We can all recite his most famous quote by heart, all the more impressive since it was said just prior to being hung as spy by the British on September 22nd, 1776, making today 


The American Experiment was in its infancy, just 2-1/2 months after the Declaration of Independence made America a united country fighting British domination rather than a series of former colonies vulnerable to being picked off oner by one.

Young Hale had been a soldier in the Revolution for over a year already 1775, joining the 7th Connecticut Regiment, fighting under George Washington as part of the Continental Army. Hale was also a member of Knowlton’s Rangers, America’s first organized intelligence service.

It was as a Ranger that Hale volunteered to spy on the British for General Washington, a mission no one else would attempt. A school teacher by trade, 21-year old Lieutenant Hale was ferried by boat under cover of darkness to behind British lines at Huntington Long Island, disguised as a Dutch schoolteacher looking for work.

His job was to find out when and where the British would strike Manhattan, but that information became moot when the British attacked New York almost immediately upon his deployment, taking Lower Manhattan and pushing American forces north to Harlem Heights.

To make matters worse, Hale was soon betrayed to the British and arrested in Flushing Queens. Transported in chains to Manhattan, he was questioned by General William Howe himself, and 21 year-old Nathan Hale was quickly convicted and sentenced to death as a spy, an obscure spy in the beginning of a long war, a story surely to forgotten, or become a footnote at best.

That changed when Hale uttered one of the most famous quotations of all time when asked if he had any last words: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  These words would not only inspire his compatriots to carry on their improbable revolution against the mighty British Empire, but resonate through time as the true measure of devotion to one’s cause and country.

Nathan Hale never did live to continue his schoolteaching career, but he taught the entire world one important lesson about the power of language to teach and to inspire, and how one man’s words can overcome even his own execution.

Suggested Activities: Letting freedom ring

Scroll to Top