"Not that Washing- ton hadn't been impressed with Hale. Quite the opposite in fact. The passion, boldness , and just a touch of cockiness that Hale (above, Hale confers with Washington) had demonstrated seemed to Washington to perfectly encapsulate the patriot movement. But just as many questioned the American's challenge to the British Crown, Washington, too, found himself wondering whether Hale's fervor, while certainly admirable, was not also a little naive. Did he really know what he was getting into? Then again, did any of them? The Americans had yanked the lion's mane and now Hale had walked into one of its lairs."
On today's date in 1776, Captain Nathan Hale volunteered for a dangerous mission to spy on British preparations for the new Continental Army. And author Brian Kilmeade above summarizes what General George Washington was likely thinking when he accepted Hale for the mission. Did Hale know what he was getting into? Indeed, did any of them?
The American Position and the Need for Intelligence
American fortunes in this revolution against our mother country had never seemed so precarious as in the autumn of 1776. From the siege, and the successful ejection of the Brits from the city of Boston in March to the bold Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, our fortunes had fallen. The strategically vital city of New York had mostly fallen into British hands in the Battle of Long Island on August 27. With the (God-sent) help of a heavy fog, Washington had managed to ferry all
Nathan Hale Volunteers
Washington had Lt. Colonel Thomas Knowlton assemble a group of officers, and to inform them of what was needed for this mission. This was a lot to ask; capture carried with it the certainty of execution... the sure fate of spies both then and now. And in the eighteenth century, spying was looked upon as somehow beneath the dignity of a gentleman. This was a mission that required a volunteer, and nobody stepped forward at first. But just when it looked as if nobody would,
Hale's Mission Fails, He is Captured and Hung
Well, even the least scholarly of you know how this story ended up. The main thrust of Hale's mission had been to collect whatever information he could on what the British plan of attack on Manhattan was to be. But the British move came on September 15, a mere three days after Hale arrived in Long Island on his mission. He had little or no time to establish his cover as a Dutch Schoolmaster, let alone get any useful information to Washington on an attack which was already in progress.
to establish a working ring of spies in New York (see also "Washington's Spies").
"George Washington's Secret Six" by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Sentinel Publishers, New York, 2013
"Washington's Spies" by Alexander Rose, Bantam Publishers, New York, 2006
"General Washington's Spies" by Morton Pennypacker, Long Island Historical Society, Brooklyn, New York, 1939