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Nathan Hale: The Life and Death of America’s First Spy


Nathan Hale – Revolutionary soldier, America’s first spy, and the state hero of Connecticut – is best known for his patriotic last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” But did he really say them? Much of his life has been lost to history, and it has been nearly impossible to know the real NATHAN HALE. Now, M. William Phelps’ comprehensive biography – the first in a century – gets the entire story of this fearless young soldier, who set the standard for patriotism.

This book uses Hale’s own writings, letters from his friends, and a new journal discovered in 2000 to follow him from his childhood in rural Connecticut to his untimely death at the hands of British soldiers – the first account of his capture and time behind enemy lines. The son of a preacher, Hale attended Yale along with his brother, Enoch. He was an extremely popular student, mischievous but hard-working, and a favorite of the girls in New Haven. It was during his years at Yale that Nathan honed the intellect, loyalty, and camaraderie that would last until his death.

Though he was a devout Christian, Hale decided against his father’s wishes that he become a clergyman after graduation, and took a position as a schoolteacher. Devoted to education, he became one of the first educators to offer lessons to women. But times were changing in New England, as evidenced by the Boston Tea Party, and Hale knew his time to defend America was not far off. When General George Washington needed troops for the coming war, Hale wasted no time enlisting in the army.

At just 19 years old, Nathan Hale was already leading a company of men through battle in New England and Long Island, New York. He was proud to be in uniform, and willing to do anything that was asked of him to serve his country. So when Washington made a personal request that Hale traverse into British territory and spy for the colonial army, he easily complied. Posing as a civilian schoolmaster, Yale degree in hand, Hale made his way to Huntington, Long Island before being captured and sentenced to the gallows.

But what of Nathan Hales storied last words? They are, in fact, a paraphrase. The most misremembered moment in Hale’s life is his last, as he proclaimed, “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service. The most enduring memory of Nathan Hale is him being misquoted.

M. William Phelps’ NATHAN HALE separates myth from fact in the previously-untold life of this young rebel, the first man to freely give his life for America.


M. William Phelps has appeared on national television and has consulted for the Showtime cable television series “Dexter.” Profiled in such noted publications as Writer’s Digest, NY Daily News, Newsday, Albany Times-Union, Hartford Courant, The Globe magazine and NY Post, he’s written articles for the Providence Journal, Hartford Courant, the New London Day, and published several bestselling history “Shorts” for Amazon.com. With nearly 500,000 copies of his books in print, Phelps’s titles include: PERFECT POISON, SLEEP IN HEAVENLY PEACE, MURDER IN THE HEARTLAND, and IF LOOKS COULD KILL. He lives in Connecticut.

By M. William Phelps

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