Sybil Ludington: a Revolutionary Hero
by Jennifer Hartwell-Jackson
The following paper was written by Jennifer Hartwell-Jackson who was in the seventh grade at the time (12 years old). She was frustrated by the fact that the public school system offered plenty of white male history, but little, to no, information when it came to Her-story. A freestanding display accompanied this paper with visual references to Ms. Ludington and her amazing story. Go back now in American history to the date April 25, 1777 and experience Sybil's amazing story:
History has made Paul Revere and his midnight ride a super-symbol of patriotism, and rightly so. Yet just two years after his legendary feat, a teenaged American woman named Sybil Ludington staged a midnight steeplechase, which made Paul Revere's efforts seem very modest by comparison!
The objective of both rides was identical: to rouse the New England countryside against British invaders.
The Boston silversmith was a vigorous man of 40, well able to take care of himself in a emergency Sybil was but a slight young woman of 16 years old.
Revere's route lay through the chaste Massachusetts countryside Sybil Ludington's lay through a dangerous semi-wilderness.
After a brisk canter of a dozen miles or so, Paul finished his task around midnight and sat at ease in a pub, boots off and a glass of flip in his hand Sybil, after an all-night gallop of over 40 miles, fell exhausted from her big horse.
In order to understand the necessity for and the deep significance of this famous ride, we must consider the fact that it occurred during the American Revolution when human lives and private property were at the mercy of the common enemy marauding bands of Tories, Skinners, and other outlaws.
The British Invade Connecticut
On the night of April 25, 1777, some 2,000 British regulars under command of General Tryon landed from 20 transports and six warships at the mouth of the Saugatuck River at Compo Beach, Westport, Connecticut, just east of the present-day city of Norwalk. Their objective was the destruction of Patriot supply houses at Danbury, about 22 miles inland. That night they camped at Weston, eight miles inland, and the next morning marched northward through Bethel doing little or no damage to private property enroute. Arriving in Danbury about 3 P.M. The enemy objective was to capture or destroy the American supplies that, for security reasons, had recently been transferred there from Peekskill. The poorly defended storehouses were filled with great quantities of salt, flour, rice, molasses, coffee, meat, flour and grain, and also large stores of quartermaster supplies hay, tents, hospital cots, shoes and socks, uniforms, powder, shot, muskets, along with several-score hogheads of rum. Rum was classed in Colonial times as "medical supplies," and Rum was exactly what the British troops desired after their long march. The British soldiers consumed the rum so enthusiastically that an all-time record for Danbury was soon established. By four o'clock several army supply houses and three private homes were in flames. The staggering soldiers drunken howls, army songs, cursing, shouted insults and random firing was heard on every hand, rising above the roar of flames and the screams of the terrorized women and children.
What would be the enemy's next move?
April 26, 1777 at 4 P.M., four Colonial messengers were hastily dispatched from Danbury in differing directions: one to Benedict Arnold and General Wolster in New Haven, one to General Stillwater, and one to Colonel Ludington in New York, to warn them of that the British were approaching.
Colonel Ludington was weary having just returned from a long and arduous trip mustering supplies for his regiment and was looking forward to a comfortable evening at home with his family. Around nine o'clock, a loud and persistent pounding was heard at his door. Upon opening the door, he saw a breathless, rain soaked, mud spattered messenger bearing news of the burning and sacking of Danbury. It is reported that the Colonel was "fighting mad!"
A prompt decision and immediate action were critical. He must gather his militiamen and prevent the enemy from passing through this territory to the Hudson River. Danbury needed help at once. The local families also had to be alerted to the danger of impending attack, so they would have time to abandon their homes and flee northward. The families needed time for the women and children to pack. Their clothing and bedding needed to be loaded into horse-drawn wagons or ox carts.
The messenger and his horse were spent; they could go no farther that night; Who was there to ride to spread the alarm and to muster the 400 men of Colonel Ludington's command?
"I'll go, Daddy," spoke up Sybil, his 16 year old daughter. We can only imagine what might have gone on in the Colonel's head before he granted permission for his teen-aged daughter to undertake this hazardous mission on such a dark and stormy night through enemy infested territory. Some sources say that he "gave his consent with great reluctance."
A large strapping yearling gelding, recently broken to bit and saddle by Sybil, herself, (who it was said "was a bit of a tomboy"), was led from his comfortable stall; a man's saddle was thrown on his back and Sybil, mounted astride, seized the rope rein and in one swift move horse and rider vanished into the night.
As she left her home, Sybil went southward along a trail paralleling the middle branch of Croton River. She then rode down Horse Pound Road to Carmel where, upon her warning, "the village bell pealed forth its muster call." Here, we are told, a horseback rider offered to accompany her but she asked him instead to spread the news eastward (toward the present village of Brewster).
For ease, present day road, village and water designations are used on the map below.
Galloping along the shore of Lake Glenida she continued, rousing the sleeping and defenseless farmers and fishermen as she sped on through the darkness, shouting as she rode, "The British are burning Danbury, meet at Ludington's!" Sybil commanded families to notify their neighbors beyond the reach of her shouting voice, pointing to the crimson glow, that was Danbury burning in the eastern sky.
"At Mahopac Pond, she took the right fork" to Red Mills, where she headed north for Mahopac Mines and over Hill Street and Lockwood Pond Road to Kent Cliffs into the lonely, heavily forested and most dangerous stretch of her entire journey. Arriving at Mead Corner, she turned right again, and continued on about two miles to Farmers Mills. Because it was late at night, lights in the scattered farm houses had been extinguished making it very difficult for her to see those old familiar landmarks along the way. During Sybil's entire ride a ferocious thunderstorm raged on.
A historic marker in Stormville reveals that she passed that point, but just how she reached there from Farmer's Mills is not shown. Most historians agreed that she took the old Stormville Road. Upon entering that town, she was surprised to see many lights in the houses and people carrying lighted lanterns scurrying back and forth. Suddenly she heard a sharp, clanging sound! They were sounding the call-to-arms by striking the big iron ring suspended on the village green with a hammer. It seems another rider dispatched by her father had already arrived from the opposite direction. It was only a matter of about four more miles and her mission would be complete, following a direct route through Pecksville back to her Ludingtonville home.
The Ride Is Done
It was well past midnight when, dripping wet from the thunderstorm, with mud spattered from head to foot and thoroughly exhausted from her strenuous experience, she reined her tired horse through the Ludington family farmyard gate. We can imagine the great joy-filled emotion that greeted her safe return. The rain was slackening as a motley crowd of militiamen began gathering at the Ludington farm, eventually becoming a force of 200 men. Many of the minutemen were poorly clad and lacked weapons and ammunition, but all were determined to avenge the fate of their stricken countrymen across the state border.
At dawn, Colonel Ludington was ready to lead his men through Franklin (now Paterson), and out the Haviland Hollow Road into Connecticut.
The British Retreat and Battle
British General Tryon had planned to spend a restful Sabbath at the scene of his arson and pillage. But soon after midnight, word came that an American force of 700 men under General Wooster had gathered at Bethel.
Fearing attacks from both the west and the east, the British soldiers resumed their work of destroying Danbury before the troops' morning withdrawal. In all, 19 private homes, 20 stores and shops, a meeting house, and several barns and other storage buildings were destroyed.
After a hasty breakfast of beef from captured cattle slaughtered on the spot, the British forces began their retreat in the rain and flame-lit darkness of the burning town. Heading out the Miry Brook Road they tramped, heading for Ridgebury and Ridgefield. Most of the soldiers were still feeling the lingering effects of the previous day's looting and drunken chaos. Riding stolen horses and driving cattle and sheep before them and dragging their wagons loaded with plunder and wounded soldiers behind them, proved to be a serious hindrance to the retreating British force.
Outnumbered three to one, the gallant patriots, in true Minuteman style, harassed the retreating British all the way back to their ships on Long Island Sound inflicting over 200 British casualties, more than twice as many as the American Minutemen suffered.
No tribute to Ms. Ludington would be complete without praising the big bay yearling gelding, named Star, which the tomboyish Sybil Ludington had skillfully trained herself. From the time that the big bay gelding galloped out past the old mill and down the winding river trail until he finally approached his destination, many fateful hours had passed during which he had carried his brave little equestrienne a distance of nearly 40 miles on this dark stormy night April night in 1777.
"Jaded now and spent with toil;
Embossed with foam and dark with soil"
-Sir Walter Scott
Sybil's Family - Henry and Abigail Ludington
Sybil's father, Henry Ludington was born in Brandford, Connecticut, in 1740. In 1760, at the age of 20 he married his first-cousin Abigail, born in 1746, when she was just 14 years old.
The Ludington's settled in Kent, New York, where they established a farm and a mill in a small community that came to be known as Ludingtonville. They became the parents of six sons and six daughters, their oldest child being daughter Sybil born, April 05, 1761, when her mother was barely 15 years of age.
Henry Ludington was a patriot of the highest order. He had served in the French and Indian War under British General Tryon, the man who was now his enemy in war. During the early part of the Revolution, he had served as aide-de-camp to General Washington in the Battle of White Plains. Enoch Crosby once served under the command of Henry Ludington as well. Later Colonel Ludington organized the Seventh Duchess County Militia, of which, at the time of the Danbury raid. From 1777-1781 he was a member of the New York state assembly.
Sybil's Adult Years
After the close of the Revolution, Sybil Ludington married Edmund Ogden, a lawyer from Catskill, New York, and bore him four sons and two daughters. One of her sons, Major Edmund A. Ogden, born in 1810, went on to become a distinguished military figure and the founder of Fort Ryley in the mid 1800's.
Sybil Ludington died at 77 years - 10 months and 13 days old on February 26, 1839, and is buried in the Paterson Presbyterian Church Cemetery, in Paterson, New York.
Colonel Henry Ludington died in 1817. His wife Abigail died in 1825.
In 1935, the New York State Education Department placed a series of roadside markers along Sybil's route.
On June 08, 1961, the Bethel County sculptor, Anne Hyatt, of Huntington, presented a statue of Sybil Ludington riding her horse Star, to the care of the Carmel (NY) chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. This statue may be seen today on the shore of Lake Gleneida.
On March 25, 1975 a postage stamp was issued by the US Postal service commemorating Sybil's Ride for Independence.
Today if you were to visit the beautiful countryside of Duchess County and Putnam's Land of Lakes you will observe several historical markers bearing a legend commemorating Sybil Ludington's ride.
(An expanded reference list is available)
A special thank you to Shelley Burnes for bringing Sybil Ludington to my attention.