As he was led to the gallows, Hale’s famous last words—inspired by a line from Joseph Addison’s popular play, Cato, reportedly were—“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Hale allegedly spoke these words to British Captain John Montresor, chief engineer of His Majesty’s Forces in North America and aide-de-camp to British General William Howe, while the preparations for his hanging were underway.
Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on June 6, 1755. He graduated with honors from Yale College in 1773 and then taught, first in East Haddam, and next in New London, Connecticut.
After hearing news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Hale left his job teaching and joined the army. He was commissioned a first lieutenant on July 1, 1775, and was promoted to captain on January 1, 1776.
General George Washington believed that General Howe, who had evacuated Boston in March 1776, would continue the battle in New York. In fact, the British had captured Staten Island and had begun a military buildup on Long Island.
Hale has long been considered an American hero and, in 1985, he was officially designated the state hero of Connecticut. A statue of Nathan Hale is located at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.