In praise of Sybil Ludington

sybil-ludington-ogden-gravestone
Image via Karen Kelly, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=2539.

Paul Revere’s famous ride is often the jumping off point for thinking about the Revolutionary War. But there is a lesser known patriot – a woman, too – who helped win the war and changed the course of history.

Her name was Sybil Ludington, and she was born 5 April 1761 in Connecticut as the eldest child of Henry and Abigail Ludington. On the rainy night of 25 April 1777, as British troops were advancing to attack Danbury, Connecticut, Sybil, only 16 years old at the time, took off on her famous 40 mile horseback ride to alert approximately 400 militiamen under the control of her father, Colonel Henry Ludington. She was chosen for the task because the original messenger, who had ridden to notify her father of the advancing British troops, was too tired from his first trip and could not proceed. Since Sybil knew the land well and because of her father’s trust, she was chosen to bring the men together, as they were dispersed for planting season.

Sybil had to navigate the terrible weather, the British, the Loyalists, and the “Skinners”(outlaws with no allegiance to either side).

On a journey of double the number of miles of Revere’s ride, Sybil had to navigate the terrible weather, the British, the Loyalists, and the “Skinners” (outlaws with no allegiance to either side). She alerted the men along her route through Connecticut and the coast of the Long Island Sound and brought them back to her home in the Fredericksburg Precinct of Dutchess County, New York (known today as the Town of Kent in Putnam County) to march that morning. Though they did not win that particular Battle in Danbury on 26 April, her heroic efforts certainly supported the  patriots’ cause.

It is said that George Washington came personally to Sybil Ludington’s home after the battle at Danbury and thanked her for her important contribution to the Revolutionary War. Eventually, Sybil settled down and married Edmond Ogden, a lawyer, and they had one son, Henry. Sybil died on 28 February 1839 and is buried in Maple Avenue Cemetery near her father in Patterson, Putnam County.

Sybil’s legacy has not been forgotten.

Though this ride is less known and seemingly not as important, Sybil’s legacy has not been forgotten. In 1975, the United States Postal Service honored her by creating a stamp of her famous ride. Artist Anna Hyatt Huntington erected a statue of Sybil on the shores of Lake Gleneida in Carmel, New York. And still to this day, there is a 50 kilometer race in her honor that goes along the route of her famous “midnight ride” in Putnam County.

In genealogical research, finding women can often be the hardest of brick walls. Recognition of their importance to history was almost nonexistent until recently; often, maiden names and women’s first names were not recorded. Wives and daughters were often left out of wills or not counted in census records. It is no surprise that Sybil’s place among Revolutionary War patriots is often forgotten or completely ignored.

It is interesting to note that there is no one who has claimed her as a qualifying forebear within the Daughters of the American Revolution. (She does have living descendants.) Claiming women patriots is often difficult and very few have been claimed by DAR members. This is especially sad considering it is a women-only lineage society. Sybil Ludington Ogden’s courageous ride may not be as well-known as her male counterpart’s, but like many other women in history, she played an important role in establishing the America we know today.

Mollie Braen

About Mollie Braen

A graduate of the University of Denver, including a semester at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, Mollie majored in Art History and minored in Marketing and History; she plans to continue her education with an MBA in Non-Profit Management. Mollie performs administrative work for Research Services, supporting the researchers in ordering microfilm, managing correspondence with constituents, and organizing research materials. In her free time, Mollie, who recently moved to Boston from Los Angeles, enjoys travelling. With a family home on Lake Sebago in Maine, she often travels there as well as other parts of New England.

7 thoughts on “In praise of Sybil Ludington

  1. I hope someone takes up the challenge of joining the DAR based on this. It seems important to add Sybil to their list of patriots.

  2. I heartily agree with Paul about the importance of hoping one of Sybil’s descendants will join the DAR to honor her—hard to believe that with all the family stories handed down through the generations, many of which are more fiction than fact—that this amazing and true story hasn’t yielded even one DAR member!

    1. There are several children’s picture books and chapter books for young people based on Sybil Ludington’s story which can be seen on amazon.com, among other sources. A thoughtful gift to inspire young girls especially.

  3. Thanks for this great post, Mollie. I loved reading the books about Sybil Ludington when I was a child. I suspect the reason none of Ludington’s descendants have been admitted to the DAR based on her service is that the legend of her ride has not be proven. Scholarly research shows the story did not appear until, I believe, 1907 when it was written about by a great grandnephew. Sybil, of course, was deceased by then as well as any witnesses who could corroborate the event. I was so disappointed to learn that while the legend is entirely plausible, no primary source records exist to prove it. But, I for one, certainly hope something comes to light!

  4. Many people have worked on this and there hasn’t been any contemporary evidence to support the story. That’s why she has not been recognized by DAR.

  5. Thanks so much for this Mollie. I was reminded of a letter I received in reply to one I sent back in 1973 to Read, The Magazine for Reading and English that I subscribed to through school. It thanked for me for “writing and setting the record straight about Sybil Ludington.” While I didn’t have the foresight to make a copy of my letter, I kept the issue of that magazine that stated that Sybil’s ride had taken place the same night as Paul Revere’s. And how did I, at the age of thirteen know this? Several months earlier I had read an article in my Dad’s copy of the American Legion Magazine about other night riders of the American Revolution. It detailed Sybil’s ride, and it made quite an impression on me. I knew that statement was in error. The rides took place two years apart. When I got home tonight I pulled out my box of personal memorabilia and found the letter and the copy of Read Magazine. I remember how excited I was to get this letter, I don’t think I was expecting a reply. I didn’t keep the article from the American Legion Magazine, but found a copy of it tonight online. Time to read it again.

  6. My daughter’s elementary school music class created an opera last year to celebrate “Unsung Heroes”. The opera was about Sybil Ludington. My daughter, Meredith Mooney, won a grant from Voya to provide the exceptional learning experience for her students.

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