Throwback Thursday: George Washington Requests a Spy

'Anyone out there who feels like risking their life for me?' - George Washington, probably

george washington spy

Photo via Wikimedia/Creative Commons

During this week in 1776, George Washington was feeling a bit drunk with power. In all his boldness, he decided to ask a favor of his army—was there anyone out there willing to volunteer to spy behind British lines?

This mission, of course, would risk the volunteer’s life. Still, Washington evidently thought there was at least one brave Patriot who’d do it for him. Luckily, a Yale grad by the name of Nathan Hale raised his hand. According to, in choosing to volunteer, Hale became one of the first known American spies in the Revolutionary War.

Danger-seeking Hale left his post as a captain in the 19th Regiment of the Continental Army to masquerade as a Dutch schoolmaster. Then, he made his way across the lines on Long Island, absorbing as much information as possible. The poor soul lasted 12 days before his spy mission came to an end. He was caught on his way back to American territory with evidence on his person.

And at the hands of George Washington, the Connecticut native was sent to the gallows in New York City. Hale, a mere 21-years-old, left witnesses with one memorable quote (which he may or may not have actually said):

“I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

The guy was a definition of a good spot, but we don’t blame you, Hale—we blame George Washington. A short two years later, Washington would pull a similar stunt. He ordered Major Benjamin Tallmadge to organize a spy ring called the Culper Ring. Its members would communicate intel about the British troops to Washington. But instead of being memorialized with a quote, the Culper Ring lived on in literature and movies. Most recently, it’s been the subject of an AMC show called TURN: Washington’s Spies.