The daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington and Abigail Knowles, Sybil (Sibyl, Sibbell) Ludington was born April 16, 1761 in Fredericksburgh, NY (now known as the Ludingtonville section of Kent, NY). Typical during colonial days, Sybil was one of numerous siblings – in her case, the eldest of twelve children.
During Sybil’s childhood, Henry became a prosperous farmer and mill owner. He was involved in both the religious and political events taking place in his community – serving as a justice of the peace and a member of the revolutionary Committee of Safety. Henry’s effectiveness in helping to stymie British efforts to supply their troops was so productive, it enraged British General William Howe to the point he offered a reward to whoever captured or killed Henry – in the amount of 300 English guineas. The patriotic standard his life reflected carried through into the lives of his children as well.
In 1777, the American Revolution came to call at the Ludington doorstep. Sybil was now 16. 2,000 British troops, led by General Tryon, landed near Fairfield, Connecticut and marched to Danbury. Upon arrival, they searched for the Continental Army’s stores and placed chalk marks on all properties owed by British loyalists. The Continental Army had transferred their supplies to Danbury from Peekskill thinking it much safer, and thus they were poorly guarded. Included in the supplies were foodstuffs such as beef and pork, sugar, flour molasses, coffee, wheat, corn, rice and several hundred cases of rum and wine. Clothing, shoes, tents, cots and cooking supplies were also in the collection of supplies. By 4 PM, three private homes and several of the Continental Army’s storehouses were in flames. Though a portion of the fires were intentionally set due to not having the required chalk marks on them, the larger portion of fires were set by drunken soldiers after finding the stores of rum.
Seventeen miles from Danbury, Colonel Ludington and his militia were busy with spring planting. Needing to rally the troops, Henry called on Sybil, who by this time was an expert rider, to sound an alarm and help him prepare his regiment to pursue the British who had invaded Connecticut.
On the night of April 26, 1777 at approximately 9:00 p.m., Sybil took off and rode throughout the night in the rain. Sybil’s trail followed the unmarked, narrow ox-cart roads typical of 1777. Going through woods and swamps, she stopped at each house and told the men: “The British are burning Danbury; the Colonel is mustering the troops.” She traveled the entire 40 mile circuit – visiting towns such as Carmel, Mahopac and Stormville. Using a stick to prod her horse and knock on doors and her father’s musket to ward off highwaymen, Sybil’s efforts brought together an additional 1,200 troops to join the 400 already gathered by her father.
The ride Sybil made was remarkable when compared to today’s endurance riders. Using lightweight saddles, these riders find it difficult to complete a distance of 40 miles during daylight on a well-marked course.
In the end, the town of Danbury could not be saved. The British accomplished their goal of taking the Americans’ supplies and left a number of casualties behind – among them General David Wooster. The various structures they burned all belonged to individuals who sided with the revolutionaries.
The Americans, however, considered it a victory for their side as well. Their bravery served to prevent the British from advancing into New York. Instead, the British were pushed back to their boats in Long Island Sound in the Battle of Ridgefield. In the words of Alexander Hamilton – The stores destroyed there have been purchased at a high price to the enemy. The spirit of the people on the occasion does them great honor – is a pleasing proof that they have lost nothing of that primitive zeal with which they began that contest, and will be galling discouragement to the enemy of repeating attempts of the kind.”
In 1784, at the age of 23, Sybil became the wife of Edmond Ogden. Six children were born to the couple. Prior to their marriage, Edmond had also served in the Revolution as a member of the Connecticut Continentals and aboard the Bonhomme Richard with John Paul Jones.
In 1792, the family moved to Catskill, New York where Edmond practiced law and they ran an inn. Edmond died of yellow fever in 1799. Sybil continued to run the inn and died on February 26, 1839 at the age of 77. She was laid to rest alongside her parents in the Maple Avenue Cemetery.
Though she was recognized by General George Washington for her efforts, it is unknown if anything else was made of Sybil’s ride during her lifetime; however, her efforts were commemorated in the early 20th century. In 1912, Poet Fred C. Warner reworked the writings of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1863) to reflect Sybil’s efforts. In 1940, Berton Braley followed suit with Sybil Ludington’s Ride.
In 1907, an article was written by Sybil’s great-nephew, Louis S. Patrick, a Connecticut historian, retelling the story of her famous ride. Willis Fletcher Johnson did so as well in his book Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir. He wrote . . .
At eight or nine o’clockthat evening a jaded horseman reached Colonel Ludington’s home with the news [of the fall of Danbury].. . . But what to do? [Ludington’s] regiment was disbanded; its members scattered at their homes [for April planting]. He must stay there to muster all who came in. The messenger from Danbury could ride no more, and there was no neighbor within call. In this emergency he turned to his daughter Sybil, who, a few days before, had passed her sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak. One who even rides now from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads . . . but the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter. . . . There is no extravagance in comparing her ride with that of Paul revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his was. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house at Fredericksburgh, and an hour or two later was on the march [to Danbury] for vengeance on the raiders.(Johnson, pp. 89-91)
Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington created an equestrian statue in Sybil’s honor. The bronze effigy is one-and-one-third life size and serves to depict Sybil’s determination and the strength of her horse. Presented to the Enoch Crosby Chapter of the NSDAR, the dedication took place on June 3, 1961. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Gleneidaon Route 52 in Carmeland illuminated at night, the statue serves as a beacon of strength, freedom and the will to win. Smaller replicas of the statue are found in Danburyand also the headquarters of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C.
In 1975, Sybil became the 35th woman to be honored on a USpostage stamp.
Sybil’s ride earned her the nickname, ‘the female Paul Revere.’ In actuality, Sybil far outdid her famous predecessor – his ride was half the length of hers, he had a moonlit night, he was 40 years old, not 16 – and she did it while riding side saddle.