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  American HistoryUnited States: General History and DescriptionThe Revolution, 1775-1783Spying and Espionage

Nathan HaleNathan Hale

the most famous spy of the Revolutionary War

Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on June 6, 1755. After graduating from Yale College in 1773, he taught school for a year at East Haddam, Connecticut, after which he moved to New London, Connecticut.

Commissioned a Lieutenant in July 1775, Hale's courage and daring quickly earned him a promotion to Captain. His resourceful leadership, especially in capturing a small supply-loaded vessel from under the guns of a British warship, won him a small fighting group known as the Rangers. The Rangers were respected for their fighting qualities and for their daring leadership in dangerous missions.

In 1776, following his defeat in the Battle of Long Island, General George Washington asked the Rangers' commander to select a man to pass through the British lines to obtain information on the British position. The commander asked for volunteers, and despite objections from many of his comrades Hale agreed to undertake the dangerous mission. Passing as a Dutch schoolmaster, Hale was able to cross the British lines and obtain the information Washington needed. He was captured as he tried to return to the American lines, however, on September 21. He was subsequently taken before General William Howe, who condemned him to hang as a spy the following day. As he stood before his executioners, Hale made a speech in which he is reported to have said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Although there is no actual evidence that Hale said those exact words, his contemporaries and friends truly believed that he would have likely made such a statement.

A boulder marks Halesite near Huntington, New York, where it is believed Hale was captured. The Nathan Hale Homestead is a landmark in South Coventry, Connecticut.


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This page was last updated on September 18, 2016.

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