Sybil Ludington: Girl power, 1777 style
Known as NY’s Paul Revere, Ludington at 16 rode into history by taking on a dangerous mission
In 1777, there were no video games or social media to distract teens, and no after-school jobs or biology tests. In Revolutionary War-era Hudson Valley, there was, however, danger and bravery for at least one 16-year-old girl.
On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington, the teenage daughter of an American militia officer, jumped on her father’s horse and rode off alone in the rainy, chilly night. The mission? To alert local Hudson Valley patriots that the British were heading towards them in neighboring Connecticut, riding a 40-mile loop to deliver the message.
What happened next has become part of the region’s Revolutionary War history … or legend, or a combination of both, depending on who’s telling the story of the teenager often referred to as New York’s Paul Revere. (It’s worth nothing that Ludington’s ride supposedly was double the distance and made under worse conditions, and unlike the silversmith from Boston, she wasn’t captured by the redcoats.)
Count Vincent T. Dacquino among the believers.
“Do I think she took the ride? Unquestionably,” said Dacquino, of Mahopac, Putnam County, a retired English teacher who has written four books on Ludington.
Dacquino became intrigued by Ludington’s story in the mid-1990s when, stopped in traffic enroute to his job at a Westchester school, he spotted one of several roadside historical markers dotting the circuitous route she’s believed to have taken while raising the alarm in southern Dutchess and what is now Putnam County.
“I said, ‘What? Who is this woman?’” said Dacquino, who retired in 2007 after 35 years teaching at Pelham schools.
What followed was 25 years of research and genealogical sleuthing, resulting in two children’s books on Sybil and two others for adults. (His latest, 2019’s “Patriot Hero of the Hudson Valley: The Life and Ride of Sybil Ludington,” was originally published in 2000 by Purple Mountain Press in Fleischmanns, Delaware County.)
The story of Ludington’s ride has been doubted by some historians, citing the lack of primary sources, but Dacquino said few, if any, women were mentioned in contemporary publications or military dispatches, no matter what contributions they made to the cause of American independence. That honor, he said, was reserved for men.https://dceba175df6a4d5ae5f537384a1015cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“They didn’t write up women’s heroism in the newspaper,” Dacquino said.
Sounding the alarm: The British are coming
The Sybil Ludington bronze statue, with Putnam County officials and the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at the 1961 dedication, and more recently. (Photo Putnam County Historian’s Office & Archive)
He said documents in the Ludington family collection at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan include 19th-century letters written by a niece and nephew who passed along details of Ludington’s story from relatives who were alive at the time she made her ride.
According to those letters, a soldier arrived on horseback at the Ludington farmstead around 9 p.m. to tell Col. Henry Ludington, Sybil’s father, that the British were headed to Danbury, Connecticut to destroy American supplies stored there. Since the soldier was exhausted and his mount spent, the teenage Ludington saddled a fresh horse and continued sounding the alarm across the countryside, using a stick to bang on the doors and shutters at the homes of sleeping militiamen.https://dceba175df6a4d5ae5f537384a1015cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Col. Ludington’s regiment arrived too late to prevent the redcoats from destroying the supplies, but the militia harassed the British column as it advanced on nearby Ridgefield, where the Americans were defeated. One of the patriot officers, Connecticut-born Benedict Arnold, had his horse shot out from under him and was nearly killed. (In 1780, Arnold fled to the British side after his unsuccessful attempt to hand over the fortifications at West Point).
After the war ended in 1783, Sybil eventually relocated north to Catskill with her husband, Connecticut veteran Edmond Ogden, and their son, Henry, who was born in 1786. After Ogden died of yellow fever in 1799, Sybil ran a tavern and proved to be a successful businesswoman despite competition from more than 20 male-owned establishments in the vicinity, Dacquino said.
In 1811, Sybil moved yet again, this time with her son and his family to Unadilla in southern Otsego County, where Henry established a law practice. She spent the next 20-plus years helping raise her six grandchildren. Henry’s death in 1838 left her in near poverty, and she died a year later, on Feb. 26, 1839, at 77. Her body was brought back to her hometown, where she lies buried next to her father in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, Putnam County.
Posthumous honors and recognition for Sybil Ludington
In the early 1960s, the story of Sybil Ludington’s ride inspired a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to commission a statue in her honor. Noted sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, a DAR member, created a larger-than-life bronze statue depicting Sybil riding side-saddle on a rearing horse, her raised right hand holding a stick, her mouth wide open to shout the news that the redcoats were on the march. The statue was unveiled on June 3, 1961, along the shore of Lake Glenida in Carmel.
In 1975, U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Ludington’s honor as part of its Contributors to the Cause series for the nation’s bicentennial.
Putnam County Historian Jennifer M. Cassidy says her office receives many inquiries from authors and students alike who want to preserve the Sybil Ludington story, even in the face of skeptics who doubt some or all of that story.
“Her story, passed down through generations of the Ludington family, is a Putnam County treasure and serves as an inspiring tale of facing adversity, rising to the challenge, and helping others,” Cassidy said. “Sybil’s ride is a story that reflects the patriotic spirit; she is an original American girl. Sybil is ‘Girl Power.’”https://dceba175df6a4d5ae5f537384a1015cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“She was an amazing woman, an amazing wife, an amazing grandmother,” Dacquino said. “She is a symbol of a true American woman.”