Nathan Hale probably never set foot in the Nathan Hale Homestead, though he was probably born in part of the old house attached to the new.
He was born in Coventry, Conn., the sixth of 12 children, eight boys and three girls, though two died in infancy. His parents, Deacon Richard Hale and Elizabeth Strong, came from good old Puritan families. His mother descended from John Strong, a Puritan elder who founded Windsor, Conn., and Northampton, Mass. Deacon Hale’s grandfather, John Hale, served as a key figure in the Salem witch trials.
Deacon Hale prospered as a farmer. He sent Nathan and his older brother Enoch to Yale. By the time the brothers were old enough to enlist in the military, Deacon Hale had begun to build a grand new house in the then-fashionable Georgian style. He built it on the spot of his previous house, where Nathan and his siblings were born.
The house was probably under construction, or at least well into the planning stages, when Nathan came home on leave from the Continental Army in January 1776.
The Hale family moved into the new house that October — five days after learning the British had hanged Nathan as a spy.
Hale had been teaching school in New London, Conn., when one of his Yale classmates urged him to enlist in the Continental Army. That classmate, Benjamin Talmadge, would become George Washington’s spymaster.
Nathan Hale joined up and received a lieutenant’s commission. He grew frustrated, though, because he didn’t see much action. After the British drove George Washington and his army out of Long Island, Hale transferred to a new regiment, one focused on espionage and reconnaissance.
He volunteered to go behind enemy lines on Long Island to get information Washington desperately needed about British strength and fortifications.
Hopelessly unqualified as a spy, Hale was spotted by Robert Rogers in a Long Island tavern. A search found he had drawings and maps of key British fortifications. The British arrested him. The next day, Sept. 22, 1776, they hanged the young schoolteacher from an apple tree at what is now Third Avenue and East 66th Street in Manhattan.
“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” were supposedly his last words. His friends, at least, said they were, and historians repeated them.
As the Hale family prepared to move into their new house, they grew worried that they hadn’t heard from Nathan in a month. Rumors circulated around Coventry that he’d been seen hanged as a spy.
His brother Enoch went to Nathan’s regiment in White Plains to find out what happened to him. He then learned the truth.
Nine months after his death, the army sent Nathan’s trunk to his family. Today it sits in the Nathan Hale Homestead.
Nathan Hale Homestead
Nathan Hale didn’t become a legend right away. Then a Connecticut-born lawyer, George Dudley Seymour, grew fascinated with his story. He did extensive research on his life and in 1914 bought the homestead, which had been sold a number of times. Seymour even persuaded the U.S. Postal Service to issue a Nathan Hale stamp.
He restored the house and tracked down Hale family artifacts, including the family Bible and Nathan’s trunk.. He then gave the house and the property to the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society.
The National Park Service listed the Nathan Hale Homestead on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 because of its association with Connecticut’s state hero. But the house also has architectural distinction as a classic, late-18th century Georgian home with larger-than-usual proportions.
The Georgian style undoubtedly suited the Hales’ Puritan taste: simple and severe, but refined. According to the fashion of the time and place, the interior had no elaborate decorative touches.
Hale’s nephew David Hale, Jr., planted a triangular grove of maple trees in front of the homestead. Neighbors used to hold prayer meetings in the grove, which came to be known as the Holy Grove.
Today, Connecticut Landmarks runs the Nathan Hale Homestead as a house museum.
It has 17 acres of grounds, outbuildings and stone walls surrounded by the1,455-acre Nathan Hale Forest. Docents dressed in colonial garb offer tours of the house and activities for children. Yes, there’s a gift shop.
Last Green Valley
Coventry, Conn., belongs to the Last Green Valley, a rural island in the middle of the most urban region in the nation. The Last Green Valley includes 26 towns in northeast Connecticut and nine in south-central Massachusetts. Bucolic fields, forest and rolling hills dominate the area, yet it’s a short drive from metropolitan Worcester, Springfield, Hartford and Providence. So if you’re looking for a drive to mostly unspoiled countryside along with some history, the Nathan Hale Homestead might fit the bill.
Five Things You’ll Remember
Nathan Hale’s Trunk
After Nathan Hale died, the army sent his trunk home. It contained his uniform, army diary, receipt book, camp basked, a book of muster rolls, his captain’s commission and several letters. George Symour tracked it down and returned it to the house, where you can see it.
Outline of Nathan Hale on Door
No paintings or drawings of Nathan Hale appear to exist. But on the second floor of the house there is an outline of his face drawn on a door in pencil. Hale’s niece Rebeckah, who lived in the homestead, wrote a letter saying the only known image of her Uncle Nathan was on the back of a door in her bedroom. Seymour knew about the letter and found the silhouette when he had the paint removed.
Open Hearth Kitchen
You’ll appreciate the challenges faced by early American cooks when you see the huge kitchen fireplace, wide pine floorboards and implements like butter churns and long-handled spoons.
From the first Sunday in June through the last Sunday in October, the Nathan Hale Homestead every week hosts the Coventry Farmers’ Market, Connecticut’s largest. The Coventry Farmers Market is the biggest in Connecticut and has been recognized as one of the best. It features farmers selling fresh produce and meat, along with breads, preserves and crafts. There’s live entertainment and demonstrations, too.
The Nathan Hale State Forest has 12 miles of trails on which you can hike, fish, hunt, walk your dog and letterbox. Most of the trails are quite level.
The Homestead is located at 2299 South Street, Coventry, Conn. Open for tours May through October. Friday and Saturday, 12–4 pm; Sunday, 10 am–2 pm Tours on the hour; last tour departs one hour before closing.
The Hale Homestead grounds are open year-round from dawn to dusk.
Images: Nathan Hale Homestead, stone wall in foreground,by Morrow Long via Flickr, CC By-SA 2.0. Hale Homestead Interior By JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26576898. Drone view of Nathan Hale Homestead By CTLandmarks – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112640115. Woodstock By ML.Nature.Photo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95289604.