The Life and Death of America's First Spy
By M. William Phelps
(Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9780312376413, 320pp.)
Publication Date: September 16, 2008
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The first biography in nearly a century of the legendary Revolutionary War patriot and our country’s first spy.
Few Americans know much more about Nathan Hale than his famous last words: “I only regret that I have one life left to give for my country.” But who was the real Nathan Hale?
M. William Phelps charts the life of this famed patriot and Connecticut’s state hero, following Hale’s rural childhood, his education at Yale, and his work as a schoolteacher. Even in his brief career, he distinguished himself by offering formal lessons to young women. Like many young Americans, he soon became drawn into the colonies’ war for independence, becoming a captain in Washington’s army. When the general was in need of a spy, Hale willingly rose to the challenge, bravely sacrificing his life for the sake of American liberty.
Using Hale’s own journals and letters as well as testimonies from his friends and contemporaries, Phelps depicts the Revolution as it was seen from the ground. From the confrontation in Boston to the battle for New York City, readers experience what life was like for an ordinary soldier in the struggling Continental army.
In this impressive, well-researched biography, Phelps separates historical fact from long-standing myth to reveal the life of Nathan Hale, a young man who deserves to be remembered as an original American patriot.
M. WILLIAM PHELPS is a veteran journalist and the author of seven nonfiction books. He has written articles for the Providence Journal, the Hartford Courant, and New London Day, and has been profiled in such publications as the Writer’s Digest, New York Daily News, Newsday, the Albany Times-Union, the Hartford Courant, and the New York Post. He has also consulted for television and has appeared on the Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, Biography Channel, History Channel, Fox News Channel, CN8, and ABC’s Good Morning America, among many others. He lives in a small Connecticut farming community, about four miles from the Nathan Hale Homestead, with his wife, children, and Labrador retriever.
Advance Praise for Nathan Hale:
“Revolutionary War spy Nathan Hale’s quote at his hanging by the British in 1776, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,’ is one of the most memorable in U.S. history. Here, M. William Phelps has written an absorbing, highly detailed biography of the patriotic Hale. He weaves each story together to create a very colorful, emotional, and enjoyable book.” ---Bruce Chadwick, author of George Washington’s War
“With his new work on Nathan Hale, M. William Phelps has done a great service to the world of historical writing about the American Revolution. A Hale biography was certainly overdue, and Phelps has given us a good one; thorough, making fine use of primary sources, and, thankfully, a pleasure to read.” ---James L. Nelson, author of Benedict Arnold’s Navy
“Phelps provides an extensive examination of Hale’s life and legend, illuminating a crucial aspect of the Revolutionary War era. A thoughtful and substantial narrative of bravery and heroism, this effort considers myth and reality both and the importance of each to historical understanding.” ---Orville Vernon Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln
“M. William Phelps has written a meticulously researched biography of Nathan Hale. Known mainly as the young man who regretted that he had but one life to give to his country, Hale represented the flower of New England society. Phelps has well captured the excitement of Hale’s joining the patriot cause in the American Revolution, giving us a fresh narrative of those tumultuous years.” ---Joyce Appleby, author of Inheriting the Revolution
“Phelps has brilliantly taken Nathan Hale from the faded memory of history and reintroduced us to a vibrant young man, a scholar whom we witness as he transforms into a soldier and spy as a final act of moral conscience. Phelps has reintroduced Hale as the quintessential young American who steps across the line to act for his country.” ---Joseph J. Trento, author of The Secret History of the CIA
“Nathan Hale went to his hanging with the famously paraphrased line, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.’ M. William Phelps gives a new, fully documented life to this romantic, long-neglected American revolutionary.” ---R. A. Scotti, author of The Sudden Sea and Basilica
Nathan Hale is a secular saint of American patriotism. Facing a British gallows for spying during the Revolutionary War, he supposedly uttered these immortal words: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Phelps has written an informative, interesting biography of Hale that effectively reveals the flesh-and-blood human behind the iconic image. Clearly an admirer of Hale, he has written nothing that detracts from Hale's reputation; instead, he has provided a nuanced portrait of a deeply religious, idealistic young man whose short life was dedicated to various forms of public service. Hale was raised in rural Connecticut, attended Yale at the age of 14, and graduated with honors. Upon graduation, he worked as a schoolteacher, and after Lexington and Concord, joined a Connecticut militia. He seemed to approach service to the Patriot cause as a passion, not merely a duty. Phelps, using Hale's own correspondence, clears up some of the murky details surrounding Hale'
This is the first full-length biography of Hale in several decades. Hanged by the British as a spy, Hale is most famous for the phrase attributed to him, "I only regret that I have but one life to give my country." Phelps (If Looks Could Kill), best known as a true crime author, brings his reporting skills to this history. He does well with the story of Hale's short life and disturbing death after being caught behind enemy lines seeking information on British troop movements. Relying as much as possible on primary sources, Phelps writes of Hale's years at Yale, which he attended in his early teens. He was an excellent athlete, handsome, charming, with a large number of friends. After graduating in 1773, he began life as a teacher, but in those pivotal times, he left teaching for the Connecticut militia. Some of the most powerful parts of this biography are those in the words of Hale's brother, Enoch, who was sent by the family to find out how Nathan died and to bring back his body. Thi