Sybil Ludington: Revolutionary War Hero

521
7 people standing in front of Sybil Luddington statue
Anna Hyatt Huntington (third from left) at the statue dedication at Lake Gleneida. Courtesy Putnam County Historian’s Office.

Your town is under invasion. What do you do? Hide? Flee? Not sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington! She rode through forty miles of enemy-infested territory to let her father and his regiment know that the British had laid siege to their home, and weren’t stopping. Every child reads about the heroic tale of Paul Revere and his late night ride, warning of impending British arrival. Here’s a lesser-known story of brave Sybil Ludington, whose heroic journey during the Revolutionary War, like the more famous Revere, aided the Continental Army, and helped suppress the British forces in Colonial America.

War!

Colonists’ appetite for separation from British rule grew over many decades in the late 18th century. As Americans switched loyalties, enemies to the crown mingled with Patriots in small communities, where skirmishes in backyards between revolutionaries and their Royalist neighbors and former friends intensified. A new provincial congress, calling itself the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York, commissioned Henry Ludington as a colonel, with his own regiment, the Seventh of the Dutchess County militia. Ludington was responsible for the route the British might take to and from Connecticut and the coast on Long Island Sound, keeping order on the Connecticut frontier. And in 1776, Ludington built a gristmill to provide for his growing family.

Who was Sybil?

Sybil was one of twelve Ludington children. Her father Henry Ludington had once served the king as a captain of the Fifth Company of the Second Battalion of the Fredericksburgh Regiment of Militia in Dutchess County before becoming a staunch revolutionary. Sybil was a very capable young woman at sixteen, and was undoubtedly engaged in the revolutionary cause beyond just helping to protect her father (now an enemy of the crown) or attending to household chores. In fact, her upbringing prepared her for a dangerous and important ride on a fateful night in 1777 to summon her father’s troops to defend her home.

Danbury Burned

The Continental army had been using Danbury, Connecticut as a depot for military supplies, and the British knew it. On April 24, 1777, twenty transports and six war vessels left New York Harbor for to Danbury. They would be joined by the Sixty-Fourth Foot grenadier regiment marching for a climatic rendezvous in Danbury. Fortunately, word spread of the British soldiers, and Connecticut revolutionaries resisted along the route of the march. The Connecticut regiment known as the “Gallant Seventeen” ambushed the advancing British column, and killed a number of soldiers. It was not enough.

When rumors spread among the threatened colonists, families were forced to make impossible choices. Many fled. Some hid in barns and forests, and others escaped with all they could gather. Parents chose to flee with their families to safety or defend their homes against the enemy. As British attacked Connecticut, stories spread of young boys being hunted down and killed. All able-bodied Americans were called to the aid of their fellow Patriots.

The two-thousand-man British force took control of Danbury, destroying Patriot military stores. Homes and storehouses were burned to the ground. As Danbury fell, colonial dispatchers rode in all directions seeking help. American troops rallied to a defense of Danbury, but it was too late.

“As the British troops reached a point near the present location of the court-house their artillery was discharged and the heavy balls, six and twelve-pounders, flew screaming up the street, carrying terror to the hearts of the women and children, and dismay to the heads of the homes
thus endangered.” — James Montgomery Bailey, History of Danbury, Conn.

Sybil’s Courage

Before long, a scout roused the Ludington household, and Sybil sped out into the night on her way to rally the Colonel and his regiment. Her approximately fifty-mile horseback ride took her to Cold Spring, south to Shaw’s Pond, now Lake Gleneida at Carmel, then on to Lake Mahopac, Mahopac Falls, Stormville and home. As daring as her act was, Sybil knew the narrow dirt roads of Mahopac and Carmel. Along her route, villagers heard her banging on their shutters and cries for a call to arms. By morning, Colonel Ludington’s regiment was prepared to face the enemy, but the British anticipated the surge of the Americans, and retreated to Fairfield. Ultimately, her ride through the countryside hastened Colonel Ludington getting to Ridgefield, driving the British back to their ships.

Road marker describing Sybil Ludington and her ride
Sybil road marker in Red Mills Park at intersection of 6N and Hill Street in Mahopac Falls, New York. Image sourced from Patriot Hero of the Hudson Valley: The Life & Ride of Sybil Ludington

Lost History

How did such a heroic act by a young woman elude the history books? Even though she was first mentioned in 1880 by a highly respected historian Martha J. Lamb in her History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress, Sybil Ludington hadn’t broken through into popular historical writings. Sybil’s heroic journey remained family legend until 1907, when two of Henry Ludington’s grandchildren, commissioned research on the Revolutionary War hero, which aroused a boon in public interest and local pride the local hero. Historical groups sought to memorialize the considerable public interest and local pride in Sybil’s achievement — Putnam County, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the New York State Education Department worked to install historical roadside markers. By 1935, the site of Sybil’s home, where she likely began her ride, and her route were clearly marked for the public to enjoy. In 1961, a bronze equestrian statue of Sybil was dedicated in Carmel, New York, Putnam County; and in 1975, she even rode her way onto a U.S. postage stamp.

Postage stamps depicting Sybil's ride
On March 25, 1975, the Daughters of the American Revolution, in collaboration with the United States Postal Service, held a ceremony in Carmel, New York,1 to celebrate the first-day issue of a stamp that honored Sybil Ludington and proclaimed her a “Contributor to the Cause.” Nationwide, seventy-five thousand stamps were sold that day. Image sourced from Patriot Hero of the Hudson Valley: The Life & Ride of Sybil Ludington.