Though Nathan Hale has only been Connecticut’s state hero since 1985, admiration for the nation’s first spy goes back much further. Hale was captured behind British lines in 1776 and put to death for spying. By the end of the 18th century, American schoolchildren were being inspired by the story of Nathan Hale’s patriotic sacrifice. In 1914, antiquarian George Dudley Seymour began restoring the family home of Hale, who he said was “the nation’s youthful hero and supreme symbol of patriotism.” Hale’s image was featured on the US Postal Service’s first half-cent stamp in 1925. Statues of Nathan Hale stand in the state capitol, at Yale University, at the headquarters of the CIA, and more. When the Nathan Hale Branch of the Sons of the American Revolution worked with the Connecticut General Assembly to designate Nathan Hale as the state’s hero, he joined other beloved state symbols such as the mountain laurel (state flower) and American Robin (state bird). In 1995, the legislature also designated a state heroine in Prudence Crandall.
In more recent years, Nathan Hale has remained in the American imagination. He was a character in popular television shows, such as TURN: Washington’s Spies, and he continues reaching schoolchildren through books such as the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series. At the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, we are honored to continue to welcome visitors from around the world to learn about Nathan Hale and consider: where do heroes come from?