Who Betrayed Nathan Hale?
Nathan Hale was a young Connecticut schoolteacher in New London when the Revolution broke out, and although the militia unit of which he was a member was soon dispatched to join the New England army at Cambridge, Hale remained behind. A Yale graduate, Hale had been a classmate and friend of Benjamin Talmadge, who persuaded Hale to join the 7th Connecticut Regiment of the newly formed Continental Army. When the Army moved to New York after the British evacuated Boston Hale went with it, and when the call went out for a volunteer to enter New York City and obtain information regarding the British activities there, Hale answered the call.
An amateur as both a soldier and a spy, Hale was soon caught by British authorities. Differing accounts of his treatment in British hands exist, some say that he was questioned by Sir William Howe himself, others claim that he was interrogated by Major John Montresor. All accounts agree that Hale was arrested with compromising materials in his possession, which confirmed that he had been gathering information for the Americans.
Hale identified himself as an officer in the Continental Army, which further damaged his position as he was behind enemy lines out of uniform, by definition a spy. Hale had been operating in the city in the guise of an unemployed schoolmaster looking for work, at some point either his cover was blown or he let slip an indiscretion which revealed his true purpose. The information on his person was enough to convict him as a spy, and Hale was hanged on September 22, 1776.
What information he obtained and how he was discovered have never been adequately explained, although several conflicting accounts exist. One is that he was recognized by his cousin Samuel Hale, a Loyalist who revealed Nathan’s identity and rank within the Continental Army to British authorities. When these authorities questioned Hale his inexperience led him to reveal compromising information. Another is that he was captured by Major Robert Rogers, of Rogers’ Rangers fame.
In this account, written by another Connecticut schoolteacher of questionable veracity, Rogers overheard Hale in conversation in a tavern and, suspicions aroused, pretended to be a spy in order to entrap him. His ruse succeeded when the beleaguered Hale, alone and ill-prepared for his mission, revealed his true purpose to Rogers. Whether there is any truth to the tale is uncertain, that Hale went bravely to his death is the only thing known for sure of his brief mission in New York.