Nathan Hale (June 6, 1755 – September 22, 1776) was a soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission in New York City but was captured by the British and hanged. He is probably best remembered for his purported last words before being hanged: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Hale has long been considered an American hero and, in 1985, he was officially designated the state hero of Connecticut.
Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut, in 1755 to Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong. In 1768, when he was fourteen years old, he was sent with his brother Enoch, who was sixteen, to Yale College. Nathan was a classmate of fellow patriot spy Benjamin Tallmadge. The Hale brothers belonged to the Yale literary fraternity, Linonia, which debated topics in astronomy, mathematics, literature, and the ethics of slavery. Graduating with first-class honors in 1772 at age 18, Nathan became a teacher, first in East Haddam and later in New London.
After the Revolutionary War began in 1775, he joined a Connecticut militia and was elected first lieutenant. When his militia unit participated in the Siege of Boston, Hale remained behind. It has been suggested that he was unsure as to whether or not he wanted to fight – or perhaps it was because his teaching contract in New London did not expire until several months later, in July 1775. On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from a classmate and friend, Benjamin Tallmadge. Tallmadge, who had gone to Boston to see the Siege for himself, wrote to Hale, “Was I in your condition..I think the more extensive Service would be my choice. Our holy Religion, the honour of our God, a glorious country, & a happy constitution is what we have to defend.” Tallmadge’s letter was so inspiring that several days later, Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Charles Webb of Stamford. In the following spring, the army moved to Manhattan to prevent the British from taking over New York City. In September, General Washington was desperate to determine the upcoming location of the British invasion of Manhattan Island. Washington sought to do this by sending a spy behind enemy lines – Hale was the only volunteer. Still having not physically fought in war yet, Hale saw this as a crucial opportunity to fight for the patriotic cause.