J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Nathan Hale’s Provost

Periodically Boston 1775 likes to note new Revolutionary-era comics. And here comes Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy, written and drawn by Nathan Hale, and also narrated by Nathan Hale—a semi-fictional Nathan Hale based on the real Nathan Hale. The first Nathan Hale in that sentence is not a relative of the others.

Just to confuse matters, the writer-artist Nathan Hale also did the art for a couple of terrific tall tales written by Shannon and Dean Hale, who are related by marriage, but not related to Nathan Hale.

Anyhow, here’s how star librarian Elizabeth Bird explains the premise of the first volume of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales:
In One Dead Spy our hero Nathan Hale stands at the gallows alongside a hangman and a British Provost Marshal mere moments before he is to be hanged by the neck until dead. Suddenly he is eaten! Eaten by a big book of American history no less. After being spit out he now knows the entirety of American history and is willing to tell everything he knows. The first story that needs to be told, however, is the tale of Nathan Hale himself. And if along the way he happens to tell the stories of folks like Ethan Allen, Henry Knox, and other big and colorful characters all the better. Like a Colonial Scheherazade, Hale is spared by the childish and endearing hangman and the blowhard Provost Marshal, just so long as he keeps weaving together new tales.
And here’s the Provost, carefully labeled “semi-fictional,” and some of the remarks surrounding him fit that category.

As the art says, “There was a provost, just not him.” The real provost involved in Nathan Hale’s execution was a man named William Cunningham. In 2007 I wrote about a false report of Cunningham’s execution after the war.

TOMORROW: The truth about Cunningham’s prison career.

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