This Day in History: Sybil Ludington, the female Paul Revere
On this day in 1839, Sybil Ludington Ogden, the so-called female Paul Revere, passes away.
You know about Revere’s ride, but you may not have heard of Sybil’s. She made it in April 1777, when she was only 16 years old. She rode more than twice as far as Revere did—and through rockier roads and more sparsely settled country! Her goal? To tell the men in her father’s regiment that the British had raided the town of Danbury, Connecticut. The regiment, then on leave, was needed to “Muster at Ludington’s!”
What a girl—and what a Patriot!
What happened to start her ride? On April 25, a force of 2,000 British troops landed at Compo, near Fairfield, Connecticut. They were led by Governor William Tryon, the former British Governor of New York. By the next day, the British troops had reached Danbury. Once there, they destroyed American army supplies and set private homes on fire. They got drunk and seemed generally intent on destroying as much American property as they could.
Messengers were immediately dispatched. Two were sent to warn American generals in the area. One was sent to Colonel Henry Ludington, because he would be the one who would need to raise militia troops to help the generals. The messenger made it to Ludington several hours after the raid on Danbury had begun.
At the time, Ludington’s regiment was temporarily disbanded because (on a practical note) it was planting season. The soldiers had been allowed to go home to tend to their fields. How could these men be alerted and how could they regroup so quickly? Ludington could not do it himself. He would be needed at home, to organize the troops as they came in.
Sybil was chosen to make the ride. She knew the area, and she could do it. And she did!
A biographer of Colonel Henry Ludington, Willis Fletcher Johnson, recounts the ride:
Ludington told his daughter “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 . . . . But the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s 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 . . . .”
Okay, to be fair, Johnson’s use of the word “child” was not exactly accurate, given the fact that a 16-year old was considered more or less an adult back in 1777. But still! What a girl! And . . . what a father! Can you imagine letting your daughter go on such a ride, no matter what her age?! Wow. There were TWO great Patriots that night.
The result of these great acts of patriotism? Ludington’s troops did not exactly defeat the British, but they forced a retreat that saved Danbury from total destruction.
Carol Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers: Women In The Struggle For America’s Independence (2006)
Lisa Tendrich Frank, An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields (2013)
Susan Casey, Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue (2015)
V.T. Dacqino, New York Patriot (New York Archives magazine; Spring 2007)
V. T. Dacquino, Sybil Ludington: The Call to Arms (2000)
Willis Fletcher Johnson, Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir (1907)