Sybil Ludington was a young and impressive colonial woman living just outside of New York in rural Dutchess county at the start of the American Revolution in 1775. She was the eldest daughter of commander Henry Ludington. Sybil’s father belonged to the Dutchess County militia.
In a moment’s notice with one decisive action the sixteen-year-old would show her worth and save lives. Sybil Ludington has often been compared to Paul Revere because the two each managed to ride swiftly and provide warning of the incoming British Army during the revolutionary war.
Sybil’s story is quite remarkable considering that she made the forty-mile journey in the middle of the night all alone without any protection. The girl had no escort or anyone there to assist her should any trouble arise while traveling such a long distance. This just simply didn’t happen back then.
Sybil Ludington was born on April 5th, 1761 to Henry Ludington and Abigail Knowles just outside of New York in Fredericksburg. Sybil was the first born of Ludington’s large family and was conceived within their first year of marriage. She was the eldest of twelve children the couple would have.
By all accounts life was a comfortable and prosperous one for the large Ludington family. Sybil grew up on their family’s small farm. They were a normal average class of American Colonials. Henry owned an estimated two-hundred and twenty-two acres of land that allowed for farming.
He also owned a mill in Patterson, which put him right in the community as a prominent leading voice. Henry was quick to join the militia and support all the efforts against the British when the American revolution began.
The story is fairly simple. Messengers arrived at the Ludington home with devastating news. The British Army were burning down the nearby town of Danbury. The militia had a duty to rally the troops and prepare to defend themselves against the enemy; however, there was one massive problem.
Someone would be needed to alert all the men who belonged to the militia. This would require a rider able to go to the men scattered all around for miles. Henry’s sixteen-year-old daughter was nominated for the task.
It is unclear if others suggested she be the one or if she volunteered to go on her own. Henry could have also been the one to ask her in this critical time of need. The plan was for her to take a horse and quickly as her abilities would allow alert everyone possible about the downfall of Danbury.
This is almost unfathomable for the time. She was only a young girl, and it was very late in the evening when the messenger arrived with news.
To makes matters worse, it’s reported that Sybil Ludington rode through the towns of Mahopac, Stormville, and Carmel in a massive rainstorm on a man’s saddle too large for her small size adding more danger to the trek.
The midnight ride has been estimated to have been close to forty miles through severely rugged terrain for the majority of Sybil’s long journey. The roads were dangerous due to the wet mud created by the rainy night.
She somehow managed to alert everyone that night and got the militia to meet at her father’s house by daybreak. They were unfortunately unable to save their supplies from the British; however, they would push the enemy troops back on their boats in the Battle of Ridgefield on April 27th, 1777.
The following is a book excerpt from a biography on the life of Sybil’s father Henry Ludington written by Johnson Willis Fletcher, 1857-1931.The biography is titled Colonel Henry Ludington:
It was on Friday afternoon that the landing was made at Compo, and it was on Saturday afternoon that Danbury was burned. Patriot messengers rode at top speed in three directions toward New Haven to hasten Generals Arnold and Wooster, who were already on their way; to meet General Silliman.
To expedite his juncture with the others; and to ride to Fredericksburgh to tell the news to Colonel Ludington, that he might furnish the troops quickly which the generals would need. The militia would come in aid.
Railroads, telegraphs and other annihilators of time and space were unknown in those days. But the personal factor, which after all dominates all the problems of this world, was active and effective. Riders were needed.
At four o clock Danbury was fired. At eight or nine o clock that evening a jaded horseman reached Colonel Ludington’s home with the news. We may imagine the fire that flashed through the veterans veins at the report of the dastardly act of his former chief. But what to do? His regiment was disbanded, its members scattered at their homes, many at considerable distances. He must stay there, to muster all who came in.
The messenger from Danbury could ride no more, and there was no neighbor within call. In this emergency he turned to his daughter Sibyl, who, a few days before, had passed her sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak.
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 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 Fredericksburgh, and an hour or two later was on the march for vengeance on the raiders. They were a motley company, some without arms, some half dressed, but all filled with a certain berserk rage.
Sybil Rides tells the inspiring true story of events during the American Revolution which resulted in sixteen-year old Sybil Ludington becoming known as the Female Paul Revere. Her ride took place during an event in American History designed by the British to bring an end to the war.
On a cold rainy night in the spring of 1777, the British Regular Army, along with some Loyalists, attacked and burned Danbury, Connecticut. That raid was part of Lord William Howe’s plan to end the Revolution.
During the raid a messenger was sent to the home of Colonel Henry Ludington asking for help. The Colonel’s, Sybil, bravely rode forty miles on that cold rainy night throughout the Hudson Valley to call the Militia.
REFERENCES & SOURCES:
- American Revolution Women
- Colonel Henry Ludington : A memoir
- Sybil Ludington: Women’s History
- Sybil Ludington – Battlefields.org
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