How British Caught Nathan Hale, First American Spy

Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2003 12:22 pm
Sep 19, 2003
Manuscript Reveals How British Caught Nathan Hale, First American Spy
By Carl Hartman
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - A manuscript given to the Library of Congress may solve a mystery as old as the American Revolution: how the British caught and executed Nathan Hale for spying.

It turns out that Hale, considered by the CIA to be the first American executed for spying for his country, probably made some monumentally naive mistakes - chief among them trusting a stranger with the secret of his mission. Those blunders could have led to his hanging 227 years ago this Monday.

Details of Hale's capture have eluded historians, but library officials have new information from the manuscript, written during or soon after the Revolution by Consider Tiffany, a Connecticut storekeeper and British sympathizer. The document was donated to the library in 2000 by a descendant, G. Bradford Tiffany.

According to James Hutson, head of the library's manuscript division, the document appears to identify Maj. Robert Rogers, a British hero from the earlier French and Indian War, as the man who trapped Hale by pretending to be a Colonial spy himself.

A handsome, athletic Connecticut schoolteacher and Yale graduate, Hale was an enthusiastic patriot who rose quickly in the Continental Army and was promoted to captain in 1776. Later that year, Gen. George Washington, the army's commander, was driven out of Long Island by the British and badly needed information on the enemy's strength and plans, which meant sending a spy into British territory.

Hale volunteered - by some accounts he was the only volunteer - saying it was his patriotic duty.

"I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary," he told Capt. William Hull, a friend from his regiment who tried to dissuade him.

Hale put on civilian clothes and left his uniform, silver shoe buckles and papers with a fellow soldier. He found a boat to cross from Norwalk, Conn., to Long Island, where he slipped behind enemy lines.

Untrained in the arts of spying, Hale evidently was easy prey for the canny Rogers, an expert frontier warrior who had led a group of highly trained rangers in the French and Indian War.

Rogers recently had escaped from American captivity and was recruiting troops for the British on Long Island. According to the Tiffany manuscript, Rogers had been observing Hale for some days, suspecting that the young man was in disguise. He decided to engage him in conversations about the war.

Rogers led Hale to believe they were on the same side and that he himself was "upon the business of spying out the inclination of the people and motion of the British troops," Tiffany wrote.

The unsuspecting Hale told Rogers of his own mission, and Rogers invited him to dinner at his quarters, where he and several friends began the same kind of talk, the manuscript said.

"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," Tiffany wrote.

The rest of Hale's story was reported by his friend Hull, who got his account from a British officer sent to Washington's headquarters for an exchange of prisoners. The officer, Capt. John Montressor, told him that Hale had taken notes on British forces and was brought before the British commander, Sir William Howe, in Manhattan.

"Those papers, concealed about his person, betrayed his intentions," Hull reported. "He at once declared his name, his rank in the American army, and his object in coming within the British lines."

The British hanged Hale the next morning, Sept. 22, 1776, at an artillery park near Dove Tavern. Historians place it near what is now 66th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan.

It was there Hale is reputed to have uttered his famous line: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" - likely a paraphrase of a line from a popular play by British writer Joseph Addison.

In an article for the Library of Congress' "Information Bulletin," Hutson discussed Hale's inept espionage.

"How could anyone on a secret mission be so stupid, or to use more generous terms, so naive or so credulous, to be taken in by a perfect stranger and then to disclose, the next day, the object of his mission to several more perfect strangers?" Hutson wrote.

Whether Hale's information could have helped Washington isn't clear. The British drove Washington from Manhattan and stayed another seven years, until the end of the war in 1783.

Despite Hale's failure as a spy, a life-size statue of him inscribed with his famous last words occupies a place of honor at the CIA's headquarters in McLean, Va.

"This young man's selfless love of country and his ultimate sacrifice for his nation's cause remain a continuing reminder to all American intelligence officers of the duties and sacrifices of their job," the agency's Web site says.
On the Net:
CIA: http://www.cia.gov
Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov

This story can be found at: http://ap.tbo.com/ap/breaking/MGA128AISKD.html
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Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2003 12:45 pm
From your article, Boss:

Carl Hartman wrote:
"How could anyone on a secret mission be so stupid, or to use more generous terms, so naive or so credulous, to be taken in by a perfect stranger and then to disclose, the next day, the object of his mission to several more perfect strangers?" Hutson wrote.

Major John André comes immediately to mind, and, during the furor about the attempt by Arnold to betray West Point, he was taken up, accused of espionage, and hanged as an act of revenge for the hanging of Hale. A new book about this suggests that André was, in the words of a Houston Chronicle reviewer, "was a lying weasel of breathtaking incompetence."

Here's the review: Popping Major André's Balloon[/color]
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Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2003 12:52 pm
Setanta, I posted this article just for you - right down your history alley. Thanks for the additional info.

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Reply Fri 19 Sep, 2003 01:49 pm
Ta, Boss, thank you . . .
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Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2003 02:36 am
Mr. Setanta might wish to know that "Popping Major Andre's Balloon" is such as smash hit and is so important a book that it isn't even listed by Amazon--and they list everything.

Is the book from an underground press?

Most of the material mentioned by Setanta seems to be.
0 Replies
Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2003 05:57 am
Italgato wrote:
Mr. Setanta might wish to know that "Popping Major Andre's Balloon" is such as smash hit and is so important a book that it isn't even listed by Amazon--and they list everything.

Is the book from an underground press?

Most of the material mentioned by Setanta seems to be.


On another thread, you insulted an A2Ker if not being able to look at a link and to read.

When you have done this, something else must had happened with you, since:
amozon link

You told me on a different thread that you have a
Master's Degree
read History

Here, in Europe, universities and colleges only bestow Master Degrees as academic degree (magister artium, not 'the degree of a master').

Althought, I've heard of some obscure POBox universities ... . (From 299$ upwrds, it was, I think.)

Are you reading history at one of those or teaching at a normal college/university?
If it's the latter, I suggest, you just go in the library of your faculty/department: this book is even stored at some German libraries.
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Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2003 07:10 am
Mr. Italgato, who purports to be erudite and to hold high regard for careful reading and precise referrence, apparently mistook the title of a review article for a book title. Mr. Italgato is in error of conspicuous egregiouisness, as the post in question clearly indicated the article as such, and provided a working link to said review. Mr. Italgato, I'm very much afraid, failed to comprehend what he supposedly had read. That this occasioned a foundationless protest from Mr. Italgato indicates Mr. Italgato may be not so wise and accomplished as he would have others believe.

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Reply Thu 9 Oct, 2003 08:51 am
Italgato, in case you are having trouble reading over your nose, the following is the Amazon.com site for "The Execution of Major Andre", the book of this topic.



In his winning novelistic style, John Evangelist Walsh tells the story of one of the most fascinating figures of the American Revolution, Major John Andre, the gentleman spy hanged for his ill-fated conspiracy with Benedict Arnold to crush the colonial American battle for independence. Handsome, well-bred, poet, playwright, actor, and partygoer, Andre was the dilletante spymaster for Britain with a vast Loyalist network. He blundered into rebel hands carrying Arnold's plans for an attack on West Point and was hanged at Tappan, NY on October 2, 1780, under Washington's orders. At the execution, Americans wept openly for the popular officer sacrificed by the British to insure Benedict Arnold's safety. His remains were interred in Westminster Abbey. Walsh brings Andre and his role in American history to light in a book that readers of popular history will embrace.


John Evangelist Walsh is the author of more than a dozen books of history and biography, including Moonlight and Midnight Dreary.


From Publishers Weekly

popular history writer Walsh (Midnight Dreary) offers an account of the serendipitous events that led to British Major John Andre's capture and execution in 1780 which arguably made possible the success of the American Revolution. Andre was the British spy dispatched to plot the fall of West Point with Benedict Arnold. The British capture of West Point would have most likely diminished or even ended the chance for an American victory. Andre, as described by Walsh, was a dashing and charming officer badly cast as a spy, but who nonetheless, out of greed and a desire for prestige, took the assignment to meet with Arnold on American soil. His subsequent capture was the result of a series of his own misjudgments, Arnold's miscalculations and bad luck. Much of the drama of the story is in Andre's machinations to rationalize his actions to Washington and the American tribunal that tried him. Walsh's history is "novelized," a literary device that is often distracting. We read unrecorded intimate conversations, internal dialogues and minute details of events. For example, Andre realizes "how dry his mouth felt, how thirsty he was." And readers are told, "The sour look on Andr‚'s face showed the utter distaste he felt...." Walsh also has the even more distracting habit of inserting himself into the history by explicitly calling attention to the uniqueness of his interpretation of events. Nonetheless, despite these flaws as well as a pedestrian style, there is enough inherent drama in the telling of Andre's story to interest fans of American history. Illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is an excellent popular recounting of one of the most famous incidents in the American Revolution by an author whose previous works on the Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge legend (The Shadow's Rise) and the death of Edgar Allan Poe (Midnight Dreary) make him well qualified for such a book. The present volume concerns the trial and execution of Maj. John Andre, who was captured by American troops in September 1780 while en route from West Point to New York City. Andre was carrying a copy of plans hatched with Benedict Arnold for the hand-over of the fort at West Point to the British. With stern insistence, George Washington refused all appeals for clemency and ordered the execution of the young British officer. Most previous books on Andre have stressed his charming personality, sophistication, bravery, and honor. Walsh offers a different view, portraying Andre as starkly ambitious and crudely arrogant. Based on an extensive analysis of all the relevant primary sources and secondary literature, this book offers a sound and gripping account of this tragic episode. Recommended for all public libraries. T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Publishers Weekly

Inherent drama in the telling of Andre's story to interest fans of American history.

Library Journal
This is an excellent popular recounting of one of the most famous incidents in the American Revolution...
0 Replies
Reply Mon 20 Oct, 2003 01:17 pm
Well, gee guys, i'd like to stay and review this fascinating subject, but i have to run off to the Underground Press and dig up more specious non-history with which to aggrevate conservatives here at A2K . . .
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Grand Duke
Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 01:47 am
Sounds like the story of Nathan Hale would make a good movie. Maybe with Jim Carey in the lead, and Alan Rickman & Sean Connery as the lead British villians...
0 Replies
Reply Tue 21 Oct, 2003 04:33 am
I'd say Sean Penn for the lead--you want somebody affable, yet at the same time, convincingly stupid . . .
Reply Wed 21 Jun, 2017 04:00 am
Today must be Burt Reynolds day. It's a tribble, says Chekov on star trek. Or a blindman that says he can't walk through the drive through at McDonalds.
0 Replies

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