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Ludington, Sybillocked

(05 April 1761–26 February 1839)
  • Carole Watterson Troxler

Ludington, Sybil (05 April 1761–26 February 1839), revolutionary heroine, was born and raised in Dutchess County, New York (in an area that is now part of Putnam County), the daughter of Henry Ludington, a farmer and miller of Dutchess County, and Abigail Knowles Ludington of Branford, Connecticut. Her name is sometimes spelled Sibyl, and her gravestone reads “Sibbell.” Henry Ludington was a member of the New York Assembly in the 1770s and 1780s, a justice of the peace, and a member of the revolutionary Committee of Safety.

Appointed a militia captain by the colonial governor William Tryon on the eve of the Revolution, Ludington resigned his commission and instead was commissioned a militia colonel by two New York provincial congresses in 1776. His command area, Dutchess County, lay along a likely British route between the upper New York–Connecticut area and Long Island Sound. Partisans on both sides raided and abused opponents. Tradition records Ludington's supervision of spies during this time, one of whom appears in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Spy (1821). Cooper's presumed model for the novel was a spy whose Revolutionary pension application mentioned “Colonel Ludington” and recalled reporting his actions in Ludington's home. Continental forces stored military supplies at Danbury, Connecticut, making Danbury a subject of conspiracy and rumor and the target for Tryon's seizure in late April 1777.

In 1907 details of Sybil Ludington's role in all these circumstances emerged in an article written by her great‐nephew, the Connecticut historian Louis S. Patrick. According to Patrick, Sybil Ludington rode about forty miles through the night of 26 April 1777 to tell the militiamen under her father's command to muster at his house, from which they would march to defend Danbury. The story of Sybil's role—a role that made her known as a female Paul Revere—was retold later in 1907 in Willis Fletcher Johnson's Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir, a book‐length family tribute to Colonel Henry Ludington. Johnson's telling has served as the basis of subsequent retellings. It reads:

At eight or nine o'clock that evening a jaded horseman reached Colonel Ludington's home with the news [of the fall of Danbury].… But what to do? [Ludington's] regiment was disbanded; its members scattered at their homes [for April planting]. He must stay there to muster all who came in. The messenger from Danbury could ride no more, and there was no neighbor within call. In this emergency he turned to his daughter Sybil, who, a few days before, had passed her sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak. One who even rides now from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads … but the child performed her task, clinging to a man's saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter. … 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 was. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father's house at Fredericksburgh, and an hour or two later was on the march [to Danbury] for vengeance on the raiders. (Johnson, pp. 89–91)

Meanwhile Tryon had decided to burn Danbury and the captured supplies and to withdraw toward Long Island Sound. Revolutionary efforts to block them failed; Ludington and his men arrived too late.

Sybil Ludington married Edmond Ogden apparently in 1784, and they had one child, Henry Ogden. Her husband's revolutionary service had included membership in the Connecticut Continentals and naval duty under John Paul Jones aboard the Bonhomme Richard. In 1792 the family moved to Catskill, New York. Following Ogden's death in 1799, Sybil kept an inn, as he had, and she seems to have been involved in a land‐speculation scheme. In 1811 she moved with her lawyer son and his young family to Unadilla in Otsego County, central New York. She was buried in 1839 near the Presbyterian Church in Patterson, Putnam County, New York, alongside her parents. It is unknown whether during her lifetime any attention was given to her ride.

Sybil Ludington's fame was ensured by commemorative events in the early twentieth century. A 1912 poem by Fred C. Warner, “On an April Night 1777,” recounted her exploits using the form of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” (1863). In the 1930s the New York State Education Department posted historical‐marker signs along her probable route and her home site. Another Longfellow‐like poem—Berton Braley's “Sybil Ludington's Ride”—followed in 1940, and a bronze equestrian statue by Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington was dedicated in 1961 in Putnam County, with smaller replicas in Danbury and at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In the run‐up to the bicentennial of the American Revolution, Sybil Ludington was adopted as a symbol by the National Woman's Party for use in campaigning for an equal rights amendment, and in 1975 Ludington became the thirty‐fifth woman to be honored on a United States postal stamp. Dramas, an opera, and a marathon have been named for her.

Newspaper and magazine embellishments of the dramatic ride created a morass for researchers and sharpened tempers over issues of acknowledging women's and local history. New details were added to her story, including her donning her father's pants, her riding sidesaddle, her riding bareback, her defying her father, who did not want her to go, and her father's handing her a stick to hasten her horse and to bang on the militiamen's doors or windows as she passed, to avoid dismounting. A well‐researched biography in 2000 demystified the inconsistencies.

Bibliography

The original publication of Sybil Ludington's story is Willis Fletcher Johnson, Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir (1907). The recent biography is V. T. Dacquino, Sybil Ludington: The Call to Arms (2000). The commemorative stamp is the 1975 eight‐cent stamp, “Sybil Ludington, Youthful Heroine,” in the “Contributors to the Cause” series. Useful context is provided by Louis S. Patrick, “Secret Service of the American Revolution,” Connecticut Magazine 11, no. 2 (1907): 265–74 and James H. Pickering, “Enoch Crosby, Secret Agent of the Neutral Ground: His Own Story,” New York History XLVII (1966): 61‐73.