Yup. That’s right. Sybil Ludington, the daughter of Col. Henry Ludington, a New York militia officer and later an aide to General George Washington, became a heroine of the American Revolution in her own right—and a model for the heroine of my American Patriot Series, Elizabeth Howard. On April 26, 1777, exactly 2 years and 8 days after Paul Revere rode “to spread the alarm through every Middlesex village and farm” about British troops on the march to Concord, Sybil did essentially the same thing. Except that she was 16, a girl, and she rode more than twice the distance Revere did. Not to mention that her route was a whole lot more daunting. And much of the way it rained. Hard.
Anyone care to join me in a rousing chorus of “Anything you can do, I can do better”?
On the night of April 26, a messenger reached the Ludington home at Fredericksburgh, NY, to report that Governor William Tryon’s troops were attacking Danbury, Connecticut, 15 miles to the southeast, to carry off the munitions and stores of the region’s militia. Sound familiar? Shades of Lexington and Concord.
Naturally Colonel Ludington immediately began to mobilize the local militia. The messenger and his horse were too worn out to go any farther, though, so our intrepid Sybil volunteered to rouse the countryside.
Sybil hit the saddle at 9:00 p.m. and dismounted back at home around dawn. All told, she galloped flat out 40 miles along unfamiliar, rugged, lonely roads at night in the rain, knocking on doors with the same stick she used to prod her horse so she wouldn’t have to dismount, and guiding the steed with nothing more than a hemp halter. Along the way, she had to use her father’s musket for defense against one of the roving ruffians often abroad at night in the region. Her feat is especially remarkable considering that modern-day riders using lightweight saddles have a hard time riding the same distance in daylight with good weather over a well-marked course free of highwaymen.
Now I know the statue shows her as riding side saddle, but I ask you, would that really have been possible, considering the speed at which she must have traveled over rough terrain in the dark? It was not rare for women and girls of the time to travel in men’s dress for comfort and modesty, and I tend to believe that, just like my most practical heroine, Elizabeth, she doffed her petticoats, pulled on a pair of her father’s breeches and boots, and sprang into the saddle to ride astride. In fact, an account of the event describes her as “clinging to a man’s saddle.” Case closed.
By the time she returned to her home, thoroughly soaked and exhausted, nearly the whole regiment of 400 soldiers had mustered because of her, and within a couple of hours they were on the march. Although the detachment arrived too late to stop the sack of Danbury, at the Battle of Ridgefield they drove the forces of General William Tryon, then governor of New York, back to Long Island Sound.
Following the war, in 1784, then twenty-three year-old Sybil married Edmund Ogden, a farmer and innkeeper. They had six children—an admirable feat in itself—and in 1792 the family settled in Catskill, NY, where they lived until Sybil’s death on February 26, 1839, at the age of 77. She is buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, NY.
In 1935 New York State erected markers along the route she followed that night. The statue shown here was sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1961 and resides near Carmel, NY. Smaller originals can be found on the grounds of the Daughters of the American Revolution Headquarters in Washington, DC; on the grounds of Danbury, Connecticut’s public library, and in the Elliot and Rosemary Offner Museum at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. In 1975 Sybil Ludington was honored with a postage stamp in the Contributors to the Cause United States Bicentennial series. Worthy honors for an amazing woman!
I hope you'll share a favorite story about a lady from colonial days you particularly admire, or perhaps one that was the source for a character in one of your own stories!