By Rebecca Taber
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Fall 2005
Visit the Nathan Hale Homestead (open through mid-October) in Coventry during the beautiful fall foliage season to commemorate our state hero’s birth 250 years ago. Beginning in Hale’s birth month of June and continuing into early 2006, the Hale Homestead, a property of Connecticut Landmarks, is sponsoring and collaborating on a variety of events to honor the life and death of the Continental Army officer whose last words before being hanged by the British as a spy in 1776 – “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” – made him an enduring national icon of patriotic self-sacrifice.
Nathan Hale was born June 6, 1755 on his family’s prosperous farm, in a house that was torn down the year he died and replaced with the current Georgian-style dwelling occupied by his father, siblings, and other relatives for the next 46 years. After graduating from Yale College (now university) in 1773, Hale taught in one-room schoolhouses in East Haddam and New London. Following the outbreak of the American Revolution, he joined the Continental Army, rising to the rank of captain.
Patriot prospects were grim in September of 1776 when Hale, dressed as a civilian, was captured by the British behind enemy lines. Hale’s identity revealed, the British commander sentenced him to a spy’s death of hanging. The following day, Hale died at the end of a British rope. Eyewitnesses recorded Hale’s final statement, which over the decades after his death became emblematic of noble patriotic sentiment. In 1985, Hale was named the Official State Hero of Connecticut.
A visit to the Hale Homestead is a tribute to a hero and a trip back in time to the early years of our country. Visitors take a guided tour (which includes hands-on activities for children) of the 1776 home and view a short video. An 18th-century demonstration garden showcases period plants and vegetables, and the picturesque grounds surrounding the museum feature historic trees, outbuildings, original stonewalls, and acres of fields and forests. The Hale family once owned more than 400 acres; that land is now part of the Nathan Hale State Forest, which features trails for walking and horseback riding. At the nearby Nathan Hale Cemetery, visitors can see the 1846 granite obelisk monument to Captain Nathan Hale (the location of his actual grave is unknown) and the graves of his family members.
This year of celebration has publicly kicked off a major fundraising campaign for the Hale Homestead. The exterior of the house has been restored, damaged boards replaced, and the whole exterior repainted. Using new information form a recently completed Historic Structures Report, the interior of the house will be restored to its late-18th-century appearance, with original colors and appropriate furnishings. The restoration will be showcased in new tours of the house and landscape and interpreted through exciting new programs. CTL also plans to build a Visitors’ Center with exhibition space featuring a display on Nathan Hale, space for programs, and a gift shop.
On October 22 and November 19, CTL and the Lebanon Historical Society will co-sponsor a day-and-a-half teachers’ workshop focusing on Connecticut’s role as a provisioning state for the Continental Army; a wrap-up meeting is set for January 11, 2006. February 24-26, 2006, CTL will co-sponsor a conference on “Heroism, Nationalism, and Human Rights” at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. The conference, which will highlight Hale and Connecticut State Heroine Prudence Crandall as examples of the diverse nature of heroism, will feature the premiere of a play about Crandall. Also collaborating on the conference are the University of Connecticut’s Thomas J. Dodd Center, Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward, and the Prudence Crandall Museum in Canterbury.
Rebecca Taber-Conover is director of education at the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society.
The Nathan Hale Homestead, 2299 South Street, Coventry
Open seasonally for tours, mid-May through mid-October
For more information, call (860) 742-6917 or visit ctlandmarks.org.
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