A Spy for a Spy: Nathan Hale and John Andre
Most of us are familiar with the story of Nathan Hale and the brave words with which he went to his death, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.” But what was really going on that September in 1776, and did it eventually lead to the execution of British Major John Andrè in 1780? I set out to get the answer. Here’s the story, in the words of people who were witness to the events.
September, 1776: New York City
The Battle of New York was waging. General George Washington and his forces had just been driven out of Brooklyn by General William Howe. After a harrowing nighttime retreat across the East River to Manhattan, Washington’s forces moved North of the city. Howe’s army occupied Brooklyn Heights, overlooking the East River. Washington needed information. What was Howe’s plan? Where would he attack New York City?
Washington turned to his commanders and asked for a volunteer to infiltrate the enemy camp. The volunteer came from Captain Thomas Knowlton’s Rangers of Connecticut. His name was Nathan Hale.
Hale was born June 6, 1755 in Coventry, Connecticut. A graduate of Yale College he was tall, athletic and intelligent. A powerful athlete, he held the Yale record for the broad jump for years after his death. “Hale could, it is said, lay one hand on the top of a six-foot fence and easily vault over it”1
During his time at Yale he became friends with Benjamin Tallmadge (more on this fateful friendship later) and after graduation went on to teach. When war broke out with England he joined the fight and in 1776 was serving as an officer in Knowlton’s Rangers when he accepted the mission to spy on the opposition.
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