Biography of Sybil Ludington, Possible Female Paul Revere

A Sybil Ludington statue at the Offner museum at Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Wikimedia Commons

Sybil Ludington (April 5, 1761–February 26, 1839) was a young woman who lived in rural Dutchess County, New York, close to the Connecticut border, during the American Revolution. The daughter of a commander in the Dutchess County militia, 16-year-old Sybil is said to have ridden 40 miles into what is today Connecticut to warn members of her father's militia that the British were about to attack their neighborhood.

Fast Facts: Sybil Ludington

  • Known For: Warning the Colonial militia that the British were coming
  • Born: April 5, 1761 in Fredericksburg, New York
  • Parents: Col. Henry Ludington and Abigail Ludington
  • Died: February 26, 1839 in Unadilla, New York
  • Education: Unknown
  • Spouse: Edmond Ogden
  • Children: Henry Ogden

Early Life

Sybil Ludington was born on April 5, 1761, in Fredericksburg, New York, the eldest of 12 children of Henry and Abigail Ludington. Sybil's father (1739–1817) was a prominent figure in Fredericksburg—he had taken part in the Battle of Lake George in 1755 and served in the French and Indian War. He owned about 229 acres of undeveloped land in what is today New York State, and he was a mill owner. As a farmer and mill owner in Patterson, New York, Ludington was a community leader and volunteered to serve as the local militia commander as war with the British loomed. His wife Abigail (1745–1825) was a cousin; they married on May 1, 1760.

As the eldest daughter, Sybil (spelled Sibel or Sebel in documentary records) assisted with childcare. Her ride in support of the war effort is said to have taken place on April 26, 1777.

Sybil's Ride

According to the story as reported in a 1907 biography of Colonel Ludington, on Saturday night, April 26, 1777, a messenger arrived at Colonel Ludington's home, saying that the town of Danbury had been burned by the British, and the militia was needed to furnish the troops for General Gold Selleck Silliman (1732–1790). The members of Ludington's militia were scattered in their homes, and the Colonel needed to stay at his residence to muster the troops. He told Sybil to ride for the men and tell them to be at his house by daybreak.

She did, riding on a horse with a man's saddle, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. By daybreak, nearly the whole regiment was mustered at her father's house and they went out to fight the battle.

Mapping the Ride

In the 1920s, historians of the Enoch Crosby Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) mapped the possible route of Sybil's ride using a list of the locations of the militia members and a contemporary map of the region. It was estimated to have been about 40 miles, three times as long as that of Paul Revere's ride.

By some accounts, she traveled on her horse, Star, through the towns of Carmel, Mahopac, and Stormville, in the middle of the night, in a rainstorm, on muddy roads, shouting that the British were burning Danbury and calling out the militia to assemble at Ludington's home.

The 400-some troops were not able to save the supplies and the town at Danbury—the British seized or destroyed food and munitions and burned the town—but they were able to stop the British advance and push them back to their boats, in the Battle of Ridgefield on April 27, 1777.

Becoming a Heroine

The earliest report of Sybil's ride we have is from over a century later, an 1880 account in a book named "History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress" by Martha J. Lamb. Lamb said she had gotten her information from the family and had used a wide array of correspondence and interviews with private individuals, as well as genealogical references.

The 1907 reference cited above is a biography of Colonel Ludington, written by historian Willis Fletcher Johnson and privately published by Ludington's grandchildren, Lavinia Ludington and Charles Henry Ludington. Sybil's ride only takes up two pages (89–90) of the 300-page book.

The surmised route for the ride was marked by historical markers to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution: they're still there today, and there's a tale about the existence of "Sybil's Oak" and that her horse was called Star. Writer Vincent Dacquino reports that according to records assembled in the 1930s, George Washington visited the Ludingtons to thank Sybil, but letters describing that visit were lost even then.

Legacy of Sybil Ludington

In a 2005 article, historian Paula Hunt tracked down the available information about Sybil, and describes the growth of the story in importance throughout the 20th century, setting its various meanings within the context of current events. In the Victorian era, the American Revolution was an important meme about nativism: groups like the DAR (established in 1890), the Colonial Dames of America (1890), and the Mayflower Descendants (1897) all were situating descendants of people in the original 13 colonies as "real Americans," in comparison to new immigrants.

During the Great Depression, Sybil's ride became an icon of the ability for ordinary people to perform extraordinary feats during times of adversity. In the 1980s, she represented the growing feminist movement, highlighting the way women's roles in history have been forgotten or downplayed. When those tales compared her favorably to Paul Revere (three times as long as Revere's ride, and she wasn't captured by the British), the story was attacked as fraudulent and feminist-biased: in 1996, the DAR refused to put a marker on her grave establishing her has a recognized patriot. The group eventually changed its mind in 2003.

It's a Great Story, But...

Sybil Ludington was a real person, but whether her ride happened or not has been debated. Since the original publication of the tale nearly a century after it is said to have occurred, Sybil's story has been embellished: there are numerous children's books, television programs, and poems written about her. A 4,000-pound sculpture of her ride was erected on the shores of Lake Gleneida in 1961, a U.S. postage stamp featuring her was issued in 1975, an episode of the PBS TV Series Liberty's Kids featured her; and there has even been a musical and an opera performing her story. The Annual Sybil Ludington 50 / 25 K Run has been held in Carmel, New York every year since 1979.

As Paula Hunt puts it, the Sybil story, whether it actually happened or not, indicates that people are, despite their reputation, interested in the past. Sybil's ride has become a dramatic origin myth about American identity, as a heritage and as civic engagement, it embodies courage, individuality, and loyalty.

Marriage and Death

Sybil herself married Edmond (sometimes recorded as Edward or Henry) Ogden on October 21, 1784, and afterward lived in Unadilla, New York. Edmond was a sergeant in the Connecticut regiment; he died on September 16, 1799. They had one son, Henry Ogden, who became a lawyer and a New York State Assemblyman.

Sybil applied for a widow's pension in April 1838 but was turned down because she couldn't provide evidence of their marriage; she died in Unadilla on February 26, 1839.

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