Sybil Ludington was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. Sybil is known as the female Paul Revere for her famous late night ride to alert revolutionary militia forces about the approaching British army. Some historians question the validity of this story and her name and actions did not appear in print until 1880.
Early Life and Family of Sybil LudingtonSybil Ludington was born on April 5, 1761, in Fredericksburg, New York to parents Henry and Abigail Ludington. She was the eldest child of twelve produced by the couple and, shortly after her birth, the family moved to a large farm in Duchess County, New York. Her father worked as a farmer and held several varying positions within their small community. He also served in the military for over 60 years.
Sybil Ludington’s father’s military experience coupled with his switch of position to revolutionary opened the door for her night ride.
In 1773, Henry Ludington withdrew his royalist support and joined the revolutionary cause. He was promoted to Colonel and put in charge of the local military regiment. Colonel Ludington commanded a large area that included a vulnerable pass open to the British between Connecticut and the Long Island Sound coastline. He prevented many marauders from stealing supplies to support the British forces in the area. Most of British General Howe’s grain and cattle to feed his troops were robbed from locals by thieves and cowboys. Colonel Ludington’s many successes in preventing the transfer or theft of these goods earned him a 300 English guinea price on his head, dead or alive, from the angry General Howe. In 1776, he also erected the first gristmill in the region that was built almost exclusively by women because the majority of local men joined the military service.
Sybil Ludington grew up knowing her father could disappear any day from fighting or from someone coming to claim the bounty on his head. She remained strong and cared for her younger siblings, all born by 1786, and protected her father from the many threats facing him. Sybil and her sister thwarted an attempt by Ichabod Prosser, a local Tory, to capture the Colonel.
“These fearless girls, with guns in hand were acting as sentinels, pacing the piazza to and fro in true military style and grit to guard their father against surprise and to give him warning of any approaching danger. They discovered Prosser and his men and gave the alarm. In a flash, candles were lighted in every room of the house and the few occupants marched and counter‑marched before the windows and from this simple and clever ruse, Prosser was led to believe that the house was strongly guarded and did not dare to make an attack. He kept his men concealed behind the trees and fences until daybreak, when with yells they resumed their march and hastened southwards toward New York City, ignorant of how they had been foiled by clever girls. The Colonel’s most vigilant and watchful companion was his sentinel daughter, Sibbell. Her constant care and thoughtfulness, combined with fortuitous circumstances, prevented the fruition of many an intrigue against his life and capture.”
Sybil’s RideThe British Continental Army commissioners chose Danbury, Connecticut as a military stores depot and on April 24, 1777, a convoy of 20 transports left from Compo Beach in Connecticut for a long trek to Danbury. Several rebel militia groups encountered the large, 2000-man British regiment along the way. Few rebel lives were lost, but they did not manage to stop the British troops from reaching Danbury. Rumors of British soldiers killing young boys spread to the towns and villages along the path and many citizens fled in fear, but this was not the case. When they reached Danbury, the British troops spent the day destroying all revolutionary military supply holds. They even took good from a Church of England and royalist homes, burning them in the street, but sparing the homes. They burned patriots’ homes throughout the day and night.
Sybil Ludington fearlessly rode through the night, fighting off highwaymen and riding through torrential rain to help bring together her father’s regiment.
It was on this day, April 26, 1777, that Sybil Ludington’s famous ride took place. A rider from Danbury arrived at the Ludington farm around 8:00pm and informed Colonel Ludington of the struggles in Danbury and the movement of the British troops. He asked for help, but the Colonel’s local regiment had disbanded to return to their respective farms for planting season, miles apart. Colonel Ludington recognized the rider’s exhaustion and instead asked his 16-year-old daughter, Sybil, to act as the female Paul Revere and ride out to alert his men and ask them to gather and fight.
Sybil Ludington rode through the entire night, fighting through the dark woods, rain, and against dangerous highwaymen. She covered over 40 miles in that one night, a much larger distance than Paul Revere’s ride. She succeeded in alerting the Colonel’s troops with enough time to gather by dawn and fight off the British regiment, driving General Tyron back to Long Island Sound. George Washington went to the Ludington home after the war to personally thank Sybil and her father for their contributions.
Later Life, Death, and Legacy
On October 21, 1784, Sybil Ludington married Edmund Ogden. Ogden fought during the Revolutionary War as a sergeant in one of the Connecticut regiments. The couple bore one son, Henry Ogden, named for her father. He went on to become a lawyer and New York State Assemblyman. She died on February 26, 1839, in Catskill, New York. Her body is buried in Maple Avenue Cemetery in Patterson, Putnam County, New York.
Sybil Ludington never received the kind of fame granted to Paul Revere, though both acted as important messengers during the Revolutionary War. Almost two hundred years later, the U.S. Postal Service honored her with a stamp with her image in 1975. The city of Carmel, New York erected a statue of Ludington nearby Lake Gleneida and historical markers trace the route of her night ride throughout Putnam County. The Sybil Ludington 50K Run has taken place every April in Carmel, New York since 1979.
Hunt, P. D. (2015). Sybil Ludington, the Female Paul Revere: The Making of a Revolutionary War Heroine. The New England Quarterly, 88(2), 187–222. doi:10.1162/tneq_a_00452
NWHM. (2010, February 5). Sybil Ludington (1761-1839). National Women’s History Museum.
Patrick, L. S. (1907). Secret Service of the American Revolution. The Connecticut Magazine, 11(2), 266.
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