A Ballad | American Revolution War Song

About the author

Frank Moore
Frank Moore

Frank Moore was a journalist and Revolutionary historian. He published a number of books on the American Revolution during his career in the mid-19th century, including Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution, Diary of the American Revolution and The Patriot Preachers of the American Revolution.

The particulars known, concerning the capture, trial, and execution of this gallant, and much lamented young officer, are few. Washington, after the retreat of his army from Long Island, in 1776, wishing to obtain information relative to the true situation, and intended operations, of the royal troops, applied to one of his officers, for a “discreet and enterprising person to penetrate the enemy’s camp.” This request was communicated to Nathan Hale,1 a captain in Colonel Knowlton’s regiment. “Animated by a sense of his duty,” Hale undertook the dangerous service, and passed into the British lines in disguise. He obtained the desired information; but on his return, was apprehended and carried before Sir William Howe, to whom he frankly acknowledged the object of his visit. Howe immediately gave an order to the provost marshal, and Hale was executed in the early part of the next day. “The execution was carried on in a most unfeeling manner, and by as great a savage as ever disgraced humanity. A clergyman, whose attendance he desired, was refused him; a bible for a moment’s devotion was not procured, though he requested it. Letters, which on the morning of his execution, he wrote to his mother, and other friends, were destroyed; and this very extraordinary reason given by the provost marshal, ‘that the rebels should not know that they had a man in their army who could die with so much firmness.'”2

A Ballad

THE breezes went steadily thro’ the tall pines,
A saying ” oh ! hu-ush !” a saying “oh ! hu-ush !”
As stilly stole by a bold legion of horse,
For Hale in the bush, for Hale in the bush.

“Keep still !” said the thrush as she nestled her young,
In a nest by the road; in a nest by the road.
“For the tyrants are near, and with them appear,
What bodes us no good, what bodes us no good.”

The brave captain heard it, and thought of his home,
In a cot by the brook; in a cot by the brook
With mother and sister and memories dear,
He so gaily forsook; he so gaily forsook.

Cooling shades of the night were coming apace,
The tattoo had beat; the tattoo had beat.
The noble one sprang from his dark lurking place,
To make his retreat; to make his retreat.

He warily trod on the dry rustling leaves,
As he pass’d thro’ the wood; as he pass’d thro’ the wood;
And silently gain’d his rude launch on the shore,
As she play’d with the flood; as she play’d with the flood.

The guards of the camp, on that dark, dreary night,
Had a murderous will; had a murderous will.
They took him and bore him afar from the shore,
To a hut on the hill; to a hut on the hill.

No mother was there, nor a friend who could cheer,
In that little stone cell; in that little stone cell.
But he trusted in love, from his father above.
In his heart, all was well; in his heart, all was well

An ominous owl with his solemn base voice,
Sat moaning hard by; sat moaning hard by.
The tyrant’s proud minions most gladly rejoice,
“For he must soon die; for he must soon die.”

The brave fellow told them, no thing he restrain’d,
The cruel gen’ral; the cruel gen’ral.
His errand from camp, of the ends to be gain’d,
And said that was all; and said that was all.

They took him and bound him and bore him away,
Down the hill’s grassy side; down the hill’s grassy side.
‘Twas there the base hirelings, in royal array,
His cause did deride; his cause did deride.

Five minutes were given, short moments, no more,
For him to repent; for him to repent;
He pray’d for his mother, he ask’d not another,
To Heaven he went; to Heaven he went.

The faith of a martyr, the tragedy shew’d,
As he trod the last stage; as he trod the last stage.
And Britons will shudder at gallant Hale’s blood,
As his words do presage, as his words do presage.

“Thou pale king of terrors, thou life’s gloomy foe,
Go frighten the slave, go frighten the slave;
Tell tyrants, to you, their allegiance they owe.
No fears for the brave; no fears for the brave.”

  1. Nathan Hale was a descendant of John Hale, first minister of Beverly, Massachusetts. He was the son of Richard H. Hale, of Coventry, Connecticut, and graduated at Yale College in 1773, with high honors. Little is known of his private history. The subjoined account of him is copied from the “Freeman’s Journal,” of February 18, 1777. “The following is a genuine specimen of Tory benevolence, and may be depended upon as real matter of fact. Samuel Hale, late of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, after his elopement from thence, visited an uncle in Connecticut, where be was hospitably entertained; but as his uncle was a whig, and had a son, a young gentleman of liberal education, and most amiable disposition, who strongly felt for his bleeding country, and being very active in the military way, was urged and prevailed on to take a commission in the Continental army; consequently Samuel was obliged to conduct with caution, and counterfeit, as well as he could, a whiggish phiz, while be tarried, which was, however, but a short time, before he made his escape to General Howe in New York. Some time after this, Captain Hale, at the request of the General, went into New York in disguise, and having nearly accomplished his designs, who should he meet but his aforesaid cousin Samuel, whom he attempted to shun; but Sam knew him too well. Captain Hale soon found he was advertised, and so particularly described, that be could not get through Long Island. He therefore attempted to escape by King’s-bridge, and so far succeeded as to get to the outer guard, where he was suspected, apprehended, carried back and tried, and yet would have been acquitted, had not his affectionate and grateful cousin Samuel appeared and made oath, that he was a captain in the Continental army, and that be was in there as a spy, in consequence of which he was immediately hung up. However, at the gallows he made a sensible and spirited speech; among other things told them they were shedding the blood of the innocent, and that if he had ten thousand lives, he would lay them all down, if called to it, in defence of this injured bleeding country.”The printers throughout the continent are desired to exhibit this tragical scene to the public; that they may see what they may expect if they fall into the hands of the tories.”
  2. Hannah Adams’ History of New England.

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