‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country’ -Nathan Hale, 21-year-old patriot via American Minute
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” were the last words of 21-year-old American patriot Nathan Hale, who was hanged by the British without a trial on SEPTEMBER 22, 1776.A Yale graduate, 1773, he almost became a Christian minister, as his brother Enoch did, but instead became a teacher at Union Grammar School.
On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from his Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge, who was now General Washington’s chief intelligence officer:
“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.”
Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Charles Webb of Stamford.
The following Spring, they joined the Continental Army’s effort to prevent the British from taking New York City.
General Washington was desperate to know where the British planned to invade Manhattan Island, writing on September 6, 1776:
“We have not been able to obtain the least information on the enemy’s plans.”
Fellow officer Captain William Hull attempted to talk him out it, but Hale responded:
General William Howe ordered him to be hanged the next morning.
Hale wrote a letter to his mother and brother, but the British destroyed them, not wanting it known a man could die with such firmness.
He asked for a Bible, but was refused.
The Essex Journalstated of Nathan Hale, February 13, 1777:
Nathan Hale may have drawn inspiration for his last words “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” from the well-known English play “Cato,” written by Joseph Addison in 1712, as Hale had been involved in theater while a student at Yale:
Cato (95-46 BC), was a leader during the last days of the Roman Republic who championed individual liberty against government tyranny; representative republican government against a despotic dictatorship; and logic over emotion.
Attempting to prevent Julius Caesar from becoming a dictator, Cato was know for his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his distaste for corruption.
George Washington had the play “Cato” performed for the Continental Army while they were encamped at Valley Forge.
“He was undoubtedly pious; for it was remark’d that when any of the soldiers of his company were sick he always visited them & usually prayed for & with them in their sickness.”
Nathan Hale’s nephew was Massachusetts Governor Edward Everett, who spoke at the dedication of the Battlefield right before Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.
“We are God’s children, you and I, and we have our duties…Thank God I come from men who are not afraid in battle.”
“So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
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