The young man standing at the front of the podium was anything but unnerved by the crowd that had gathered to decide on the position the colonies would take to England. Though the tension was as tight as a stretched rubber band, Nathan Hale stood with complete composure. “My dear fellow patriots!” At this, all commotion stopped. Mouths gaped and eyes bugged. “Patriot” was a word much like a river’s undercurrent— always present but never surfacing. A murmur of uncertainty rumbled around the room. Heads turned to their neighbors to see their reaction. A frown on a single brow could mean big trouble to all present. “Yes, I mean you,” Nathan continued unhindered. “We have come to a time to choose definitively between the dogmatic British rule, or independence!” Dead silence ensued, except for a fly buzzing unnoticed around the ears of those present. ‘Independence’ was a word of treason and punishable by death. Were they ready to charge down that road? Lexington was a small battle, and neither side had yet lost beyond repair. What would it mean to take on the British? Nathan looked long and hard at each individual present, pressing the invisible button of conscience to a point of great discomfort. Many a body squirmed in its seat before the aged voice of reason broke out from somewhere in the back. “The rash courage of a twenty-year-old boy breaks the spell! Hurrah for independence!” “Hurrah for independence!” came a bone-jarring echo. “Hurrah for independence!”
September 1776 found the cause for freedom still strong, and the Patriots were vying fiercely for freedom from the British hierarchy. Thousands of tents pitched beneath a merciless sun and an equally cruel terrafirma, provided a home-away-from-home (if one could call it that) for the Continental Army. And, indeed, even the most barren of accommodations was a welcome respite when compared to the final resting place of many of their compatriots. In one of these abodes, a most unsavory meeting was taking place …
“I know this is no job for a gentleman, yet it must be done. Do I have a volunteer?” Colonel Knowlton addressed the group of officers before him. Something both forceful and desperate was in his voice. He was most in earnest in his plea. The assignment was dangerous and regarded as degrading. The role of a spy was to play the part of a friend ultimately to betray. “The time is dire, friends. We must know of the enemy plans. The cause for independence could well rest solely upon this mission,” he begged. Still not a soul stepped forward.
“How about you, Lieutenant Bordeaux?” The Colonel looked at a well-dressed Frenchman among the soldiers. The French were such peacocks; perhaps he wouldn’t mind the mission as long as he could carry it out in his best attire.
“I am willing to be shot for the cause, but not hung as a spy,” came the common reply. A murmur of agreement rose and the company dwindled back to silence. So much for that idea.
Here the musty old tent flap lifted, sending in a hot cloud of dust and Captain Hale walked in looking quite pale from a recent illness. Though he was only 21 years of age, the time in bed had made him look even younger than his tender age. Still, with head high and exuding confidence he said, “Any service, necessary for the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. I will go.”
Two weeks later Nathan found himself hiding in the midnight darkness. It was uncannily oppressive. The travel behind enemy lines had been intense. Everyone was suspicious in wartime, and no less so now as loyalties differed from neighbor to neighbor. The mission had ended none too soon for Captain Hale. Under the cloak of darkness, Nathan awaited the longboat and his return to safety. The air was thick with mosquitoes and moisture. The evening had not brought any relief from the heat, yet in spite of this, Nathan shook with cold. Redcoats were as thick as the blood-sucking insects polluting the riverbed, and could be a far greater nuisance. He strained his ears to hear a conversation between soldiers, but the chorus of frogs drowned out the words.
Suddenly a hand grabbed him by the collar, cutting off his air supply and forced him to a standing position. Apparently, the midnight song of the frogs had drowned out more than just the conversing soldiers.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” demanded an English-accented voice. But before Nathan could open his mouth to respond, the English accent interrupted, “Private! Search him!”
Nathan could do nothing but stand quietly while the English soldier searched him from head to foot. The bayonet in his back assured him of that. The plans he was able to extract from the enemy were hidden in the sole of his boot. Perhaps with a less scrutinizing soldier, they would not be found, but this redcoat was tearing him apart at the seams! Sure enough he got down to the boots. “Aha! What have we here?” the soldier drawled, a triumphant glee showing in his face. “A spy!” He yelled. “To the gallows!”
The dawn of his execution came far too early. “Nathan Hale, you are found guilty and sentenced as a spy. Do you have any last words?” The executioner’s voice was gruff, and the offer sounded more like a dare. With great composure Nathan Hale raised his head and looked at the English general attending the hanging. “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Just like Captain Nathan Hale, God will give you the courage to face even the most desperate of circumstances with courage and peace, no matter your age, experience, or situation.
Alicia Freedman is currently working on our LandMarks team and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.