Sybil Ludington: The Less Famous, But More Rad, Paul Revere
History is filled with second place achievers, individuals who are less celebrated because they weren’t the first to accomplish a feat. America already had one account of a historical figure riding on horseback to warn that the British were coming with Paul Revere, so the second person to do it just didn’t leave the same impact. That second person, though, was a 16-year-old girl, and her efforts might have been more impressive.
Sybil Ludington was born in 1761, the first of 12 children. Her father, Henry Ludington, had previously served in the British military, but he joined the American Patriots during the Revolutionary War. As a Colonel of the militia, he commanded roughly 400 men in New York and Connecticut.
The story of Sybil’s ride states that on the night of April 26, 1777, a messenger brought news to Henry Ludington that the British were attacking the town of Danbury, Connecticut. The town housed munitions and other supplies for the Patriots, making it a prime target for an assault. As a militia commander, Henry Ludington was ready to rally his troops to meet the British forces. There was just one problem: all of his men were back at their homes to plant crops.
Yes, sustaining a farm was such an important task that troops would just take a break from being part of a revolution for planting season. And this is where Sybil’s story begins.
Accounts differ about whether she volunteered or was instructed by her father, but Sybil mounted her horse and rode through Putnam County, New York, to spread the news to militiamen. She rode 40 miles throughout the night, and by the time she returned home, some of her father’s troops had already arrived and were ready to march to Danbury.
Colonel Ludington and his men were too late to stop the British from burning Danbury, but they were able to fight with British troops at nearby Ridgefield, Connecticut. Without the assistance of Sybil Ludington, the Patriots likely wouldn’t have been able to do that much.
Or at least, that’s how the story goes. Because history is almost always, without fail, disappointing, there are questions about the authenticity of Sybil’s ride. It took more than a century for the event to appear in any written material when it was mentioned in the 1880 book History of the City of New York by Martha Lamb. In this book, Lamb takes a very “just trust me” approach to citations, meaning that it’s nearly impossible to know if any part of Sybil riding around warning troops is true. Other accounts of been written, but again, there is no way to know for sure if they are true.
Regardless, Sybil Ludington has become a folk hero, with the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioning a statue of her in 1961. Located in Carmel, New York, it depicts Sybil Ludington on her horse, mid-journey. Then, to commemorate the Bicentennial, a stamp of Sybil was produced. Today, there are even markers along what is believed to be her route. Whether Sybil Ludington did or did not have a Paul Revere-esque moment in the American Revolution is unknown, but she has become an important symbol regardless.
Besides, Paul Revere’s ride mostly became famous because of a poem. Again, all history is disappointing.
Top Image: Public Domain