The eldest of 12 children, Sybil’s father was Colonel Henry Ludington, commander of the 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia during the American Revolutionary War. He oversaw a regional network of anti-Tory spies.
Earlier in the day, Col. Ludington received word that the British had landed in Long Island Sound and were planning to attack Danbury, CT — a town vital for its strategic location and its storehouse of revolutionary armaments. Needing to rouse the volunteers under his command, Ludington was faced with a dilemma — he could not make the ride himself, as he needed to remain at his home to organize the rallying defense, but the horseman who had alerted him was too weary from his journey to continue.
According to legend, the Colonel turned to his daughter, who was barely 16 at the time, and asked her to make the ride. Through the rainy night on unlit, muddy trails, she is said to have ridden 40 miles to the towns of Carmel, Mahopac, and Stormville, conveying word to the soldiers to gather at her father’s house at daybreak. The troops were rallied, but too late — much of Danbury was burned by the British, though the American militia was able to block the King’s men from advancing into New York.
The story of Sybil Ludington’s ride has been compared to the heroics of Paul Revere two years earlier, with two key distinction — Ludington’s ride was more than twice the distance of Revere’s, and Revere was a trained military officer while Ludington was a teenage girl whose assignment came as a complete surprise.
Markers have been erected along the route she is believed to have traveled, but historians have questioned the veracity of these events, since no mention of her ride appeared in print during her lifetime. Her purported heroism was first described in a biography of her father, which was published in 1907 by two of his grandchildren. Her nephew Harrison Ludington (1812-1891) was elected Mayor of Milwaukee and Governor of Wisconsin in the 1870s.
Words of Wisdom
Let me! pleaded Sybil, then 16. I can ride as well as any man. So it was agreed. Sybil was given the job of calling the farmers to fight. With the reins in one hand and a big stick in the other, Sybil galloped into the night. At each farmhouse she paused only long enough to bang the stick on the door and yell, The British are coming! Fight, fight!