Monday, April 23, 2018

Sybil Ludington: The Extraordinary Story of a Young Patriot

Sybil Ludington
I guess I just don't understand.
The comparisons between Paul Revere and his so-called female counter-part, Sybil Ludington, that is.
When both stories are read side by side, one finds that, though there are similarities, there is little to compare, for each accomplishment was of a differing situation; both took on an important and dangerous job, and both completed their intended mission.
So, as you will see here, Sybil Ludington's accomplishment can stand on its own merit without any comparison to any other, including Mr. Revere, for Ludington and Revere were not in competition.
But both were patriots. And, in my opinion, heroes.
Now, with that out of the way, let's talk about this young sixteen year old girl who went beyond extraordinary, for it's her story you are about to read in today's posting.
Some say the ride of Sybil Ludington is a myth, that it didn't happen, for there is no proof.
Well, I feel there is more fact than fiction here. No, I have no proof except for her family stories, and maybe the story was embellished a bit, but I feel there is more to it then some scholars would have us believe.
And if that's not good enough then don't believe the stories past down word of mouth by Native Americans either, right? get the picture....
The late night ride of Sybil Ludington - - -
Truth? Or fiction?
I believe it to be truth, though some may differ.
Read on and you can make up your own mind...

Henry Ludington
circa 1776
Colonel Henry Ludington was a farmer, miller, lawman, and a lifelong militiaman who owned a substantial parcel of land in New York State. He founded Ludingtonville, which later became the town of Kent, New York. 
Colonel Ludington fought in the Seven Years War (aka French & Indian War) and, as captain, commanded a volunteer regiment at the Battle of Ridgefield during the American Revolutionary War. Ludington was promoted to Colonel and, from what I've read in numerous sources, became an aide-de-camp to General George Washington in providing spies for espionage.
Ludington's descendants have continued his legacy in several states besides New York, including Michigan and Wisconsin. Some became leaders in their own right and others were involved in developing towns (Ludington, Michigan was named for James Ludington, nephew of Sybil, though he never lived there).
Sybil Ludington was born on April 5th, 1761 in Patterson, New York. She was the daughter of the aforementioned Henry Ludington and his wife Abigail Knowles Ludington. Not long after her birth, her family settled onto 229 acres of wilderness in Dutchess County, New York (now part of Putnam County), near the Connecticut border and Atlantic Ocean at Long Beach Sound. Sybil was the oldest of Henry and Abigail’s 12 children, and she helped raise her siblings along with her mother. During the colonial period, young girls such as Sybil Ludington were taught the basics of living as her era dictated, and Sybil, though free from many of the hardships other girls of her time may have had, would still learn to keep a kitchen garden, cook, sew, mend, and learn to care for children. Her parents were far from poor, and her father had great influence in the county. However, as the oldest of 12 children, she bore many burdens on her young shoulders, such as having a prominent role in raising her siblings. 
Her fathers’ involvement in the early years of the war made him a threat to the British, and a price was put on his head. One night his bounty was almost collected, if not for the quick thinking of his dedicated daughter Sybil, and her younger sister Rebecca. A British loyalist named Ichabod Prosser, along with his men, surrounded the Ludington’s house, and were prepared to attack it. Louis S. Patrick (Sybil’s great-nephew) described the events of the evening in his 1907 article for the Connecticut Magazine, “Secret Service of the American Revolution”:
“This leader, while on his way to New York with a large band of his followers to join the British forces, marching in the night time, surrounded Colonel Ludington’s house and but for their timely discovery by his daughters, [Sybil] and Rebecca, would have captured him. These fearless girls, with guns in their hands, were acting as sentinels, pacing the piazza to and fro in true military style and spirit to guard their father against surprise and to give him warning of any approaching danger. They discovered Prosser and his men and gave the alarm. In a flash, candles were lighted in every room of the house, and then the few occupants marched and counter-marched before the windows and from this simple and clever ruse Prosser was led to believe that the house was strongly guarded and not dare to make an attack.”
But it was on April 25, 1777, when the real story of our heroine begins, for it was on this date that a 2000-man British force commanded by General William Tryon, the governor of the Province of New York, landed at Fairfield with twenty transports and six warships. The next day the force moved north into Danbury, Connecticut, where they began to search for stores of Continental Army supplies. The British soldiers also began leaving chalk marks on the properties of British loyalists and informers. Properties without chalk marks were to be destroyed.
Lord Tryon burned Danbury and fairfield, Connecticut
in late April 1777
By 4:00 pm, several Continental Army storehouses and three private homes were in flames. For security reasons, the Continental Army had recently transferred its supplies from Peekskill to Danbury, where they were thought to be safe, and were consequently poorly guarded. The stores included foodstuffs such as flour, beef, pork, sugar, molasses, coffee, rice, wheat, corn, and several hundred cases of wine and rum. 
The British soldiers found the rum and decided to consume it rather than destroy it. More fires were started by drunken soldiers, as military discipline broke down. Messengers were dispatched in all directions to announce the British arrival and news of the fires.
An exhausted messenger was dispatched from Danbury with the news of the attack, and he reached the Ludington home at approximately 9:00 pm. on the 26th of April. Colonel Ludington began to organize the militia, but his men had returned to their homes for spring planting and were scattered throughout the region. The messenger was exhausted and not familiar with the area.
However, daughter Sybil was very familiar with the land and surroundings. 
It is unclear whether she volunteered for the task, or whether she was asked to do it by her father, who may have "bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak.” Either way, it was shortly after 9:00 pm when she and her horse, Star, left to sound the alarm of the approach of enemy troops. 
Sybil and Star, riding all night in the cold New England April rain, to announce for her father's militia to meet at the Ludington house by daybreak.
She used a stick to prod her horse and knock on doors. “The British are burning Danbury. Muster at Ludington’s at daybreak!” she shouted at the farmhouses, as she rode through the dark rainy night, traveling some 40 miles from her home in what is now the town of Kent. Other towns included Mahopac, Stormville, Carmel, and from there to Farmers Mills then back home, all the while avoiding British soldiers in the area, British loyalists, and even "Skinners," who were outlaws with no allegiance to either side in the War. Some accounts indicate that a church bell was rung in Carmel after she gave the alarm, and that a man offered to accompany her on the rest of her ride. These accounts claim that she declined his offer, but instead dispatched him eastward to sound the alarm in Brewster. 
When she returned about dawn the next morning, soaked from the rain and exhausted from riding more than forty miles, most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march.
Ridgefield was a battle in the streets as depicted in 
this image. The illustration shows the barricades 
made by the American troops.
Though Colonel Ludington's troops arrived too late to assist at Danbury and Ridgefield, the militia caught up with the retreating British and was part of the force that harassed them and beat them back on their return to the beach. Yes, they were too late to stop the attack, but not too late to make the opposition pay dearly.
Now, aside from the family stories, that's where Sybil's ride was left.
Fortunately, the details of her ride were told later in 1907 in Willis Fletcher Johnson’s Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir, a book-length family tribute to Colonel Ludington. It states in part:

"One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of "Cowboys" and "Skinners" abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man's saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. 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. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father's house at Fredericksburgh."

Alexander Hamilton wrote Col. Ludington: "I congratulate you on the Danbury expedition. The stores destroyed have been purchased at a pretty high price to the enemy."
And it's said that Sybil received personal thanks from both General Washington and General Rochambeau, the French commander fighting with the Americans.
Here are a couple of other accolades in tribute to young Sybil Ludington:
From Wikipedia: “In 1935 New York State erected a number of markers along her route. A statue of Sybil, sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington, was erected near Carmel, New York, in 1961 to commemorate her ride. Smaller versions of the statue exist on the grounds of the Daughters of the American Revolution Headquarters in Washington, D.C., on the grounds of the public library in Danbury, Connecticut; and in the Elliot and Rosemary Offner museum at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina."

In 1975, Sybil Ludington was honored with a postage stamp in the “Contributors to the Cause” for the 'United States Bicentennial series.'

And now tourists can follow the path Sybil took on that rainy April night.
Sybil Ludington & Paul Revere
at your service
Sybil's is quite a fascinating story that history seemed to have over-looked, but there are many of us who are trying to bring it back to life. In fact, as you may know, I am a historical interpreter as Paul Revere, and I also have a partner, Larissa, who interprets as Miss Ludington, and we tell the adventures of both patriots to kids in school, to historical societies, to libraries, at reenactments, and wherever else we are asked.
Both Larissa and I have had very positive results and feedback in the way that we present our Nation's history, of which I am proud, and that we can direct our presentation toward any age group, whether they are school age children or senior citizens or all the age groups in between.
But given that we are getting out the names and, as best we can, the truth about these two American patriots is what we are attempting to accomplish, and it seems to be working out very well.
I would, however, like to leave you with this final though about Sybil Ludington:
"In their return to ordinary lives and familiar gender roles, these (mostly nameless) women share a bond with the thousands of American soldiers who became, once again, farmers and farm laborers, planters and merchants, dock workers and shopkeepers when the war was over."
In other words, out of all of the heroics performed during the Revolutionary War, only very few get the accolades deserved.

Until next time, see you in time.

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Here is a wonderful book with information about the women during the Revolutionary War:
Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin

Besides the aforementioned book on Revolutionary War women, my information for this post also came directly from the following sites:
History of American Women

Henry Ludington

Encyclopedia Britannica

American Revolutionary War

Big Trivia

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1 comment:

Bama Planter said...

This was a wonderful story to read. I appreciate all your hard work. I am positive you would have been a patriot in the 1770's. I fear I would have been a loyalist based upon my upbringing, although all my known ancestors sided with the American cause.