How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.
Joseph Addison, Cato (1712)
Death at 21 is always a tragedy, but Nathan Hale’s heroic death 243 years ago today ensured him Earthly immortality. A schoolmaster before the Revolution, he was a Captain in the 7th Connecticut when he volunteered to take on the immensely dangerous task of being a spy, at the request of General Washington, behind enemy lines in New York City. He was soon captured by the British, perhaps betrayed by his Tory cousin Samuel Hale. Interviewed by General Howe, his fate was a foregone conclusion: spies were always to be executed.
The night before he died he requested a Bible and a member of the clergy. Both requests were denied. According to British officer Frederick MacKensie, who was present, Hale…
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