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Nathan Hale: An Early American Hero


“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Legend holds that those were the final words of an American patriot named Nathan Hale before he was executed by the British on September 22, 1776.

Hale was a graduate of Yale University and a Connecticut schoolteacher. Above all, he was a dedicated soldier in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

A statue of Hale at his Alma Mater of Yale. (Photo:

Five of Hale’s brothers fought the British during the opening engagement of the war at Lexington and Concord. Shortly after, Hale joined a Connecticut regiment and quickly rose to the rank of captain. He served under General George Washington during a successful siege of British-occupied Boston and remained with the army as the war moved to New York.

On September 10, 1776, Hale volunteered to cross British lines on Long Island to collect intelligence on the position of Redcoat troops. Adopting the disguise of a Dutch schoolmaster, Hale operated behind enemy lines until he was captured while trying to sail back into American-controlled territory on September 21. According to some rumors, “Hale was betrayed by his first cousin and British Loyalist Samuel Hale.” Although this rumor has circulated over the years, the exact circumstances behind Hale’s capture remain unclear.

An illustration of Hale spying on the British. (Photo:

Incriminating papers were found on Hale during his interrogation and British General William Howe ordered his execution for spying. On the morning of September 22, 1776, Hale was led to the gallows where he is said to have delivered his final words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” At 21 years old, Nathan Hale sacrificed himself for the American cause and as General George Washington believed, “The fate of unborn millions.”

Hale’s reported final words might have been inspired by the following lines from English author Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato: “What a pity it is/That we can die but once to serve our country.”

A young patriot admiring a sculpture of Nathan Hale in New York City. (Photo:

From just a few words, we will always know the kind of man that Nathan Hale was. He was bound by honor, duty, and devotion to the American cause until his final minutes on earth. Hale embodied the unbreakable American spirit that has been passed on to all generations of patriots that came after him. So long as we never take this infinite land of opportunity for granted, his sacrifice will live on forever.


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