September 22, 1776
New York City, Province of New York, British America
Nathan Hale (21) is executed by British troops after being discovered to be an American spy

Hale disguised himself as a Dutch schoolteacher to get behind enemy lines and spy on the British. When he was discovered to be a spy, he hanged without trial.

Hale is best remembered for his last words “I only regret I have but one life to lose for my country,” though these exact words may not have been what he said at his execution.

A witness to the hanging, Frederick Mackenzie (alternatively spelled Mackensie), stated “[Hale] behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.”

In 1781, the Boston Independent Chronicle quoted Hale’s last words as “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.” It seems that while time has polished his famous last words into the more poignant and concise version that is still well known to this day, the sentiment was Hale’s nonetheless.

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