Say a little prayer for Nathan Hale, America's first spy, who gave his famous "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country" speech 230 years ago today before being hanged by the Brits at 66th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan (or, depending on who you ask, City Hall Park or Grand Central Terminal -- the body's never been found). A few other things about Mr. Hale:
- While reporting on redcoat troop movements, he disguised himself as a Dutch schoolteacher, brandishing his diploma from Yale as proof.
- He may not actually have delivered that catchy "one life" line, and if he did, he probably lifted it from Joseph Addison's play "Cato."
- His capture may have resulted from a literally friendly fire. Says Wikipedia: "On September 21, a quarter of the lower portion of Manhattan burned in the Great New York Fire of 1776. The fire was later widely thought to have been started by American saboteurs to keep the city from falling into British hands, though Washington and Congress had already rejected this idea. ... In the fire's aftermath, more than 200 American partisans [including Hale] were rounded up by the British."
Hale was just 21 when he died. Benedict Arnold, on the other hand, was an older and more distinguished war hero who probably contributed more to the American cause than Hale did -- that is, before he took a turn for the
British. Ultimately, the combination of huge personal debt, an already tarnished reputation (Pennsylvania had filed corruption charges against him), genuine political disagreements (he opposed the alliance with France), and a young Loyalist wife was just too much for him. He turned over the plans for West Point to the Brits exactly 226 years and one day ago. Never punished, he lived out the rest of his life in London -- but died in poverty in 1801.