Sybil Ludington (April 5, 1761 – February 26, 1839) is celebrated as a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. She reportedly rode to alert militia forces in the towns of Putnam County, New York and Danbury, Connecticut on the night of April 26, 1777 at age 16, warning of the approach of the British regular forces. The ride was similar to those performed by William Dawes, Paul Revere (Massachusetts, April 1775), and Jack Jouett (Virginia, 1781). Ludington reportedly rode more than twice the distance attributed to Revere and was much younger than the men. According to one historian, however, there is no contemporaneous evidence that these events occurred.
Her story was first published in 1880 by local historian Martha Lamb, to whom it was probably told by Ludington's descendants. Her book has the earliest known reference to Ludington's ride. A later reference appeared in an account of her father's life published in 1907. Ludington has been more widely celebrated since around 1900. Memorial statues honor her, and books have been written about her. She was honored on The American Heroes Channel “American Revolution: Patriots Rising” (2014) documentary along with a 1976 Bicentennial Stamp honoring her on her horse “Star”.
Contemporaneous sources suggest that the patriot army and the town of Danbury, Connecticut were already aware of the approaching British troops, as noted in The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, May 19, 1777, which stated, "On Saturday, the 26th of April, express came to Danbury from Brigadier General Silliman, advising that a large body of enemy had landed the day before at sun set, at Campo, a point of land between Fairfield, and Norwalk, and were marching toward Danbury. Measures were immediately taken." But Ludington was the daughter of a Westchester County, New York militia colonel who needed to rally the hundreds of local troops under his command and needed time to plan the battle yet to come, so either she volunteered to warn the surrounding towns and rally the troops, or she carried out the task at her father's direction.
Sybil was born in Fredericksburg, New York which is now called Ludingtonville is her honor. Sybil was the first of 12 children. Her parents were Abigail Knowles and Henry Ludington, who were first cousins. Sybil was conceived a year after the couple married. The small family moved to Dutchess County, New York, where the couple had more children. They lived on and farmed a very large piece of land.
On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington rode her horse Star 40 miles (64 km) through the night in Putnam County, New York to warn approximately 400 militiamen under her father's command that British troops were planning to attack Danbury, Connecticut, where the Continental Army had a supply depot. On her way to gather her father's troops, she warned the people of Danbury.
Sybil's father had fought in the French and Indian War, and he volunteered to head the local militia during the American Revolution. Sybil had to move from town to town following her father, and unknowingly played an important role in the success of the colonies. The afternoon after she warned residents of Danbury, the British troops burned down three buildings and destroyed multiple houses, but did not kill many people. Little was told of Ludington's ride; the only record of this event was written by her great-grandson. Her ride started at 9 p.m. and ended around dawn.
Prior to her famous ride, Sybil saved her father from capture. A Loyalist named Ichobod Prosser and 50 other Loyalists tried to capture her father, but Sybil lit candles around the house and organized her siblings to march in front of the windows in military fashion, creating the impression of many troops guarding the house. The Loyalists fled.
She rode a total of 40 miles (64 km), more than twice the distance of Revere, in the hours of darkness, through Carmel, New York on to Mahopac, then to Kent Cliffs and Farmers Mills, and finally back home. She used a stick to prod her horse and knock on doors. She returned home soaked with rain and exhausted, but most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march. The American militia arrived too late to save Danbury, but they were able to drive General William Tryon and his men to Long Island Sound. Ludington was congratulated for her heroism by friends and neighbors and also by General George Washington.
Ludington married Edmond Ogden in 1784 when she was 23, and they had a son named Henry. Edmond was a farmer and innkeeper, according to various reports. In 1792, the family settled in Catskill, where they lived until her death on February 26, 1839 at the age of 77. She was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York. Her tombstone shows a different spelling of her first name.
Ludington was first written about in an 1880 book about the New York City area by local historian Martha Lamb. She relied on numerous primary sources, including letters, sermons, genealogical compilations, wills, and court records to document Ludington's life. She did not, however, provide documentation, and there are no known written references to Ludington's ride prior to her book.
Historian Paula Hunt has provided a detailed history of the Ludington story and how it has been presented in the media. She does not pronounce on whether the story is accurate. She does state that many popular details were "fictions", such as the horse named Star, the stick in her hand, and the 40-mile distance. Hunt writes:
Sybil's ride embraces the mythical meanings and values expressed in the country's founding. As an individual, she represents Americans' persistent need to find and create heroes who embody prevalent attitudes and beliefs.
In 1996, the national Daughters of the American Revolution said that the evidence was not strong enough to support their criteria for a war heroine, and they removed a book about her from their headquarters bookstore. The DAR chapter near her historic home says that her exploit was documented, and it continues to honor her. Paula Hunt concludes, "The story of the lone, teenage girl riding for freedom, it seems, is simply too good not to be believed."
Legacy and honors
In 1935, New York State erected a number of historic markers along Ludington's route. A commemorative statue sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington was erected near Carmel, New York in 1961. Smaller versions of the statue were erected on the grounds of the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters in Washington, D.C., on the grounds of the public library in Danbury, Connecticut, and in the Elliot and Rosemary Offner museum at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. In 1975, Ludington was honored with a postage stamp in the "Contributors to the Cause" United States Bicentennial series.
The Sybil Ludington 50k Run has been held in Carmel, New York each April since 1979, a 50-kilometre (31 mi) foot race. The course of the race approximates her historic ride, and finishes near her statue on the shore of Lake Gleneida, Carmel. In 1993, composer Ludmila Ulehla wrote the chamber opera "Sybil of the American Revolution" based on the story of Ludington's ride.
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