A plaque posted on Pier 1 Imports at 3rd Avenue and 66th Street in Manhattan claims that Nathan Hale, a young American spy and soldier in the Revolutionary War, was strung up on a gallows within 100 yards of this site on September 22, 1776, and hanged by the British.
This information comes from a British Officer’s diary, which stated that the hanging occurred at “the Royal Artillery Park near the Dove Tavern at the old Post Road,” which is now 3rd Avenue.
Hale, born in Coventry, Connecticut, on June 6, 1755, and a teacher by trade, joined his five brothers in the fight for independence against the British. He quickly rose to the rank of captain in the military. He fought under General George Washington in New York, as British General William Howe began a military build-up on Long Island. Washington took his army onto Manhattan Island. At the battle of Harlem Heights, Washington, facing Howe in battle yet again, asked for a volunteer to go on a spy mission behind enemy lines. Hale stepped forward.
Disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster, Hale set out on his mission. For a week he gathered information on the position of British troops, but was captured while returning to the American side. Because of incriminating papers Hale possessed, the British knew he was a spy. It is said that his cousin, a British sympathizer under Howe’s command, betrayed him. Howe ordered the 21-year-old Hale to be hanged the following day.
Hale has gone down in history not just for his heroic fighting and intelligence-gathering, but because of the awesomely patriotic words he is said to have uttered just before his execution: “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Perhaps this fame is why there are actually competing locations for where the hanging took place. Another plaque claiming to be the location of Hale’s execution is affixed to the building of the Yale Club (Hale was a Yale graduate, class of 1773) at East 44th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. That plaque also claims that the “British Artillery Park” existed there. A 13-foot-statue of Nathan Hale also stands tall in City Hall Park.