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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Nathan Hale and John André

By Hannah Adams (1755–1831)

[Born in Medfield, Mass., 1755. Died at Brookline, Mass. A Summary History of New England. 1799.]

THE RETREAT of General Washington left the British in complete possession of Long Island. What would be their future operations remained uncertain. To obtain information of their situation, their strength, and future movements, was of high importance. For this purpose, General Washington applied to Colonel Knowlton, who commanded a regiment of light infantry, which formed the van of the American army, and desired him to adopt some mode of gaining the necessary information. Colonel Knowlton communicated this request to Captain Hale, of Connecticut, who was then a captain in his regiment. This young officer, animated by a sense of duty, and considering that an opportunity presented itself by which he might be useful to his country, at once offered himself a volunteer for this hazardous service. He passed in disguise to Long Island, examined every part of the British army, and obtained the best possible information respecting their situation and future operations.

In his attempt to return, he was apprehended, carried before Sir William Howe, and the proof of his object was so clear, that he frankly acknowledged who he was, and what were his views.

Sir William Howe at once gave an order to the provost marshal to execute him the next morning.

The order was accordingly executed in a most unfeeling manner, and by as great a savage as ever disgraced humanity. A clergyman, whose attendance he desired, was refused him; a Bible for a moment’s devotion was not procured, though he requested it. Letters, which on the morning of his execution he wrote to his mother and other friends, were destroyed; and this very extraordinary reason given by the provost marshal, “that the rebels should not know that they had a man in their army who could die with so much firmness.”

Unknown to all around him, without a single friend to offer him the least consolation, thus fell as amiable and as worthy a young man as America could boast, with this as his dying observation, “that he only lamented he had but one life to lose for his country.” How superior to the dying words of André. Though the manner of his execution will ever be abhorred by every friend to humanity and religion, yet there cannot be a question but that the sentence was conformable to the rules of war, and the practice of nations in similar cases.

It is, however, a justice due to the character of Captain Hale, to observe, that his motives for engaging in this service were entirely different from those which generally influence others in similar circumstances. Neither expectation of promotion nor pecuniary reward induced him to this attempt. A sense of duty, a hope that he might in this way be useful to his country, and an opinion which he had adopted, that every kind of service necessary to the public good became honorable by being necessary, were the great motives which induced him to engage in an enterprise, by which his connections lost a most amiable friend, and his country one of its most promising supporters.

The fate of this unfortunate young man excites the most interesting reflections.

To see such a character, in the flower of youth, cheerfully treading in the most hazardous paths, influenced by the purest intentions, and only emulous to do good to his country, without the imputation of a crime, fall a victim to policy, must have been wounding to the feelings even of his enemies.

Should a comparison be drawn between Major André and Captain Hale, injustice would be done to the latter, should he not be placed on an equal ground with the former. Whilst almost every historian of the revolution has celebrated the virtues and lamented the fate of André, Hale has remained unnoticed, and it is scarcely known that such a character ever existed.

To the memory of André his country has erected the most magnificent monuments, and bestowed on his family the highest honors and most liberal rewards. To the memory of Hale not a stone has been erected, nor an inscription to preserve his ashes from insult.