- Historic Sites
The Last Days And Valiant Death Of Nathan Hale
April 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 3
The next day a kind-hearted British officer, Captain John Montresor, approached the American lines under a flag of truce to report the inevitable denouement. Captain Hull recorded Montresor’s words: …Hale at once declared his name, his rank in the American army, and his object in coming within the British lines. Sir William Howe, without the form of a trial, gave orders for his execution the following morning. He was placed in the custody of the Provost Marshal, who was…hardened to human suffering and every softening sentiment of the heart. Captain Hale, alone, without sympathy or support, save that from above, on the near approach of death asked for a clergyman to attend him. It was refused. He then requested a Bible; that too was refused by his inhuman jailer. On the morning of his execution…my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters…He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
•A brief excerpt from a letter written at Coventry, Connecticut, the following spring by Nathan Hale’s father, Richard, who had six sons altogether in the Revolution, betrays the deep grief of this unlettered man: …you desired me to inform you about my son Nathan…he was executed about the 22 nd of September Last by the Aconts we have had. A Child I sot much by but he is gone…
•This letter, addressed to Richard Hale’s brother, Major Samuel Hale, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on March 28, 1777, was put away in a secret drawer of the Major’s desk. In 1908, the old desk was sold at auction as an antique, and three years later the new owner, the Honorable Frank L. Howe of Barrington, New Hampshire, chanced upon it. Such is the thrill of historical discovery.