Monday 22 September 2014

"I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country": The Execution of Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale (Coventry, Connecticut, America, 6th June 1755 – New York, America, 22nd September 1776)

Statue of Nathan Hale

Once again today we find ourselves in the land of my colonial gentleman's birth and, in fact in the very state from which he hails. This is not a happy occasion though, as we are here to mark the execution of Nathan Hale, a Yale graduate executed by the British for espionage after being apprehended during an intelligence-gathering mission that ended in failure.

Apprehended by the British whilst seeking information, Hale was brought before General William Howe. A cursory search of the Captain revealed sketches of fortifications, notes and other intelligence information and Hale admitted to his mission, knowing the game was up. Immediately upon learning of his purpose, General Howe sentenced Hale to execution by hanging the following morning and the young man was taken to his temporary prison.

In fact, he spent the night before his execution held in a greenhouse at Beekman House, Howe's Manhattan home. With no hope of clemency, he awaited the coming dawn with stoicism, preparing himself for that final day. The prisoner's requests first for a clergyman and then for a copy of the Bible were refused and instead Hale resigned himself to a long, no doubt unhappy night.

Early in the morning of 22nd September, 1776, Hale composed two final letters, writing one to his mother and one to a fellow officer. As eleven o'clock on that Autumn morning he walked along Post Road to the Park of Artillery with dignity and composure. Here he made a short speech, the content of which has been discussed ever since, went calmly to the noose and passed into American history.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Well, he WAS spying. Still, it was a bit low of them not to let him have the bible and preacher.

Catherine Curzon said...

It was a bit!

Brenda M. Cook said...

I agree with Sue. He knew the game. He gambled and lost. But to deny him spiritual comfort - that is just plain spiteful. He was a brave man and an honourable enemy. They didn't do that to hardened criminals in Newgate!

Catherine Curzon said...

I agree on all counts; a needlessly petty act!

Brenda M. Cook said...

They've got the details right in the statue - rope round the elbows, hands free. That is how the hanged were pinioned in the 18th C. A lot of artists / film producers don't get these details right.

marianne said...

forgive my ignorance but what was in the speech...that was so discussable ?