Details Of Nathan Hale's Capture

Bruce Batten, 1st New Hampshire Regiment, United Train Of Artillery

The details of the capture and execution of Nathan Hale have perplexed historians for years. This confusion may have come to an end because of a manuscript given to the Library of Congress in 2000.

This manuscript was written during, or soon after the war by Consider Tiffany, a shopkeeper from Connecticut, who was also a British sympathizer. The manuscript was donated to the Library of Congress by G. Bradford Tiffany, a descendant. The manuscript details blunders made by Hale that led to his hanging on September 22, 1776. The manuscript identifies Major Robert Rogers, British hero of the French and Indian War as the man who trapped Hale.

Hale, a graduate of Yale College and a Connecticut schoolteacher joined the Continental Army and quickly rose to the rank of captain by 1776. At this time the American army had been driven from Long Island and Washington desperately needed information on the strength and plans of the British. This meant sending a spy into British territory. Hale volunteered.

Captain William Hull, a friend from Hale's regiment tried to discourage Hale from volunteering for such a danger filled mission. Hale told his friend, "I wish to be useful and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary". This was at a time when spying was seen as a dishonorable engagement, but still necessary for the information spies could provide.

Hale, dressed as a civilian crossed by boat from Norwalk, Connecticut to Long Island and slipped behind enemy lines. Hale was untrained in the art of spying and was an easy target for the cunning Major Rogers. Rogers was an expert frontier fighter who had led a group of fierce, resourceful rangers from New Hampshire during the French and Indian War.

Rogers had recently escaped from the Americans and was on Long Island recruiting tories as troops to fight for the British. According to Tiffany's manuscript, Rogers had been observing Hale for days. Hale's activities raised suspicions for Rogers and led him to believe that Hale was in disguise.

Rogers decided to talk to Hale and he led Hale to believe that they were on the same side. According to the manuscript, Rogers said, " he was upon the business of spying out the inclination of the people and motion of the British troops. Hale then told Rogers of his own mission. Rogers invited Hale to dine with him. At dinner, Rogers and several friends engaged Hale in similar conversation. "But at the height of their conversation, a company of soldiers surrounded the house, and by orders from the commander, seized Captain Hale in an instant," wrote Tiffany.

Captain John Montressor, a British officer sent to Washington's headquarters for an exchange of prisoners told the rest of the story to Hale's old friend Captain William Hull. Montressor told Hull that Hale had taken notes on British forces and was brought before Sir William Howe, British commander. Hull reported, "those papers concealed about his person betrayed his intentions". Hale was hanged as a spy the next day by the British.

Carl Hartman, The Associated Press, The Concord Monitor, Concord, NH, Saturday, September 20, 2003.

Hutson, John. "Nathan Hale Revisited." Library of Congress Information Bulletin. July 2003. Library of Congress,<>.

Copyright © 2006 Bruce Batten. All rights reserved.