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General Hull knew spy Nathan Hale well

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

 

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

We know of Gen. William Hull here as the commander of the American forces which went through Findlay and Hancock County in 1812 on their way to Detroit. Col. James Findlay, whose regiment built Fort Findlay, headed one of Gen. Hull’s four regiments.

But what is probably not so well known is the fact that Gen. Hull, as an army captain earlier in his career, was a close friend of Nathan Hale, the famous American spy whose statement as he was about to be put to death by his British captors that “I only regret that I only have one life to lose for my country” will always live as a supreme expression of patriotism.

Nathan Hale was a New Englander. He was graduated from Yale in 1773 at the age of 18. He taught school in his native Connecticut and on July 1, 1775, two months after Lexington and Concord, was commissioned a lieutenant in the Continental Army and closed his one-room school in New London, a building still proudly preserved by the town.

Early in the fall of 1776, Gen. George Washington, after being disastrously defeated on Long Island, needed to know more about the plans of the British forces. Hale and other officers of the picked regiment known as Knowlton’s Rangers were asked to volunteer for an intelligence mission behind the enemy lines. On the first call, none stepped forward. On the second, Nathan Hale alone stepped forward.

In Gen. Hull’s memoirs, he describes a conversation he had with his friend Hale. They evidently were officers in the same regiment. At that time Hull was a captain, as was Hale.

Hale is quoted by Hull as viewing his spy mission thus: “I am fully sensible of the consequences of discovery and capture in such a situation …Yet … I wish to be useful, and every kind of service, necessary to the public good, becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claims to perform that service are imperious.”

Hale made his journey, as students of history well know, but was captured by the British after he had obtained all the information he sought. He wrote out a description of the British works in Latin and placed it in his shoe. But he was discovered and ordered executed immediately.

Gen. Hull, in his memoirs, tells of “a kindhearted British officer,” a Captain John Montresor, who came to the American lines under a flag of truce to report Hale’s capture. Hull quotes the British captain as he described what happened as follows:

“On the morning of his execution, my station was near the fatal spot and I requested the provost-marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered; he was calm and bore himself with gentle and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him; he wrote two letters. He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

Hale was one of six sons. His father wrote a letter to a friend who had inquired about Nathan.

“You desired me to inform you about my son, Nathan,” read the letter of the unlettered father. “He was executed about the 22nd of September last by the accounts we have had. A child I sot much by but he is gone.”

This letter addressed to the father’s brother, Major Samuel Hale, in Portsmouth, N.H., on March 28, 1777, was put away in a secret drawer of the major’s desk. In 1908 the old desk was sold at auction as an antique, and three years later the new owner, a New Hampshire man, chanced upon it and discovered the letter, which is now a highly prized document.

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