Why Is Nathan Hale Famous?

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Nathan Hale, a soldier in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is best known for the saying, "I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." He uttered this phrase just before he was hung by the British for spying on their troops. He died on September 22, 1776, after the United States had already declared independence.

Born in Coventry, Connecticut, on June 6, 1755, Hale joined the fighting on July 1, 1775. He followed his five brothers who previously fought in the battles of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in April of that same year. By July of 1776, the young soldier was already a captain.

Hale's commanding officer was General George Washington, leader of the New York regiment. Faced with a military build-up on Long Island, led by British General William Howe, Washington asked for a volunteer to go behind enemy lines and gather information. Hale volunteered.

Hale had already graduated from Yale University as a teacher. It was this teacher persona that provided the cover story for his spy mission. Posing as a Dutch schoolmaster, he freely wandered behind enemy lines. When Hale tried to cross back into American territory, he was captured. The papers Hale carried sealed his fate.