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CAPTAIN NATHAN HALE
THE HER O M A R T Y R
“ Thus, while fond Virtue wished to save,
Hale, bright and generous, found a hopeless grave:
The period of the American Revolution was the heroic era in the history of our country. With its great events we are all familiar; but of the steru virtues of our ancestors, their patient self-denial, their enduring fortitude, and their trustful hope in that time of trouble, the half can never bo known.
In that charming little book, the “Past Meridian,” by Mrs. Sigourney, is a simple narrative to this point, so touching that the memory of it should be impressed upon the heart of every youth in the land, as an elevating picture of patriotic virtue, worth more than the record of a score of battles. It was told, to the writer by a good and hoary-headed man, the Rev. Dr. David Smith, of Durham, Connecticut, who, with unimpaired intellect and cheerful piety, had passed many years beyond the allotted age of man.
"My father was in the army during the whole eight years of the Revolutionary war, at first as a common soldier, afterward as an officer. My mother had the sole charge of us, four little ones. Our house was a poor one, and far from neighbors. I have' a keen remembrance of the terrible cold of some of those winters. The snow lay so deep and long, that it was difficult to cut or draw fuel from the woods, or to get our corn to the mill, when we had any. My mother was the possessor of a coffee-mill. In that she ground wheat, and made coarse bread which we ate and were thankful. It was not always that we could be allowed as much even of this as our keen appetites craved. Many is the time that we have gone to bed with only a drink of water for our supper, in which a little molasses had been mingled. We patiently received it, for we knew our mother did as well for us as she could, and hoped to have something better in the morning. She was never heard to repine, and young as we were, we tried to make her lovely spirit and heavenly trust our example. When my father was permitted to como home, his stay was short, and he had not much to leave us, for the pay of those who had achieved our liberties was slight and irregularly rendered. Yet, when he went, my mother ever bade him farewell with a cheerful face, and not to be anxious about his children, for she would watch over them night and day, and God would take care of the families of those who went forth to defend the righteous cause of their country. Sometimes we wondered that she did not mention the cold weather, or our short meals, or her hard work, that we little ones might be clothed, and fed, and taught; but she would not weaken his hands or sadden his heart, for, she said, a soldier's lot is harder than all. We saw that she never complained, but always kept in her heart a sweet hope, like a well of living water. Every night ere we slept, and every morning when we arose, we lifted our little hands for God's blessing on our absent father and our endangered country.”
The story we have to relate is alike interesting and enrobling, but yet of a melancholy nature being the most sad of all the episodes of the American Revolution. It is contained in the history of the young and gifted NATHAN HALE. Of that long roll of patriotic men who died that we might be free, his last moments, beyond those of any other, were characterized by a sentiment so heroic, expressed under such circumstances, as to render it one of the most sublime and touching utterances that ever fell from human lips.
Nathan Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut, June 6, 1755. He was the son of Richard Hale, a substantial farmer of that town, and a man of note among his neighbors, being a justice of the peace, a. deacon of the church, and a member of the legislature. Young Hale was bred in that strict morality characteristic of the Puritans. Early showing a fondness for books, he was prepared for college under the tuition of the venerable Rev. Dr. Huntington, with the design of entering the ministry. Six years before the Revolutionary war, he became a student in Yale. Little has been preserved of his life there. He was noted, however, among his companions for extraordinary personal activity. He accomplished a feat in leaping on the New Haven Green, which so far surpassed everything of the kind before known, that the distance was long preserved by appropriate marks. On another occasion, he exhibited his activity by springing out from one hogshead into another, alternately,
He graduated with honor in 1773, and for a short season taught school at East Haddam, where, it is said, "everybody loved him, he was so sprightly, intelligent, and kind.” Next he took charge of a high school in New London, where "he soon had as many friends as there were individuals in the town." His leisure was partly given to reading and study, and partly to society, for which he had great fondness. The charms of the gentler sex were not lost upon him. He became ardently attached to Miss Hannah Adams of his native town, whom, doubtless, he would have married, had not his tragic fate intervened.
In person Hale was rather tall, being five feet ten inches in height, and though slender was gracefully formed; his frame was elastic and wiry, as was shown by his extraordinary feats of agility; his chest was broad, his face full, with blue eyes, light complexion, and brown hair. To these physical qualities was added an amiable winning address.
Intense excitement was produced one evening in the latter part of April, 1775, in the usually quiet town of New London, on the arrival of a messenger, with the startling news that the "regulars” had fired upon our people on the green at Lexington. “Let us march immediately, and never lay down our arms until we gain our independence !" rang out the clear stern voice of Nathan Hale, to the excited assemblage that had gathered on the occasion.
It was no difficult matter to infuse the sentiment into the minds of all present. It was resolved to send Captain Coit's company into the field, and Hale volunteered to go with it. The next day, he went to his school for the last time, to bid his pupils farewell. He addressed them in an appropriate little speech, and closed with an earnest prayer to the Almighty for his blessings on them and on their country.
A letter which he wrote at this period to the managers of the school, is preserved in Stuart's Life of Hale, from which we extract it :
" Gentlemen-Having received information that a place is allotted me in the army, and being inclined, as I hope for good reasons, to accept it, I am constrained to ask as a favor, that which scarce anything else would have induced me to, which is to be excused from keeping your school any longer. For the purpose of conversing upon this subject, and of procuring another master, some of your number think it best there should be a general meeting of the proprietors. The time talked of for holding it is six o'clock this afternoon, at the school-house. The year for which I engaged will expire within a fortnight, so that my quitting a few days sooner, I hope, will subject you to no great inconvenience. School-keeping is a business of which I was always fond, but since my residence in this town, everything has conspired to make it more agreeable. I have thought much of never quitting it bụit with life, but at present there seems to be an opportunity for more extended public service. The kindness expressed to me by the people of the place, but especially the proprietors of the school, will always be very gratefully remembered.”
This letter shows the patriotism of Hale, his nice sense of honor, and modest, unassuming nature. He also wrote to his father, whose designs for him in the ministry were now frustrated, “ A sense of duty urges me to sacrifice everything for my country.”
Hale was commissioned as a lieutenant in Webb's Connecticut regiment. This corps was first employed in guarding the seacoast, in the vicinity of New London, the appearance of the British in the Sound having alarmed the country. Early in the ensuing autumn, it marched to join the main army under Washington, in the vicinity of Boston. In December, Hale started "on foot, through snow ankle deep, to visit his friends in Connecticut.” About this period he was promoted to the rank of captain.
During the winter spent in the siege of Boston, Hale became known, and he was, among all the younger officers, the one preferred for those duties requiring vigilance, activity, and skill. “I see," said a friend, in a letter written to him at this time, "you are stationed in the mouth of danger. I 100k upon your position as more perilous than that of any other officer in the camp.” When not engaged in military duties, Hale devoted much of his time to reading, especially works on the science of war. Feeling the importance of discipline, he gave such untiring attention to his men, that his company soon became one of the most thoroughly drilled and orderly in the service. When the American army was nearly annihilated by the defeat of Long Island, and the expiration of the terms for which the soldiers had enlisted, Hale generously relinquished his own pay to induce the men of his company to remain.
Hale's fondness for athletic sports suffered no abatement in consequence of his military pursuits, for we find him, when at leisure, engaging with his brother officers in wrestling, running, jumping, and in other amusements of that nature. He was also scrupulously observant of his religious duties, being a regular attendant at camp worship, when such a privilege was not denied by some professional duty.
In the succeeding spring (1776), the regiment to which Hale was attached proceeded, with others under the command of General Heath, to the vicinity of New York. He there became the principal in a brilliant little affair, from which he gained considerable eclat. In the East River lay a British vessel filled with supplies for the army. Although not armed, it was protected by a sixty-four gunship anchored only a few rods distant. Hale formed the project of capturing and taking her into the harbor of New York.
Under cover of night, he embarked with a small party in a rowboat, and dropped down near their intended prize, and then pulled in their oars to wait until the moon should go down. When it was entirely dark, the little party resuming their oars, silently rowed toward the doomed vessel. As they approached her, the figure of a solitary sentinel was dimly seen pacing the deck of the man-of-war by which the supply vessel was guarded. The sentinel suddenly paused-then gazed out apon the water. The approaching rowboat rested a moment, and its crew with beating hearts waited to see if they were discovered. In a brief time, “All's well,” was heard from the lips of the lookout, as he turned and disappeared in the gloom. A few more pulls with the oars and the patriots were alongside. Not a soul was on deck—all were below and asleep. They took possession of the vessel, fastened the sleeping sailors in the hold, and in a short time, without alarming the guard of the neighboring man-of-war, noiselessly sailed away, and succeeded in gaining a wharf with their fine prize, where an expectant crowd greeted them with loud huzzas and the waving of hats. The vessel was laden with stores of provisions and clothing, which were a valuable acquisition to the army.
It was at a most gloomy period of the war of independence when Hale departed from the American camp, on a secret mission that sent a thrill of terror through those who were aware of its nature. The disastrous defeat of Long Island had just passed-Harlem Heights had been deserted, and White Plains had witnessed defeat. Shattered and depressed, the American army, like a crowd of fugitives, hovered around King's Bridge. The victorious Howe, flushed with success, was pursuing an enlarged system of operations, and it became evident that the concentrated forces of the invaders were to be let loose upon the rebellious colonists. But where the