“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”

On this day 237 years ago, September 22, 1776, American patriot Nathan Hale was hanged on the order of British General William Howe, at a spot near where Central Park is today in New York City.  As a British soldier was about the loop the rope around his neck Nathan Hale spoke:  “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  With those words Nathan Hale took his place as an icon of American history.  Bill Bennett’s American Patriots’ Almanac has the details:

Nathan Hale was teaching school in New London, Connecticut, when the American Revolution began. In July 1775 he closed his schoolhouse doors and joined the Patriot army. He was a captain by late 1776, when the British captured New York City. George Washington desperately needed to know the strength and position of the king’s forces, so he asked for a volunteer to go behind enemy lines to gather information. Nathan Hale stepped forward.

Changing his uniform for a plain suit of brown clothes and taking his Yale diploma in hand, Hale disguised himself as a schoolteacher. He slipped through the British lines and gathered the needed information, which he carefully recorded in Latin and hid under the soles of his shoes. His mission accomplished, he began to make his way back. He got past all the British guards except the last ones. They stopped him, searched, and found the secret papers. Nathan Hale was arrested and carried before the British commander, General William Howe.

Howe took one look at the young American in civilian clothes, realized he was a spy, and ordered that he be hung hanged the next morning.

The next several hours were cruel, lonely ones for Nathan Hale. He asked for a minister. His jailor refused. He asked for a Bible. That, too, was denied.

On the morning of September 22, 1776, Hale was led to a spot not far from what is now Central Park in New York City. The British officers who saw him marveled at his calmness and dignity. In the end he stood straight and unflinching. No American can ever forget the words he uttered before they slipped the noose around his neck: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

I took the liberty of making a correction in the above.  Some intern educated in public schools may have written part of it, or perhaps edited it, because I’m pretty sure Bill Bennett knows that pictures are “hung”, and people are “hanged.”

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