at the Fort preparing ye Guns for Action,
Drums beating, Fifes playing; in short as great a Hubbub as at the confusion of
Tongues; all of this occasioned by the appearance of a Ship and two Sloops off
the Harbour, Suppos'd to be part of Wallace's Fleet,—When they were found
to be Friends, Vessels from New Port with Passengers ye consternation
A postscript runs as follows:
The young girls, B. Coit, S. and P. Belden [Hale's pupils] have frequently desired their
Compliments to Master, but I've never thought of mentioning it till now. You must write
something in your next by way of P.S. that I may shew it them.
Favored by copies of these letters by Saltonstall, one must regret all the more that so few
of Hale's own letters have been discovered, ten being the limit. Within a comparatively
short period, however, some sixty more records—mostly letters written to Hale—have
come to light, preserved, as it is now seen, by the same "orderly care" that marked his
interest in all the correspondence of his friends.
In them are expressed, in letter after letter, the affectionate interest and warm admiration
of the writers. It is now said that Hale kept these letters with him down to the date of his
tragic mission. We can easily imagine the glow of satisfaction that must have filled his
brotherly soul in the few spare moments he could devote to these letters.
Brief extracts are made from his diary, fortunately preserved for evidence as to his work
and growing interest in the duties he had entered upon. The diary was found in the
camp-book brought to[Pg 52] his family by Asher Wright, Hale's attendant in camp
before he left New York.
In the diary, under date of November 19, 1775, this entry is made:
" ... Robert Latimer the Majrs Son went to Roxbury to day on his way home. The
Majr who went there to day and ... return'd this eveng bt acts that the Asia Man of War
Station'd at N. York was taken by a Schooner arm'd with Spear's &c.... This account not
A month after the return from camp mentioned above, Robert Latimer wrote to Captain
Hale, his former teacher, the following interesting and diverting letter:
As I think myself under the greatest obligations to you for your care and
kindness to me, I should think myself very ungrateful if I neglected any
oppertunity of expressing my gratitude to you for the same. And I rely on that
goodness, I have so often experienc'd to overlook the deficiencies in my
Letter, which I am sensible will be many as maturity of Judgment is wanting,
and tho' I have been so happy as to be favour'd with your instructions, you
can't Sir, expect a finish'd letter from one who has as yet practis'd but very
little this way, especially with persons of your nice discernment.
Sir, I have had the pleasure of hearing by the soldiers, which is come home,
that you are in health, tho' likely to be deserted by all the men you carried
down with you,[Pg 53] which I am very sorry for, as I think no man of any
spirit would desert a cause in which, we are all so deeply interested. I am sure
was my Mammy willing I think I should prefer being with you, to all the
pleasures which the company of my Relations Can afford me.
I am Sir with respect yr Sincere friend
& very H'ble St
Decbr 20th 1775—
P. S. My Mammy and aunt Lamb presents Complimts. My Mammy would
have wrote, but being very busy, tho't my writing would be sufficient—my
respects to Capt Hull. Addressed to Capt. Hale.
Here is a second letter from the same ardent friend of Captain Hale. His admiration for
his former teacher is evident in every line.
NEW LONDON, March 5th 1776
as my letter meet with such kind reception from you, I still continue writing &
hope that the desire I have of improving, added to the pleasure, I take in
hearing often from so good a friend, will sufficiently excuse me for writing so
often—I Recdyour kind letter Sr pr the post & cant deny but your approbation,
of my writing, gives me the greatest pleasure, & should be afraid of its
raisg my pride; did I not consider that your intention in praising my poor
performance, must be with a design, of raising in me an ambition, to
endeavour to deserve your praise—& I hope that instructions convey'd in such
an agreeable manner, will not, be thrown away upon me—You write Sr that
you have got another Fifer, & a very good one too, as I hear.[Pg 54]Which I
am very Glad to hear, tho' I sincerely wish I was in his Place—
Have not any News.
So will Conclude—I am Sr
with Respect Yr friend & S't,
P. S. My Mammy & Aunt
Present Compts &c—
Only one thought dims the pleasure with which we read these two letters,—the
consciousness of the depth of distress that must have filled that loyal boy's heart to
overflowing when he learned of the tragic death of his hero friend.
Two notable records from Captain Hale's diary are these:
November 6. It is of the utmost importance that an officer should be anxious to know his
duty, but of greater that he should carefully perform what he does know. The present
irregular state of the army is owing to a capital neglect in both of these.
November 7. Studied ye best method of forming a Reg't for a review, of
arraying the Companies, also of marching round ye reviewing Officer. A man
ought never to lose a moment's time. If he put off a thing from one minute to
the next, his reluctance is but increased.
Later in November, when the men in his company were unwilling to reënlist, this
notable entry was made, signed with his full name:[Pg 55]
28, Tuesday. Promised the men if they would tarry another month, they should have my
wages for that time.
These brief quotations, proving as they do Hale's intense devotion to duty, and his
practical efforts to hold his men to their duty, show how clearly he understood the
tremendous responsibility resting upon the commander-in-chief as given in Washington's
own words in letters to friends and to Congress, soon to be quoted; and that, known or
unknown to Washington, there were men among his officers fully aware of the condition
of the army, and as anxious to serve it as was their magnificent leader.
We here quote from Washington's letters; the first one was written to a friend:
I know the unhappy predicament in which I stand; I know that much is expected of me; I
know that without men, without arms, without ammunition, without anything fit for the
accommodation of a soldier, little is to be done, and what is mortifying, I know that I
cannot stand justified to the world without exposing my own weakness, and injuring the
cause, by declaring my wants which I am determined not to do farther than unavoidable
necessity brings every man acquainted with them. My situation is so irksome to me at
times, that if I did not consult the public good more than my own tranquillity, I should
long ere this have put everything on the cast of a die. So far[Pg 56] from my having an
army of twenty thousand men, well armed, I have been here with less than half that
number, including sick, furloughed, and on command; and those neither armed nor
clothed as they should be. In short, my situation has been such, that I have been obliged
to conceal it from my own officers.
The second letter was written to Congress:
To make men well acquainted with the duties of a soldier, requires time. To bring them
under proper discipline and subordination, not only requires time, but is a work of great
difficulty; and in this army where there is so little distinction between officers and
soldiers, requires an uncommon degree of attention. To expect, then, the same service
from raw and undisciplined recruits, as from veteran soldiers, is to expect what never
did, and perhaps never will happen.
On the 23d of December, 1775, Hale began his first and only trip to Connecticut for the
sake of securing additional enlistments. If on this one visit home he became engaged—
as some have believed—to the woman he had so long loved, now a widow of about
nineteen, Alice Adams Ripley, we may infer that love brightened his embassy even
though patriotism inspired it. No record remains of the glorified hours he may have
spent in Coventry. We have good reason to believe that, if he survived the war, he
expected to[Pg 57] marry the woman he had so faithfully loved. After a few brief days in
his home, he left it, never to return, speeding on his way to serve his country's needs.
If this new zest entered his life at this time, we can easily imagine as he fared on,
striving to arouse his countrymen to their duty as patriots, that the happiest hours of his
life were urging him forward to the most perfect service he could render in the present,
and to unlimited hopes and ambitions for the future he might well expect was awaiting
him. Crowned by human love, and with unlimited opportunities to serve his country,
who can tell by what "vision splendid" he was "on his way attended"? Who can help
rejoicing that such days, brief as they were, and uplifting as they must have been, were
given to this man, now past twenty?
Details concerning that trip are scanty. We know for a certainty that, starting from camp
December 23, 1775, he returned to it the last week in January, 1776, having been in New
London and other places seeking recruits, and going back with the recruits he himself
had secured, joined by others coming from the various towns in Connecticut, and all
heading toward the camp around Boston.
He received his commission as captain in the[Pg 58] new army in January, being still in
Colonel Webb's regiment, which now became the Nineteenth of the Continental Army.
For a few weeks he followed the routine of his earlier months there, doing all that was
possible to assist his brother officers in perfecting the discipline of the raw troops,
deepening their patriotism, and proving himself a soldier as devoid of fear as he was rich
in all manly qualities. Not a word of regret can be found in his diary. Acknowledging in
a letter to a former pupil, Miss Betsey Christophers of New London, that the novelty and
glamour of camp life had worn off, he asserts, with intense ardor, that nothing would
tempt him to "accept a furlough" or shrink in any manner from any of his duties as a
soldier. And so the weeks passed on.
During the winter heavy cannon from Fort Ticonderoga had been brought through the
snows over the Green Mountains. The cannon were placed on Dorchester Heights which
commanded the British camp, thus compelling the British general to choose between
attacking the American army and evacuating the city. In a letter written in April, 1776, to
his half-brother, John Augustine, Washington wrote thus regarding this time:
The enemy ... apprehending great annoyance from our new works, resolved upon a
retreat, and accordingly,[Pg 59] on the 17th (March) embarked in as much hurry,
precipitation and confusion as ever troops did ... leaving the King's property in Boston to
the amount, as is supposed, of thirty or forty thousand pounds in provisions and stores.
Washington's victory in this maneuver, his first great success, tremendously cheered the
hearts of all patriotic Americans. Congress gave him a vote of thanks, also a gold medal
—"the first in the history of independent America"—in commemoration of the event.
Here again we catch a glimpse of the delight that must have thrilled the hearts of all his
officers, not least among them that of Nathan Hale. But Washington, proving himself in
these earlier events, as he was to, year after year, through successive discouragements,
"the first in war," turned toward New York as his next base.[Pg 60]
HALE'S ZEAL AS A SOLDIER
In the letter just quoted, Washington wrote further:
"Whither they [the enemy] are now bound,... I know not, but as New York and Hudson's
River are the most important objects they can have in view ... therefore as soon as they
embarked, I detached a brigade of six regiments to that government and when they
sailed another brigade composed of the same number, and tomorrow another brigade of
five regiments will march. In a day or two more, I shall follow myself, and be in New
York ready to receive all but the first."
Uncertain as to his power to hold New York, Washington promptly took the next step
that appeared open to him, carrying in his heart a heavy weight of care, and realizing, as
perhaps no other man did, that only divine assistance could give him final success. He
was bent upon a desperate mission, but to it, with sublime patience, he gave every
energy of his masterly mind, and the entire consecration of all that he possessed.
Well was it for him that the power which con[Pg 61]trols nations was quietly working
with him. Well, also, that in his army were men ready for any enterprise of danger, for
any sacrifice that duty might demand.
Washington proceeded to New York, to ultimate victory, to final and permanent fame.
Nathan Hale went also, simply as a captain of a Connecticut company,—he not to
victory, not to immediate fame, but to something higher in one sense than either victory
or fame, and to a service well worth a man's doing.
Nathan Hale belonged to the first brigade dispatched to New York—that of General
Heath. After rapid marching, considering the state of the roads, "Hale found himself"
(March 26th) "for the third time" among his New London friends. The next day they
"embarked in high spirits on fifteen transports and sailed for New York." On March 30th
the troops "disembarked at Turtle Bay, a convenient landing place" near what is now
East 45th Street. Not far from that spot, within six months, Nathan Hale was to win a
victory that time can never dim, even if, for a time, it appeared to have covered his
memory with a pall. But in that landing-day no shadows were apparent,—only hope, and
the zest inevitable in a soldier's life.[Pg 62]
A minor honor was soon to come to Nathan Hale. Late in 1775 Enoch Hale was licensed
to preach. In the summer of 1776 he attended Commencement at New Haven, from July
23 to 26. He makes note in his diary of friends and classmates whom he saw; also that
he obtained the degree of Master of Arts for Nathan and himself. Of the latter his record
is, "Write to brother to tell him I have got him his degree."
One or two more letters of Hale are extant from which only partial extracts have been
made. One that was written on the 3d of June, 1776, we give with more fullness,
omitting only some unimportant clauses. This letter has especial value as an illustration
of the fact that most of us now and then have received letters that seemed casual in
themselves, but have, to our surprise and often to our deep sadness, proved to be
It is not probable that, in the hurried days that followed, further messages were sent to
his grandmother, to his former pastor and beloved teacher, Mr. Huntington, and to his
sister Rose and her family. In the late autumn of 1776, after they had learned his fate,
and in the years that followed, one can easily imagine how precious seemed these
appreciative words, embalming as it were the abiding affection of the man who wrote
them.[Pg 63] Hale's reference to "the Doctor" also recalls the fact that, from the
immediate family of Deacon Richard Hale, five men—three sons, one stepson, and one
son-in-law (Surgeon Rose)—entered the Revolutionary Army; one son dying in 1776,
one son in 1784, his health having been ruined while in the service, and one son in 1802,
his life perhaps shortened by his exposures. Whatever else may have been lacking in that
one family, patriotism certainly was not deficient,—the patriotism that does not count
the cost to one's self, but the gain to one's country.
The following is the letter referred to, written to his brother Enoch:
NEW YORK June 3d 1776
Your Favour of the 9th of May and another written at Norwich I have received
—the first mentioned one the 19th of May ult.
You complain of my neglecting you—It is not, I acknowledge, wholly without
reason—at the same time I am conscious to have written to you more than
once or twice within this half year. Perhaps my letters have miscarried.
Continuance or removal here depends wholly upon the operations of the war.
It gives pleasure to every friend of his country to observe the health which
prevails in our army. Dr. Eli (Surgeon of our Regt.) told me a few days since,
there was not a man in our Regt. but might upon occasion go out with his
Firelock. Much the same is said of other Regiments.[Pg 64]
The army is improving in discipline, and it is hoped will soon be able to meet
the enemy at any kind of play. My company which at first was small, is now
increased to eighty and there is a sergeant recruiting who, I hope, has got the
other ten which completes the company. We are hardly able to judge as to the
numbers the British army for the Summer is to consist of—undoubtedly
sufficient to cause us too much bloodshed.
I had written you a complete letter in answer to your last, but missed the
opportunity of sending it.
This will find you in Coventry—if so remember me to all my friends—
particularly belonging to the Family. Forget not frequently to visit and
strongly to represent my duty to our good Grandmother Strong. Has she not
repeatedly favored us with her tender, most important advice? The natural Tie
is sufficient, but increased by so much goodness, our gratitude cannot be too
I always with respect remember Mr. Huntington and shall write to him if time
admits. Pay Mr. Wright a visit for me. Tell him Asher is well—he has for some
time lived with me as a waiter.... Asher this moment told me that our brother
Joseph Adams was here yesterday to see me, when I happened to be out of the
way. He is in Col. Parson's Regt. I intend to see him to-day and if possible by
exchanging get him into my company.
P. S. Sister Rose talked of making me some Linen cloth similar to Brown
Holland for Summer wear. If she has made it, desire her to keep it for me. My
love to her, the Doctor, and little Joseph.
As Washington had supposed probable, the English decided upon the occupation of New
York. In July and August the largest army ever collected in one body upon the American
continent prior to 1861, an English army numbering nearly thirty-two thousand men,
with a formidable fleet and large munitions of war, gathered at Staten Island.
Washington, in the meantime, was occupying a portion of Brooklyn and a portion of the
city of New York, fortifying each place and preparing to defend it to the extent of his
ability with his small army, never so well fed nor so thoroughly disciplined as that of the
Human wisdom would have assumed that the British army would soon succeed in
restoring English control; but the best-laid plans miscarry, and a power interposes that
helps the weaker and hinders the stronger army.
The English did their best to be ready for the coming conflict, and we know that
Washington spared no pains in preparing for the worst that might come.
On August 20, Nathan Hale wrote the following letter to his brother Enoch—the last
letter that he ever wrote, so far as we know, to reach its destination. It shows that his
heart was absorbed in the duties of the conflict he was sharing, and it[Pg 66] also shows
how wholly he was leaving the ultimate issue to a higher power.
NEW YORK, August 20, 1776.
I have only time for a hasty letter. Our situation this fortnight or more has been
such as scarce to admit of writing. We have daily expected an action—by
which means, if any one was going and we had letters written, orders were so
strict for our tarrying in camp that we could rarely get leave to go and deliver
them. For about 6 or 8 days the enemy have been expected hourly, whenever
the wind and tide in the least favored. We keep a particular lookout for them
this morning. The place and manner of our attack time must determine. The
event we leave to Heaven. Thanks to God! We have had time for completing
our works and receiving our reinforcements. The Militia of Connecticut
ordered this way are mostly arrived. Col. Ward's Regiment has got in. Troops
from the southward are daily coming. We hope under God to give account of
the enemy whenever they choose to make the last appeal.
Last Friday night, two of our fire vessels (a Sloop and Schooner) made an
attempt upon the shipping up the river. The night was too dark, the wind too
slack for the attempt. The Schooner which was intended for one of the Ships
had got by before she discovered them; but as Providence would have it, she
run athwart a bomb-catch, which she quickly burned. The Sloop by the light of
the former discovered the Ph[oe]nix—but rather too late—however she made
shift to grapple her, but the wind not proving sufficient to bring her close
alongside, or drive the flames immediately on board, the Ph[oe]nix after much
difficulty got her clear by[Pg 67] cutting her own rigging. Sergt. Fosdick, who
commanded the above sloop, and four of his hands were of my company, the
remaining two were of this Regt. The Genl. has been pleased to reward their
bravery with forty Dollars each, except the last man that quitted the fire-sloop
who had fifty. Those on board the Schooner received the same.
I must write to some of my other brothers lest you should not be at home.
Your friend &c
BROTHER NA. HALE.
MR. ENOCH HALE.
Aside from this letter, the following brief quotations from his diary are all that remain to
us in the handwriting of Nathan Hale. Till he lays down his pen for the last time we see
him absorbed in the cares and duties of the life about him, fearlessly facing whatever
remains to him of life and service.
Aug. 21st. Heavy storm at Night. Much and heavy Thunder. Capt. Van Wyke, and a
Lieut, and Ens. of Colo. McDougall's Regt. killed by a Shock. Likewise one man in
town, belonging to a Militia Regt. of Connecticut. The Storm continued for two or three
hours, for the greatest part of which time [there] was a perpetual Lightning, and the
sharpest I ever knew.
22d. Thursday. The enemy landed some troops down at the Narrows on Long
23d. Friday. Enemy landed more troops—News that they had marched up and
taken Station near Flatbush, their advce Gds [advance guards] being on this
side near the Woods—that some of our Rifle-men attacked and[Pg 68] drove
them back from their post, burnt 2 stacks of hay, and it was thought killed
some of them—this about 12 O'clock at Night. Our troops attacked them at
their station near Flatb. [Flatbush], routed and drove them back 1½ mile.
One of the facts most perplexing to General Washington was what appeared to be Sir
William Howe's delay in making an attack. Indeed, to an outsider unfamiliar with
military tactics, Howe's conduct resembles the cruel pleasure a cat sometimes takes in
tormenting a mouse that it knows cannot escape. The uncertainty as to what the next
British move might be caused much anxiety. Remembering that Howe's force had
arrived the last of June, one sees how leisurely must have been his preparations for
attack, and how assured his hope of victory.
The expected attack occurred on August 27. The Americans were defeated and driven
within their works, their losses being great, especially in prisoners. The Nineteenth
Regiment was held in reserve, but Captain Hull wrote that they were near enough to
witness the carnage among their fellow-soldiers.
The night after the battle the enemy encamped within a few hundred yards of the
defeated Americans. On the 29th Washington decided upon a retreat to New York, and it
was effected that[Pg 69] night. If the English had suspected that the Americans were
withdrawing their forces from Brooklyn, it is easy to imagine the carnage that would
have ensued. So great was Washington's anxiety at this time that he is said not to have
slept during forty-eight hours, and rarely to have dismounted from his horse.
One account of the retreat is as follows: "A disadvantageous wind and rain at first
prevented the troops from embarking, and it was feared that the retreat could not be
effected that night. But about eleven o'clock a favorable breeze sprung up, the tide
turned in the right direction, and about two o'clock in the morning, a thick fog arose
which hung over Long Island, while on the New York side it was clear. During the night,
the whole American army, nine thousand in number, Washington embarking last of all,
with all the artillery, such heavy ordnance as was of any value, ammunition, provision,
cattle, horses, carts, and everything of importance, passed safely over.
"All this was effected without the knowledge of the British, although the enemy were so
nigh that they were heard at work with their pickaxes and shovels. In half an hour after
the lines were finally abandoned, the fog cleared off and the enemy were seen taking
possession of the American works. One[Pg 70] boat on the river, ... within reach of the
enemy's fire, was obliged to return; she had only three men in her, who had loitered
behind to plunder."
That opportune appearance of the fog must have seemed, to more than one devout heart,
as helpful as some of the remarkable interpositions of Providence described in the old
Hale's company, with its many seamen, rendered effective service in this passage from
Long Island. Every student of history, and especially of military history, can recall
certain decisive hours in momentous battles when some utterly unforeseen event has
entirely changed the face of affairs, and given the victory into unexpected hands; thus, a
mistake in the understanding of a phrase used by his captors made André a prisoner, and
saved the capture of West Point by the English; while Waterloo, Gettysburg, and many
another decisive battle has hinged on seeming chance,—chance truly, if there is no
power working for righteousness among the affairs of nations.
The position of the American army, however, now appeared more perilous than ever.
Two war vessels had moved up the East River and were followed by others. Active
movements among the British troops were reported by all the scouts, but the enemy's
designs could not be penetrated.[Pg 71]
A PERILOUS SERVICE
Writing of these events afterward, Captain Hull said, "It was evident that the superior
force of the British would soon give them possession of New York. The Commander-in-
chief, therefore, took a position at Fort Washington at the other end of the island. To
ascertain the further object of the enemy was now a subject of anxious inquiry with
In a letter to General Heath at this crisis Washington wrote as follows: "As everything in
a manner depends upon obtaining intelligence of the enemy's motions, I do most
earnestly entreat you and General Clinton to exert yourselves to accomplish this most
desirable end. Leave no stone unturned, nor do not stick at expense, to bring this to pass,
as I never was more uneasy than on account of my want of knowledge on this score."
Johnston, in his valuable "Life of Nathan Hale," says: "If he [Washington] had been
anxious to fathom Howe's plans before the latter began the[Pg 72] campaign from Staten
Island, he was infinitely more so now. It was not enough to keep a ceaseless watch
across the East river.... Like every other commander in history, all through the contest he
came to depend much on intelligence gained through the 'secret service.'"
Stuart, the earliest reliable biographer of Hale, in writing of spies says: "The exigency of
the American army which we have just described, would not permit the employment, in
the service proposed, of any ordinary soldier, unpracticed in military observation and
without skill as a draughtsman,—least of all of the common mercenary, to whom,
allured by the hope of a large reward, such tasks are usually assigned. Accurate
estimates of the numbers of the enemy, of their distribution, of the form and position of
their various encampments, of their marchings and countermarchings, of the
concentration at one point or another, of the instruments of war, but more than all of
their plan of attack, as derived from the open report or the unguarded whispers in camp
of officers or men,—estimates of all these things, requiring a quick eye, a cool head, a
practical pencil, military science, general intelligence, and pliable address, were to be
made. The common soldier would not answer the purpose, and the mercenary might
yield to the[Pg 73] higher seductions of the enemy, and betray his employers."
During the war with the French and Indians, American officers had learned the need of
trained men who could keep the commanders informed both of the movements and of
the plans of the opposing forces. Washington had learned this unforgetable lesson in
Braddock's campaign, and, as full commander and wholly responsible not only for the
immediate safety but for the future success of his little army, he realized the necessity of
obtaining the most accurate information possible.
A corps collected from the best men in the army was organized, and its command was
given to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton. He had gained experience as a ranger in
the French and Indian War, and was noted for his coolness, skill, and bravery at Bunker
Hill. One hundred and fifty men and twenty officers were considered sufficient for the
work assigned to this special corps, known as Knowlton's Rangers. They were divided
into four companies. Two of the captains of these men were chosen from Knowlton's
own regiment; the other two—one of them Nathan Hale—were from other companies.
There can be little doubt that Nathan Hale was proud of his enrollment in this brave
After Hale's services were ended, one brief record remained of "moneys due to the
Company of Rangers commanded late by Captain Hale." After the 1st of September,
about which time this company of Rangers was organized, it was constantly on duty
wherever its services were required, and one can easily imagine Nathan Hale's
enthusiasm in his enlarged duties.
Knowlton spoke to some of his officers of the wishes of the commanding general for
some one to enter upon this special secret service,—wishes that so appealed to Hale that
he at once seriously considered offering himself for the hazardous undertaking.
Captain Hull, two years his senior in age, and one year in advance of him in Yale, a close
friend while in college and during their subsequent days, shall describe the personal
interview between himself and Captain Hale in regard to this matter. It is said that many
remonstrated with Hale at his decision, but Hull's statement shows the arguments of a
practical man against which Hale had to contend.
In his memoirs Captain Hull writes thus of his last interview with Captain Hale:
"After his interview with Col. Knowlton, he repaired to my quarters and informed me of
what had passed. He remarked 'I think I owe to my[Pg 75] country the accomplishment
of an object so important, and so much desired by the commander of her armies—and I
know of no other mode of obtaining the information than by assuming a disguise and
passing into the enemy's camp.'
"He asked my candid opinion. I replied that it was an act which involved serious
consequences, and the propriety of it was doubtful; and though he viewed the business
of a spy as a duty, yet he could not officially be required to perform it; that such a
service was not claimed of the meanest soldier, though many might be willing, for a
pecuniary compensation, to engage in it; and as for himself, the employment was not in
keeping with his character. His nature was too frank and open for deceit and disguise,
and he was incapable of acting a part equally foreign to his feelings and habits.
Admitting that he was successful, who would wish success at such a price? Did his
country demand the moral degradation of her sons, to advance her interests?
"Stratagems are resorted to in war; they are feints and evasions, performed under no
disguise; are familiar to commanders; form a part of their plans, and, considered in a
military view, lawful and advantageous. The tact with which they are executed exacts
admiration from the enemy. But[Pg 76] who respects the character of a spy, assuming
the garb of friendship but to betray? The very death assigned him is expressive of the
estimation in which he is held. As soldiers, let us do our duty in the field; contend for
our legitimate rights, and not stain our honor by the sacrifice of integrity. And when
present events, with all their deep and exciting interests, shall have passed away, may
the blush of shame never arise, by the remembrance of an unworthy though successful
act, in the performance of which we were deceived by the belief that it was sanctioned
by its object. I ended by saying that, should he undertake the enterprise, his short, bright
career would close with an ignominious death.
"He replied, 'I am fully sensible of the consequences of discovery and capture in such a
situation. But for a year I have been attached to the army, and have not rendered any
material service, while receiving a compensation for which I make no return. Yet,' he
continued, 'I am not influenced by the expectation of promotion or pecuniary reward. I
wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good, becomes
honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar
service, its claims to perform that service are imperative!'[Pg 77]
"He spoke with warmth and decision. I replied, 'That such are your wishes cannot be
doubted. But is this the most effectual mode of carrying them into execution? In the
progress of the war there will be ample opportunity to give your talents and your life,
should it be so ordered, to the sacred cause to which we are pledged. You can bestow
upon your country the richest benefits, and win for yourself the highest honours. Your
exertions for her interests will be daily felt, while, by one fatal act, you crush forever the
power and opportunity Heaven offers for her glory and your happiness.'
"I urged him for the love of country, for the love of kindred, to abandon an enterprise
which would only end in the sacrifice of the dearest interests of both. He paused—then
affectionately taking my hand, he said, 'I will reflect, and do nothing but what duty
demands.' He was absent from the army, and I feared he had gone to the British lines to
execute his fatal purpose."
Just how soon after this conversation Captain Hale left camp on his perilous mission,
cannot now be determined. We only know that it must have been early in September,
during the first week or ten days. He proceeded with Sergeant Hempstead by the safest
route, and reached Nor[Pg 78]walk before finding a place to cross Long Island Sound.
Sergeant Hempstead alone has furnished the few details of Captain Hale's final
preparations. He had decided to assume civilian's dress, probably that of an educated
man seeking employment as tutor among the Americans still living in New York.
Hempstead says he was dressed in a brown suit of citizen's clothes, with a round, broad-
brimmed hat. On parting he gave Hempstead his private papers and letters, and his silver
shoebuckles, to take care of for him.
It is, we think, not an undue inference that the letters and private papers he left in
Hempstead's care were all to be sent to his family. These doubtless included personal
letters to them, for no man such as we know Nathan Hale to have been would have faced
a journey from which he might never return without some words of explanation, and
possible farewell, to those he loved at home. There is one fact that all who believe in the
sanctity of personal confidences and possible farewells will be glad to remember,—that
not one private word from Nathan Hale to Alice Adams Ripley, or from her to him, has
ever been exploited to satisfy the curiosity of those who have no right to share it.
Hempstead left Captain Hale, who, now fully[Pg 79] committed to his hazardous quest,
set forth on the armed sloop Schuyler with Captain Pond—one of the captains in the
19th Regiment—in command, across the Sound to Long Island. When he landed Captain
Hale said farewell to the last American friend he was to be with, so far as we have any