What did Nathan Hale Really Say?

"Last Words of Nathan Hale"

“Last Words of Nathan Hale”
Attribution: Engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie (1858)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nathan Hale, the famous American spy from the Revolutionary War, is famous for saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” There’s just one problem. He never said it. So, what did he really say? The answer is below, courtesy of an interview with Becky Akers conducted by American Revolution and Founding Era:

“What lessons can Americans today take from someone like Nathan Hale?”

That liberty is among God’s greatest gifts to us, more precious even than life.

Many folks mistake Nathan’s sacrifice for nationalism – the “my-country,-right-or-wrong” mentality. And while that’s tragic, it’s understandable, given the warped version of his speech on the gallows bequeathed to us. That famous line – “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” – actually originated with Capt. (later Gen.) William Hull, one of Nathan’s buddies from college. He heard an account of the execution from an eyewitness, which he included in his memoirs as an old man. And then he paraphrased – inaccurately – the quote from a report on Nathan’s death the Boston Chronicle published just six years after the hanging: “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” Obviously, Hull’s condensation packs a greater punch, but it also changes “cause [of liberty]” to “country” – an unfortunate and nationalistic rewrite.

(See the rest at American Revolution and Founding Era)