Scouting, Volume 67, Number 5, October 1979 Page: 72
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BY ROBERT BEARCE
Illustration by Joseph Ciardiello
oon after the opening
shots of the American
Revolution were fired
at Lexington and Concord, colonists held a town
meeting at New London, Conn., to discuss the
ominous events of April 19, 1775. A young
schoolteacher stood up and delivered a vigorous
speech in defense of American freedom, ending
with a stouthearted "Let us march immediately,
and never lay down our arms until we obtain our
The speaker had to wait until July before he
could put his vocal patriotism into action. After
receiving a lieutenant's commission from the
Connecticut General Assembly, Master Nathan
Hale resigned his teaching position and promptly
began drumming up enlistments for a company of
colonial troops. Only 20 years old. Lieutenant
Hale undertook his new duties with the same
patience and even-tempered discipline he had
used in handling rowdy schoolboys.
His company was fit for battle when he joined
General Washington's hodgepodge Army besieg-
ing the British on Boston peninsula. Digging
ditches and throwing up earthen breastworks for
the siege lines was not the kind of activity that enhanced a
patriot's devotion to military service. Lieutenant Hale, though,
performed his duties resolutely, working on the fortifications,
obtaining provisions for his men, and otherwise preparing for the
day when he could do more than just fire an occasional shot at
Throughout the winter of 1775-1776, Hale had to exert his
powers of patriotic persuasion to keep his men from heading
back home at re-enlistment time. For his own part, he never
wavered in his determination to serve the cause of freedom. On
Jan. 1, 1776, he received a new commission of Captain from the
Within three months of his promotion, Captain Hale was
stationed on Manhattan Island under the command of Lieuten-
ant Col. Thomas Knowlton. The British had evacuated Boston
and sailed to Long Island, N.Y., where they routed American
forces on August 27.
Entrenched on Manhattan Island, General Washington
pondered what the Redcoats under Sir William Howe would do
next. He desperately needed information on the disposition of
British troops. The answer was "Knowlton's Rangers," an
advance guard of men used for scouting and reconnoitering.
Colonel Knowlton ordered his troops to patrol the Harlem
Heights area and the Westchester shore.
Contact with the Redcoats came sooner than Captain Hale
had anticipated. Knowlton summoned his officers for a confer-
ence and emphasized General Washington's critical need for
military intelligence. What was the strength of Howe's infantry,
.cavalry, and artillery? Were the British planning new attacks?
Was General Howe receiving reinforcements?
Colonel Knowlton asked if any of his officers would volunteer
to go behind British lines to obtain answers for Washington.
All of the officers present knew that becoming a spy would
involve disguise and deceit. Espionage was not an honorable
undertaking for an officer whose place was fighting in uniform
on the battlefield. No one volunteered, no one except for the
ex-schoolmaster from New London.
The first step of Hale's mission took him from Manhattan
Island into Connecticut. Since British warships patrolled the
western shore of Long Island, it was necessary to make a
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Boy Scouts of America. Scouting, Volume 67, Number 5, October 1979, periodical, October 1979; New Brunswick, New Jersey. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth353681/m1/72/: accessed April 24, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boy Scouts of America National Scouting Museum.