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8.03.2010

Sybil Ludington

New York Heroine of the Revolutionary War

statue of American Revolution heroine and her horse Star
Image: Sybil Ludington Equestrian Statue
Anna Hyatt Huntington sculpted this bronze statue of Sibyl on her horse Star; it was dedicated in 1961 on the shore of Lake Gleneida in Carmel, New York with smaller replicas in Danbury and at the Washington, DC headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Sybil Ludington was the daughter of Abigail and Henry Ludington, born April 5, 1761, in what was then known as Fredericksburg, and is now known as the Ludingtonville section of the town of Kent, New York. Sybil's parents met when he was on his way to Quebec with Connecticut troops during the French and Indian War. On May 1, 1760, Henry and Abigail were married.

On April 16, 1761, Sybil was born - there is confusion concerning the spelling of her first name. Although it is mostly spelled Sybil, her tombstone displays her name as Sibbell. Soon after the young family moved to Dutchess County, New York, and settled on 229 acres of undeveloped land in the Philipse Patent. There Abigail gave birth to eleven more children.

Henry Ludington was a prominent figure, a husky man with military bearing. In spite of the demands of his mill, his farm, and his family, he was diligent in fulfilling his civic and military duties. He was a member of the New York Assembly from 1777 to 1781, and again in 1786. He also served as a member of the Committee of Safety, which was considered the law in many places.

On April 25, 1777, a 2000-man British force commanded by General William Tryon, the governor of the Province of New York. Tryon landed at Fairfield with twenty transports and six warships. The next day the force moved north into Danbury, Connecticut, where they began to search for stores of Continental Army supplies. The British soldiers also began leaving chalk marks on the properties of British loyalists and informers. Properties without chalk marks were to be destroyed.

By 4:00 pm, several Continental Army storehouses and three private homes were in flames. For security reasons, the Continental Army had recently transferred its supplies from Peekskill to Danbury, where they were thought to be safe, and were consequently poorly guarded. The stores included foodstuffs such as flour, beef, pork, sugar, molasses, coffee, rice, wheat, corn, and several hundred cases of wine and rum.

The British soldiers found rum and decided to consume it rather than destroy it. More fires were started by drunken soldiers, as military discipline broke down. Messengers were dispatched in all directions to announce the British arrival and news of the fires.

Colonel Henry Ludington was a respected militia officer who commanded the 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia, a volunteer regiment of local men during the Revolutionary War. He was in charge of the local militia, and later became an aide to General George Washington during the Battle of White Plains. At the time of the Danbury attack, Ludington's militia numbered about 400 men.

Sybil's Ride
An exhausted messenger was dispatched from Danbury with the news of the attack, and he reached the Ludington home at approximately 9:00 pm. Colonel Ludington began to organize the militia, but his men had returned to their homes for spring planting and were scattered throughout the area. The messenger was exhausted and not familiar with the area.

Sybil Ludington was very familiar with the area. She and her horse Star left to sound the alarm of the approach of enemy troops. It is unclear whether she volunteered for the task, or whether she was asked to do it by her father. Her act of patriotism was similar to that of Paul Revere, though she rode more than twice the distance of Revere and was only sixteen years old at the time.

Sybil's ride started shortly after 9:00 pm on April 26, 1777. She used a stick to prod her horse and knock on doors. She managed to defend herself against a highwayman with her father's musket. "The British are burning Danbury. Muster at Ludington's at daybreak!" she shouted at the farmhouses, as she rode through the dark rainy night to Carmel on to Mahopac, then to Kent Cliffs, from there to Farmers Mills and back home.

When she returned about dawn the next morning, soaked from the rain and exhausted from riding more than forty miles, most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march.

In 1907 details of Sybil Ludington's role in all these circumstances emerged in an article written by her great-nephew, the Connecticut historian Louis S. Patrick. According to Patrick, Sybil Ludington rode about forty miles through the night of April 26, 1777, to tell the militiamen under her father's command to muster at his house, from which they would march to defend Danbury.

The details of Sybil Ludington's Ride were told later in 1907 in Willis Fletcher Johnson's Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir, a book-length family tribute to Colonel Ludington. It states in part:
One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of Cowboys and Skinners abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man's saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury.

There is no extravagance in comparing her ride with that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father's house at Fredericksburg, and an hour or two later was on the march for vengeance on the raiders.
Ludington and his militiamen were much too late to save Danbury. The next main encounter was the Battle of Ridgefield (CT) later that day, and they missed that as well. There, several hundred militia confronted the British and were driven away in a running battle down the town's main street, but not before inflicting casualties on the British.

During the night, the Patriot militia regrouped and were expanded by the arrival of more militia from Connecticut, as well as Colonel Ludington's 7th Militia Regiment, from neighboring Dutchess County, New York.

After encamping for the night just south of Ridgefield, the British forces departed the next morning, leaving six houses and the Episcopal church (a Patriot supply depot and field hospital) in flames.

The militia, including the 7th Connecticut, harassed the British column as it moved south, which resembled the British retreat from Concord at the start of the war. From behind convenient stone walls, trees, and buildings the militia constantly fired at the British column all the way to Long Island Sound, where the British fleet awaited them.

Sybil was congratulated for her heroism by friends and neighbors and also by General George Washington. It is not known whether during her lifetime any attention was given to her ride.

Sybil Ludington married Edmond Ogden on October 12, 1784, and they had one child, Henry. Her husband's revolutionary service had included membership in the Connecticut Continentals and naval duty under John Paul Jones aboard the Bonhomme Richard. In 1792 the family moved to Catskill, New York. Following Ogden's death in 1799, Sybil kept an inn, as he had.

In 1811 she moved with her lawyer son and his young family to Unadilla in Otsego County, central New York.

Colonel Henry Ludington died in 1817 when his carriage fell off a bridge.

Sybil Ludington Ogden died February 26, 1839, at the age of 77. She was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York.

In 1935 the New York State Education Department posted historical markers tracing Sibyl's probable route and her home site.

Just before the bicentennial of the American Revolution in 1976, Sybil Ludington was adopted as a symbol by the National Woman's Party for use in campaigning for an equal rights amendment, and in 1975 Ludington became the thirty-fifth woman to be honored on a United States postal stamp. Dramas, an opera, and a marathon have been named for her.

Each April since 1979, the Sybil Ludington 50-kilometer run has been held in Carmel, New York. The course of this hilly road race approximates Sybil's historic ride, and finishes near her statue at Carmel, New York.

Most people have heard or read the poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But few have heard the poem, Sybil Ludington's Ride, by Berton Braley.

Longfellow's poem begins:
"Listen my children and you shall hear
of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
On the eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive,
Who remembers that famous day and year."

Braley's poem begins:
"Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of a lovely feminine Paul Revere
Who rode an equally famous ride
Through a different part of the countryside,
Where Sybil Ludington's name recalls
A ride as daring as that of Paul's."

Also, check out Sibyl Ludington: The Movie.

SOURCES
Sybil Ludington
Wikipedia: Sybil Ludington
American National Biography Online
Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Revere