Two hundred and forty one years ago today, as he faced execution for espionage on behalf of the American colonies, Nathan Hale uttered the immortal line, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Or maybe he didn’t. A study by the Library of Congress (LOC) says there’s no contemporary evidence he actually said that. But there’s little harm in giving what the LOC called the “patron saint of American intelligence” the benefit of the doubt.
Nathan Hale, just 21 years old when he died, was one of America’s first spies, operating for George Washington’s Continental Army. For all his courage, he was, by most accounts, not well-trained nor particularly good at espionage.