Lamont stirs up a storm by suggesting new state hero
Coventry — When Gov. Ned Lamont suggested changing the state hero from Nathan Hale to Noah Webster, little did he know that he would spark a revolution in Hale's hometown.
NATHAN HALE: A Revolutionary War spy caught by the British in 1776 and hanged in New York. He was famous for saying "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" and was named the Connecticut State Hero in 1985.
NOAH WEBSTER: An American lexicographer and politician known for publishing his own dictionary, "A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language," in 1806.
During a video posted on Twitter last week, Lamont suggested that Hale, who was hanged as a spy during the Revolutionary War and is famous for the words "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," should be replaced by Webster, who hailed from what is now West Hartford and published his own dictionary in 1806.
Hale was named the state hero in 1985 and the Nathan Hale Homestead, on South Street in Coventry, has become a tourist attraction known for its history and as the site of the Coventry Farmers Market.
Lamont said Hale was a "nice enough guy who was captured after a week at the inn. If he had two lives to give for his country, he would have been a spy for us for two weeks."
In his endorsement of Webster, Lamont noted that he helped to create the American language that distinguished the United States from Great Britain.
"As far as I can tell from the governor's video, his criticism is that Nathan Hale wasn't a spy for long enough to earn hero status," Town Council Chairwoman Lisa Thomas said.
She said she is concerned about how Lamont's statement will affect the town's history and its economy, as well as the region in general.
"Of course, always on my mind is the constant back-burnering of eastern Connecticut," she said. "Taking away this important historical recognition and moving it to a figure from West Hartford seems like yet another chipping away of our eastern Connecticut resources and pride."
Aaron Marcavitch, executive director of Connecticut Landmarks, the nonprofit that oversees the Nathan Hale Homestead, said that despite his capture, Hale had a lasting impact on history and became a figure in the country's culture, including references in the AMC television series "TURN: Washington's Spies" and various children's books.
"Hale was captured behind British lines in 1776 and put to death for spying," he said. "By the end of the 18th century, American schoolchildren were being inspired by the story of Nathan Hale's patriotic sacrifice."
John Holmy, vice president of the Coventry Historical Society and the town historian, said he was upset by Lamont's comment.
"As a citizen of Coventry, I can't help feeling a little outraged; a little dismayed," he said. "From a hero's standpoint, they don't come close to comparing to each other."
"The truth is he was a famous patriot, and a bad spy," Holmy said of Hale. "What made him a hero was how he faced death with dignity."
Holmy said he questions Webster's contributions to America's history.
"He didn't believe women should be educated, he was against the Bill of Rights, he rewrote the Bible so it would be cleaner for women," he said.
As for Lamont, Holmy said, "It's almost like he wants to hang Hale all over again."