For America and Freedom:
The Alternate Story of Nathan Hale's Fate.
By Amber Rose Hammrich
Nathan looked up into the kind eyes of Captain John Montresor and said, "I thank you for your kindness, but I must do this for my country." Nathan saw Montresor's head nod sadly. Then, he heard the unsteady gait of Cunningham's steps in the grass coming toward the tent. "Well, have you finished?" Cunningham growled, Montresor and Nathan nodded yes.
Cunningham came menacingly nearer to Nathan to take him to his execution. At that moment, a sergeant ran up to Cunningham to report that everything was ready and distracted Cunningham. Nathan saw his chance to escape and took it. He bolted and ran toward the New York houses.
He was athletic and strong, and he knew he could outrun them. Behind him, he could hear the guards' curses and heavy footfalls as they turned to chase him. His heart beating in his chest, he ran faster toward a home that he heard was sympathetic; to the "American Cause." The residents were one of the many families that took in escaping American prisoners and hid them from the British guards.
"After him," "Don't let him get away!" the guards yelled behind him, but Nathan soon lost them as he ran at full speed down alley after alley until he reached the sanctuary home. He pounded and banged furiously on the door. "Please let them answer the door," he prayed. Inside, he heard a voice say, "I am coming. I am coming!"
Nathan heard the bolts to the door slide open and soon the large, wooden door creaked open. "Who is it?" a lady asked. Nathan, knowing the secret password that would allow him sanctuary, whispered the words "America and Freedom!" Upon hearing this, the lady opened the door wider, looked out the door and said, "Come in, quickly!" Nathan hastened in, still breathing hard from his exertions.
"This way," she whispered as she led him down the stairs to a secret hiding place in the cellar. "What is your name son?" she asked. "Nathan Hale, "he replied. He heard her gasp, so he stopped, and turned around to see why. He saw that her eyes were filling with tears, and that her shoulders were shaking from barely controlled sobs.
"What is wrong?" he queried. There was a moment of silence as she tried to stop her sobs. Finally, she began to speak; "I once had a boy named Nathan; who was the apple of my family's eye. Always sickly and frail, we never allowed him to play with other children for fear he would take sick and die. Alone and friendless, he befriended a stray dog that was always lurking around our house. Our Nathan gave him food, water, and love. The dog followed him wherever he went. They were inseparable. Every night, he would look out the window to see when his friend would show up and sure enough, the dog was here every night.
But one day the dog did not come by. It was five to six days after the British had occupied the city, and the day of the terrible fire in New York City. Nathan wanted to look for him, but I said 'No,' because of all the chaos in the city on account of the fire. His Papa was helping to fight the fire with the water bucket brigades, leaving me and my son alone. I had chores to do around the house, so I went about doing them.
There was no one to watch him, so he ran off to find his furry friend. But I did not realize this until later on in the day. When I was finished with my chores, I noticed he was gone. I looked frantically for him, searching all his favorite hideouts and places where he liked to play. When my husband came home, I told him about the dog not coming to our house, and the disappearance of our son.
We waited and waited for him to come home, hoping that he would walk in the door at any given time. Hours passed, and there was no sign of him. Later that night, there was a knock on our door. It was our neighbor, who asked if he could come in to talk to us. I said 'yes,' and opened the door wider so he could come in. We led him into our house and into the parlor, and beckoned him to sit down. "What brings you here at this late hour?" I asked. "I apologize for the late hour, and I wish I could have come with better news, but I am afraid that the only news I have is bad news," our neighbor stated apologetically.
"Is it about our son?" We asked fearfully. "Yes, I am afraid so," the neighbor answered, then sighed deeply and told us what had happened, "I saw your son dash after a dog that was running into a burning house, but your son did not get far, before a British redcoat stopped and arrested him. He then took your son off to jail."
When our neighbor said this, I remember jumping up from my chair and saying my son was not doing any harm. He was just trying to find his friend. My neighbor replied sadly, "No, he was not, but the British thought he was. They thought he was trying to help spread the fire." I asked my neighbor if he was sure they took him to jail. "Yes, the neighbor replied, sighing deeply again."
"I am sure that is where they took him, because I followed them to the jail. When I got there, I tried talking to the Provost Marshal about his innocence. I asked him to release your son. The Provost Marshal was obstinate and crude replying back to me with a hint of arrogance, that he could not release your son, because he was guilty of arson."
At that point my husband, who was standing by the fireplace, started working up a fury, blustering that he would go talk to the insolent wretch. My neighbor tried desperately to calm him, but to no avail. At last the neighbor calmed him down by saying that they would both go talk to the Provost Marshall together. They went the very next day, but the British would not release my son.
We petitioned General Howe, and obtained his release five days later, but by then, it was too late. My son contracted "jail house fever" and died. All we were able to get back was my son's corpse. My husband was furious at the loss of our cherished son. Nathan was only eleven years old. My husband then decided to sneak out of New York and to join up with General George Washington's Continental Army."
When she finished telling her story, she broke out in sobs again. Nathan felt her sobs deep down inside his soul, and reached out and placed a hand on her arm. He wished he could do more to help alleviate this kind lady's sorrow, and wished he could find words to comfort her, but for the first time in his life, words failed him. All he could say was that he was sorry for her loss. This seemed to be enough, for she wiped her eyes on her handkerchief and smiled. Then she said, "I will bring you down some warm food, blankets, a candle, and a cot for your overnight stay. At dawn, we will smuggle you out of New York with the aid of our local dairyman, who is sympathetic to the American Cause as well."
"Is there anything else you need, or would like to have?"Nathan thought for a minute, then nodded his head yes, "I would like a pen and some paper, please." She smiled then answered Nathan, "I will get them for you." Now it was his turn to smile and say thank you.
She replied "You're welcome," then went upstairs to get things for his overnight stay. Nathan thought about all that he had been through in the past week. It was the first time he had ever had the chance to think about it. When he did, the memories rushed in with a vengeance;
He saw William Hull's face as he told him not to take on the character of a spy, and all the people he had met while in British lines spying on their camp. He cringed when he remembered the moment he was captured by someone whom he thought to be his friend. He would remember forever the man's smug face when his cleverly hidden comrades jumped out of the bushes, knocked him down, and bound his hands behind his back. It was then that he knew that the man was not his friend, but was a "Loyalist" and an enemy of America.
Then, he recalled the long walk to General Howe's headquarters and being interrogated by the General about his occupation; if he really was a Dutch schoolmaster; or a spy. A lone tear trickled down his face when he remembered the moment when his cousin, Samuel Hale, was called in to the room to identify him. Oh! How the time moved in slow motion as his cousin turned to him and identified him as Captain Nathan Hale of the Rebel army. And of course, he could not forget William Cunningham.
His heart pounded, and his body shook involuntarily when he remembered him. He would never forget HIS face. He had never met a man so cruel in his life. The words that Cunningham had said to him seared his heart, and he cried harder. "Stinking rebel dog. We will soon be sending your traitorous heart off to hell!"
Last but not least, Montresor's kind face, appeared. Nathan was happy to learn that not all of his enemies were cruel. He would never forget Montresor's kindness. The memories finally stopped, and faded from his view, but he knew they would be back. He covered his face with his hands, and sighed when the tears finally ceased. Just then, the lady came back carrying the blankets, food, etc, and the other items he had requested.
As he was settling in for the night, the kind lady asked him if he was born and raised in New York, "No," Nathan shook his head. "I am not from New York; I am from Connecticut, where I was a schoolteacher. That is, before I joined the army."
"Come, tell me a little bit more about yourself," she invited. He told her about college; about his fiancée; about the war; and about the future. They talked for hours, and it was not until they looked out the tiny window in the cellar that they noticed the passage of time, "Oh, dear me!" the lady exclaimed. "It is late. I apologize for taking up your time." "It is no problem," Nathan replied truthfully, I needed some companionship." "Yes, I suppose you do, after all you have been through," she responded thoughtfully then stretched and yawned. "Well, I better get upstairs to bed, Goodnight Nathan!" She called as she turned and went up the cellar stairs that led into the kitchen.
"Goodnight! Nathan answered back. Alone again, he thought for a second before he lit the candle beside him then reached for a pen and paper, and started writing. He wrote about the British military fortifications, the enemy's plans, and drew the gun placements and the position of the enemy's camp all from memory. He wrote until late at night. When he finished writing, he blew out the candle and settled back into the cot.
He lay there for a couple of minutes thinking about his comrades and friends, and how they would react to his popping up in camp. He smiled, and his heart pounded with anticipation when he thought about seeing his family and fiancée again. With these thoughts dancing merrily in his head, he gave a contented sigh and settled down on the pillow for a short, fitful sleep. Nathan arose shortly before dawn the next morning, tidied the room, stuffed the papers and plans he had written up late last night into his pocket, and then sat on the cot to wait for the lady to come downstairs.
Ten minutes later, she arrived. "I see that you are up already. Wonderful! The dairyman is upstairs waiting by the backdoor." She turned and went upstairs. Nathan followed. When he reached the top of the stairs, he saw the dairyman standing by the back door waiting, just as the lady had said.
The dairyman turned around when he saw them, "Are you ready?" he asked impatiently. "It is getting light outside and someone might see us. This is a dangerous mission, so we must be as secretive as possible. We must sneak him out of New York while it is still dark." The lady clucked her tongue when she heard this and sensing a need to soothe the dairyman's rattled nerves, reassured him in a coaxing voice, "Patience. I know this is dangerous, but we are in a secluded alley, so no one will be able to see us."
"I suppose you are right," the dairyman sighed heavily while shaking his head. I believe I am just more nervous, than anything else." At this, Nathan remarked, "I understand. I am ready to go now." He turned to leave, but stopped. He turned around to face the lady who reminded him so much of his own mother and said, "I cannot thank you enough for your kindness and generosity." She smiled at him, and then replied in a voice laden with patriotism, "It was no trouble, and I am willing to do anything for America and freedom."
Nathan smiled as well, said goodbye to the kind lady before he turned around to follow the dairyman out the back door to his wagon. He then jumped into the secret bottom of the wagon floor, as the dairyman directed. The dairyman climbed onto the wagon seat, grabbed the leather reins of the horses' harness, "Giddiyup!" he said in a loud whisper as he slapped the horses' reins. The horses jerked forward, jostling the wagon as they did so.
But Nathan did not notice, for his thoughts were elsewhere, mainly on the excitement of seeing his friends again, and how the General would react when he saw the information that Nathan would give him. He did not care whether he received accolades or not. He was just proud that he was finally able to do something for his country. The horses' hooves echoed off the houses as the wagon bumped and jiggled along on the rough cobblestone streets. They traveled at a slow, easy pace until they reached the road that led out of New York City, where five British soldiers stood blocking the road carrying muskets with bayonets fixed. "Halt, in the name of the Crown!" a tall British soldier yelled in a brusque, no-nonsense voice, as he and the other five British soldiers pointed their bayonets in the wagon's direction. The steel bayonets gleamed threateningly in the sun.
The dairyman responded to the unspoken threat by jerking on the horses' reins to stop the wagon. The tallest of the three British soldiers walked up to the wagon, glared at the dairyman and spoke, again in his brusque, no-nonsense voice, "We have orders from General Howe to check every wagon that comes out of New York City. A rebel spy escaped from the execution party yesterday morning. We have reason to believe he is still lurking around New York City somewhere, and will endeavor to escape by hiding in a wagon that is heading out of town." The dairyman exhaled noisily then spoke to the tall British soldier in an irritated voice, "Look, all I have in my wagon is an ornery chicken and some dairy products. I have a business to run, why would I risk my business and my life, just to help one of your prisoners escape?" The tall British soldier glowered at him impatiently, and raising his voice shouted, "Still, we have orders to check the wagon, and we will obey those orders!"
The dairyman shrugged his shoulders, "Do so at your own risk, for my chicken does not like being trifled with." The tall British soldier motioned for his comrades to stand by the wagon, in case they found the rebel spy. He then proceeded to search the wagon, poking his bayonet in the straw, and opening barrels. Suddenly, there was a loud squawk, and the tall British soldier backed quickly away from the wagon, nursing an injured hand, "Ow! Your chicken pecked me!" he screamed at the dairyman.
The dairyman shook his head, trying to hide his barely controlled laughter, "I told you my chicken did not like being trifled with, but I suppose you had to find out for yourself." The sentry glowered at him, his face contracting with anger, "I do not find that funny! Now get on with you, and take your troublesome chicken somewhere else!" The dairyman slapped the horse's reins and yelled, "Giddiyup!" The horses responded, again jolting the wagon forward. The wagon bumped and swayed along, this time on a rutted road. Nathan released the breath he did not realize he was holding, and then laughed inwardly when it dawned on him that they had pulled the wool over the British soldiers' eyes. He then remembered the "Person" from whom all blessings flow, and sent a thankful prayer up to heaven "Thank you God, for your wonderful Providence."
The wagon bumped along quietly for many miles, interrupted only by the occasional sound of a cow mooing or a crow cawing in the trees. When the dairyman felt it was safe, he yelled back to Nathan, "Are you alright back there? You can climb up onto the wagon now if you want to. We have passed the enemy's lines a long time ago." Nathan jumped up onto the wagon, and as he did so, he gasped when he saw the beauty of the surrounding countryside. "Beautiful isn't it? The dairy man whispered to Nathan in wonder, then continued talking, this time in a voice laced with frustration; "However, it will not be that way for long, thanks to the war and the British occupation." "Look!" the dairyman shouted enthusiastically as he pointed his finger towards a line of tents off in the distance. "I see the American lines!"
Nathan's heart pounded with excitement when he heard this. He could not believe that he was almost there, and that he had actually made it back to the American camp. As they drew near the American lines, an American sentry stood in tattered clothes, blocking the road. The dairyman jerked on the reins to stop the wagon, "State your name and business, the sentry demanded." The dairyman parked the wagon, and then answered the sentry, "I am a local dairyman, dedicated to the cause of America and freedom, and I am headed to my main shop in Albany to get more supplies. But first, I need to drop off a present for General Washington and the army."
The dairyman motioned for Nathan Hale to jump off the wagon. Nathan did so and stood there looking around, "Who is he?" The American sentry questioned the dairyman. At that precise moment, a soldier who was walking by saw Nathan standing alongside the wagon. He looked at Nathan for a long second, and then recognition lit up in his eyes as a smile broke across his face, "Nathan! The soldier dropped his musket that he was carrying and ran towards Nathan, "Nathan you are back, you made it!"
Nathan laughed as his friend, William Hull, ran up to him and gave him a big, brotherly hug, "Goodness, William! Did the army miss me that bad? I was only gone for a week or two! Nathan teased." William released him, then shook his finger at his face as he scolded gently, "Miss you? Of course we missed you! We thought we would never see your face on this earth again!" William then cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled to all the camp, "Nathan's back, hey everyone, Nathan is back!" This brought a myriad of soldiers who knew the name of Nathan Hale to come popping out of their tents, and start running towards Nathan.
They shook his hands and slapped his back, yelling about how glad they were that he had returned. The American sentry, watching the scene unfold, shook his head and laughed, "Well, I suppose that answers my question!" He then turned back to the dairyman, and said he was free to go, "Thanks," the dairyman replied. He waved, started the wagon again, and then disappeared from view.
Meanwhile, people were still surrounding Nathan, "So, tell us how you managed to complete your mission, the crowd demanded in unison," Upon which Nathan replied, laughing, "All I can say right now is that I managed to escape the execution party, and the rest is a long story, that I will be pleased to tell everyone later after I have met with General Washington to report on my successful mission." William laughed heartily, "You are not going to General Washington looking like a beggar from the streets. Come to my tent, and I will give you some things to freshen up with." Nathan reached up and rubbed a hand over his face, "Yes, I suppose I do need a bit of cleaning up." William and Nathan laughed again together, and then walked towards William's tent while the crowd noisily dispersed.
William stopped to pick up his musket that he had dropped, and continued walking, "So," William turned to look at him with a mischievous grin on his face when they reached his tent. "Can you tell me about your adventures? Or are you going to keep it all to yourself?" Nathan looked into Williams' eyes and scolded teasingly, "You are just going have to wait to hear the story with the rest of them." William sighed in disappointment, but then he brightened up again, "Well then, I will tell you all of the latest camp gossip, and inform you of the latest news." "Sounds great," Nathan beamed enthusiastically.
After he had freshened up, William walked with him to General Washington's headquarters, talking all the way. Nathan listened to his prattle and smiled with pleasure. How good it felt to be among friends again! He raised his face up to the sun; and felt its warm rays bathe his face. A breeze picked up, and tossed his sandy hair. He basked in the moment, and in the wonderful feeling of being alive. He had his whole life spread out in front of him, thanks to God's wonderful providence. He planned to fulfill his dreams by never taking anything for granted, while living his life to the fullest. Because who knows when life might suddenly be snatched from you?
Nathan went on to fulfill his dreams. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel for his bravery and courage, and went on to fight in many battles for America's freedom. In the spring of 1777, he was granted a furlough. He then rode home to see his family and his friends in Connecticut, and to marry his fiancée. In 1783, he went home when the war ended, and raised a family of five boys and five girls named: Montresor, George, Nathan Jr., Benjamin, Alan, Martha, Nancy, Beatrice, Sarah, and Lucy. He studied law on the side, and was prominent in the Connecticut legislator. He became president of Yale College in 1787. In 1790; he started writing about the patriotism of the families of the Underground Railroad in New York City during the American Revolutionary War. He died in 1832, surrounded by friends and family, mourned by his country, but remembered as the man who brought attention to the patriotic families of New York.
Some of the characters in this short story are real: William Cunningham, General Howe, Captain John Montresor, William Hull, Samuel Hale, and Nathan Hale. The rest are purely fictional. No copyright infringement is intended. This is an alternate history, and the epilogue is the figment of the author's imagination, but it is based on what might have happened had Nathan Hale escaped or succeeded in his mission to spy on the enemy's camp. The story of Nathan Hale's death is a tragic story. Nathan Hale was a brilliant and pious young man; when he was eighteen, he graduated with honors at Yale College in 1773. While a student at Yale, he helped found the first secular library at the College. He was also a successful schoolteacher in New London, Connecticut, and was well liked by his students. When he was a captain in the Continental Army, he was known for his kindness and compassion. He would go to the tents of sick soldiers, and he would pray with them. Everyone who knew him loved him. Nathan Hale had a promising future that he sacrificed for his country. His last words still ring out as hope and inspiration, and a model of courage and bravery, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country, if I had ten thousand lives, I would lay them all down in defense of my injured, bleeding country. May we all profit from Nathan Hale's example, and never hesitate to stand up for our beliefs, to be willing to fight for it no matter the cost.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Phelps, M. William. Nathan Hale: the Life and Death of America's First Spy. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2008. Print
For further reading:
The sentence I inserted in the short story about what William Cunningham said to Nathan is real, you can find out why he said it and who William Cunningham was by going to this site:
For more information about the fire in New York/ New York during the Revolutionary War, the best books on the subject are as follows:
1776 by David Mcullough, The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution; the Day the American Revolution Ended (in the section of the world reacts: New York) by William H. Hallahan and the Spirit of '76, the American Revolution- a book replete with eyewitness accounts of the fire in New York.