The British hang spy Nathan Hale in New York City.
Nathan Hale as depicted in bronze (1890) by Frederick William MacMonnies at the Brooklyn Museum
Nathan Hale appeared on US postage stamps issued in 1925 and 1929. The likeness is from a statue by Bela Lyon Pratt.
Statue by Bela Pratt at the Tribune Tower, Chicago.
In 1769, 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 Linonian Society of Yale, which debated topics in astronomy, mathematics, literature, and the ethics of slavery. Nathan graduated with first-class honors in 1773 at age 18 and became a teacher, first in East Haddam and later in New London.
Having made a pro-independence speech in New London following the Battle of Lexington, Hale was appointed a lieutenant by the General Assembly of Connecticut on July 1, 1775. He participated in the siege of Boston and was chosen by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton as a captain of the Knowlton Rangers.
After the British had occupied both Long Island and Staten Island, General George Washington in New York City found himself in desperate need of accurate intelligence. He asked Knowlton to call for a volunteer among his Ranger officers to enter the British lines in disguise. Hale was the only officer willing to undertake a mission so dangerous that even after he had volunteered his friend Captain (later General) William Hull sought to dissuade him. Hale persisted, however, telling Hull that in a year of active duty he felt he had "not rendered any material service." Accompanied only by Sgt. Stephen Hempstead, Hale left the Continental Army about September 12, 1776, and boarded an American schooner at Norwalk, Conn. Here he left his sergeant, changed to civilian clothes, and crossed to Huntington, Long Island. On September 15 the British drove Washington out of New York, and Hale realized that their Long Island dispositions were no longer important but that Washington still needed intelligence of dispositions and field fortifications on Manhattan. He boldly followed the enemy into the city and had completed his survey when, some time on the night of September 21, he was seized, probably near the east end of what is now 111th Street.
Taken before General William Howe, Hale admitted he was an American officer. Howe, though admiring his courage, ordered him hanged, without court-martial, the following morning. Hale's body probably still lies somewhere in the east side of midtown Manhattan. His tragedy was due to the inexperience of the Continental Army in intelligence, he was untrained and was given no code, cipher, or other means of communication.