Tag Archives: Nathan Hale

“Those were the dark days of America’s infancy.”

Following up on yesterday’s blog post about Nathan Hale for July 4th —  I actually wrote briefly about Hale and New York’s revolutionary history in “The Dogs Don’t Bark In Brooklyn Any More.”  It was background information about Brooklyn’s Prospect Park; the novel’s story, of course, takes place in a fictional future.

I actually made up the “local legend” about Hale’s ghost brooding around the arch.  I have no doubt that the park has its share of ghost stories, but this one was only a bit of poetic license on my part:

“[Prospect Park] is a haunted place. Many men have died in the vicinity of its gently rolling hills, though the occasion of their passing predates the park’s mid-nineteenth century creation. The area around Prospect Park is the site of the Revolutionary War’s first and largest major battle, fought in the waning summer of 1776, not two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

“The fledgling United States fielded its first official army there, with heartbreaking results. The Battle of Brooklyn was a disaster for America, whose sons were outnumbered two-to-one by 22,000 English and Hessian soldiers. George Washington, flush with his victory at Boston, found his forces routed. He barely escaped to Manhattan in a desperate, stealthy evacuation of more than 9,000 troops. On the morning of August 30, he and his retreating men were met along the Brooklyn hills with a miraculous surprise – a dense morning fog that concealed their perilous exit. To Washington and his war-weary comrades, it must have seemed like nothing short of divine intervention. 

“Those were the dark days of America’s infancy – Nathan Hale would not long after be captured on a mission of espionage in Manhattan, disguised as a Dutch schoolteacher, and would be hanged, after his immortal lament that he had but a single life to give for his country. The defeat in Brooklyn also cleared the way for the Crown’s capture of all of New York City. The Great Fire of 1776 would ravage Manhattan. And the city would remain in England’s hands until the end of the war. 

“Ironically, the park’s principal monument is devoted to another war entirely – one in which America turned upon itself. This is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, a massive structure dedicated to the Union Army during the Civil War. If there is an afterlife, then perhaps it might break Washington’s heart – and Hale’s – to see the Arch as it stands today, a memorial to Americans killing Americans. Indeed, a local legend holds that Hale’s ghost occasions the site of the Arch and hangs his gaze upon it, glum with the knowledge of a nation divided and torn.”

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“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

—  volunteer Nathan Hale, hanged by the British at the age of 21 in Manhattan as an “illegal combatant.”

On September 22, 1776, Hale became the first American executed for spying for his country.  His statue stands at the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.  (It is a copy of one commissioned in 1914 for Hale’s alma mater, Yale University.)

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Photo credit:  “Nathan Hale Statue – Flickr – The Central Intelligence Agency” by The Central Intelligence Agency – Nathan Hale Statue. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.