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Nathan Hale n.

An asterisk (see also splat, ASCII). Oh, you want an etymology? Notionally, from "I regret that I have only one asterisk for my country!", a misquote of the famous remark uttered by Nathan Hale just before he was hanged. Hale was a (failed) spy for the rebels in the American War of Independence.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

Nathan Hale (1755 - 1776)

Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755 in Coventry, CT. He was born to Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, both were devout Puritans. His father was a farmer, as well as a deacon of his local church. Despite being sick quite often when he was younger, he managed to survive. During his youth, his mother died in childbirth, during the birth of Nathan's sister. His father eventually remarried to Abigail Hale, who continued along Nathan's mother's path of encouraging him at his studies. In 1769, he and his brother, Enoch Hale, were sent to Yale. Nathan was only 14, and his brother only 16. Nathan graduated with first honors in 1773 when he was 18 years old.

After college, he began to teach. Although he taught at more than one school, he ended up teaching at the Union School in New London, CT. He was well liked by students and fellow teachers, and in 1774, he was offered the job of headmaster. He wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to dedicate his whole life to teaching, but in the end he accepted the job. He then joined the local militia, where he was elected 1st sergeant. And in April of 1775, the Revolutionary War began.

After the news of the war reached New London, a town meeting was called. At this meeting Hale is said to have given a speech in which he said, "Let us march immediately and never lay down our arms until we obtain our independence." Shortly thereafter the 7th Connecticut Militia marched towards the sites of the war's early battles. Though there are some discrepancies as to whether or not he went with them immediately or stayed behind to wait for his teaching contract to finish in June, he probably didn't join them immediately. A good friend of his who had gone to witness the battle wrote Nathan a letter on July 4, 1775 advising him to join the war, and shortly after receiving the letter, he did.

He joined as a First Lieutenant serving under Colonel Charles Webb in the 7th Connecticut Regiment. He helped to recruit many men, and was a good officer. When many men in his company wanted to quit the army, Nathan promised his own pay and IOUs to his men if they would only re-enlist. Every single man re-enlisted.

In January of 1776, Nathan became a Captain in the 19th Connecticut. Several men asked to be placed under his command. They were moved to Manhattan, where they stayed for 6 months. However, during his entire year in the army, Hale had not been involved in a single battle. In September, his chance for action came. He was asked to command one of the four companies of the New England Raiders. He was assigned to patrol the shorelines of Manhattan and Westchester. General Washington knew that he couldn't possibly defend the entire coastline of New York by himself. He needed to know exactly where the British would strike. Nathan volunteered to go behind enemy lines disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster and gather this information.

One of Nathan's close friends, Captain William Hull, tried to talk him out of the job, saying that it was a dishonorable thing, and unworthy of a gentleman. He replied, "I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious." And so, he set off and crossed the Long Island Sound onto Long Island. He gathered some information, but it became useless because on the 15th and 16th of September, the British invaded Manhattan. So, Nathan went to New York to see if he could gather any useful information there. He was unsuccessful and returned to Long Island after a few days.

On the 20th of September, 1776, one quarter of New York City was burned, under mysterious circumstances. The British blamed the patriots and were on a heightened alert for suspicious persons. Some historians have even offered the theory that Hale himself was involved in the burning of the city. And on September 21, Nathan was captured by a group of Queens Rangers Lt.Col. Robert Rogers. There have been rumors that Nathan was betrayed by his cousin, Samuel Hale, but Samuel always denied this, and nothing has been proven. He was brought before the British General, William Howe. He admitted his mission and name freely, and was sentenced to die at 11:00 the next morning. He immediately admitted both his name and his mission, at least partially because he had drawings of fortifications and troop positions on his person. He spent the night in a greenhouse and was denied both a bible and a minister.

The next morning, Sunday September 22, 1776, he was first taken to Colonel Montressor's tent. He wrote two letters, one to his brother, and one to his commanding officer. Both were later destroyed by Provost Marshall William Cunningham. Nathan was marched to the Park of Artillery near the Dove Tavern at what is now 66th St. and 3rd Ave. Montressor quoted his final words as "I only regret that I have one life to lose for my country." (Some say that this wasn't actually said, rather only something to that effect, and that the quote was paraphrased from Addison's popular play, Cato). I have also heard it said that his actual quote was "A soldier should follow the orders of his superiors." His body was left hanging for three days as a warning to other patriots. He was then buried in an unmarked grave.

And, in addition to the statue mentioned above, located at City Hall in New York City, there are three others: one in front of the Justice Department building in Washington D.C., one in the Nathan Hale Courtyard at Yale University, and one in front of the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

Nathan Hale is also my name. (See Adventures in sharing a name with a famous person.)

How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country!

-- Joseph Addison, 1713 - Cato Act 4, Scene 4


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