HALE, NATHAN, Continental officer, hanged by the British in 1776. Autograph closing from a letter to his mother and sisters, new London, Connecticut, 24 May 1774. One page, an oblong, 48 x 167mm. (1 7/8 x 6 1/2 in.), with an 1838 note of authentication and a 2-page biographical note on Hale in an unknown early hand.
"I send my most filial duty to my Mother & sincere love to my Sisters, and am as I ever hope to be, Your dutiful Son...."
Accompanied by an autograph authentication by the clergyman and noted manuscript collector William Buell Sprague (1795-1876), on a small slip: "The within is an autograph of the celebrated Capt. Nathan Hale, who was hung by the British as a spy during the Revolution. It was given me by his family and was almost the only relick they had of him....Nov. 1838."
Hale (1755-1776), who graduated from Yale in 1773, joined the Connecticut Militia and then the Continental Army, serving at the Boston seige and then was ordered to New York where he became Captain of a company of rangers. When Washington asked for a volunteer for an intelligence mission behind British lines, Hale stepped forward after the first appeal brought no volunteers. Posing as a schoolteacher, he traveled through New York to Long Island, collected information regarding British defenses, but was betrayed and captured on 21 September. Without the formality of a trial, Howe ordered him hanged the next day. His famous statement at the gallows, the next day, ended with the vow "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" (apparently inspired by lines from Joseph Addison's Cato). His last letters were burned by the British. Very few letters of Hale are extant, and in any form, his autograph is extremely rare. Philip D. Sang's extensive Collection included a single letter and the present fragment, which are the only two examples to have apeared at auction since 1965.
Philip D. and Elsie O. Sang Foundation (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 20 June 1979, lot 703).