Sybil Ludington

Statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York by Anna Hyatt Huntington.
Statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York by Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Colonial women had the same desire for liberty as the men, but did not have the same opportunities to fight for its gain. Perhaps that is why we sometimes overlook heroines like Sybil Ludington of New York's Putnam County, who in 1777 completed a ride every bit as important as Paul Revere's and every bit as treacherous as Jack Jouett's — all at the age of 16, and on bareback.

Sybil was the eldest daughter of Col. Henry Ludington, whose New York militiamen had just returned from a long deployment to begin spring planting at home. On the evening of April 26, Sybil was helping her mother put her seven siblings to bed when word came that the colonial governor of New York, Gen. William Tyron, had led his troops to nearby Danbury, Conn. There, his 2,000 British soldiers looted and burned precious patriot supplies and ammunition, including (according to the colonial version of an after-action report) "4,000 barrels of beef and pork and … 5,000 pairs of shoes and stockings," and many other essentials. Intoxicated by the pillage, the redcoats proceeded to get drunk on whatever alcohol they could find, and Tyron found it difficult to maintain order.

At this point, a patriot rider reached the Ludington's home in what was then Fredericksburg (now Ludington), N.Y. After passing the word of the British presence to Ludington, he collapsed in exhaustion.

Ludington knew he had to stay put to muster his regiment. No one knows who decided Sybil should ride out in warning — but it must have taken all of Sybil's bravery to agree. April 26 was a moonless night, and the upstate roads were narrow, muddy from spring rains, and rutted by cartwheels and animal tracks.

Holding a stick she used both for prodding her horse, Star, and for knocking on militiamen's doors, Sybil set out. Riding the unmarked roads, she went from Carmel to Mahopac, then on to Kent Cliffs and Farmer's Mills before reaching home again. Some 400 men responded to her summons and gathered just in time to help Ludington and Gen. Wooster drive the drunken redcoats back to their ships in Long Island Sound.

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