Sybil Ludington: New York’s Revolutionary Heroine

Sybil Ludington American Revolutionary War

Photo: Anthony22 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On the shore of Lake Gleneida, in Carmel, NY, there’s a statue honoring a Revolutionary War champion who rode through the storm of night to announce that “The British Are Burning Danbury! Gather at Ludington’s!” No, it’s not Paul Revere, whose famous midnight ride was immortalized in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it’s the bronze image of a young woman named Sybil Ludington. Sybil Ludington rode twice as far as Paul Revere, 40 miles, to warn Putnam and Duchess county that Danbury had been sacked by British troops and was burning. She was sent to muster all the freedom fighters who were to report to her father Colonel Henry Ludington at once. The reason Ludington’s troops were on furlough was because it was April and that meant spring planting time. The volunteer militia, who ran family farms had to tend their crops in order not to have their families starve during the next cruel New York winter. When a messenger came to announce that the Connecticut supplies were raided and Danbury was set afire, the rider collapsed from exhaustion and could travel no further. Colonel Ludington had no choice but to ask his daughter Sybil, the eldest of his twelve children, to ride through the towns to summon his militia. Another version of the event says that she volunteered before her father had to ask; however, these details cannot be verified.

Sybil’s route on April 26, 1777 began at her father’s headquarters, also the site of the Colonel’s family mill and stately home in Kent, New York (a section which is now called Ludingtonville), New York though the areas of Lake Carmel, Carmel, Mahopac, Mahopac Falls, Cold Spring, Stormville, Farmer’s Mills and then back to her home. Covering two counties, Putnam and Duchess, her ride saved many lives and lands. Danbury was just over the state line a few miles away and it would be so easy for the British to cross over the border to conduct a surprise raid on the sleepy little farm towns in New York. The off-duty Colonial soldiers could not check in on Facebook or Twitter to see what was trending during the American Revolution,(#DanburySacked) so they had no way of knowing what was happening just over the neighboring Connecticut border. Time was of the essence, and there was no time to wait for a formal dispatch for aid. Overall, Sybil rustled over 400 soldiers from their beds, fields, and hearths to join the fight. Although the Colonials lost the Battle of Ridgefield, Ludington’s troops gave the British a fighting sendoff as they made their way back to Long Island.

Considering her age, just 16 at the time, her ride was an outstanding feat of bravery. The roads in Putnam and Duchess counties were unpaved and dangerous. Facing not only the treachery of creepy criminal Highwaymen, British Loyalist “skinners” who flayed their enemies alive, she also had natural obstacles with which to contend. Jagged rock walls, thick mud, overflowing streams under a moon obscured by clouds made the going even more perilous. Sybil rode through a storm in pitch darkness. The stretches of land she had to cover going from farm to farm that loomed in front of her would have been enough to make many adult soldiers turn around and run home. Not Sybil. Legend has it that Sybil used the stick she brandished to fight off a Highwayman she encountered on her path. Her journey began at around 9 pm and didn’t end until after daybreak the next morning. One can only imagine what was going through her mind during her ride. Was she afraid? Was she excited to be finally engaged actively in the cause? Did she pray to be guided by guardian angels through that terrible dark night? However she felt about what she had to do, she certainly had no hesitation to do it.

Sybil made not only her father, Colonel Ludington proud, but she was personally visited by George Washington, who commended her efforts. Still, little of her ride was known until over a century later when the tale of her heroism was published by one of her descendants. Some cynics doubt the story; however, many of the same detractors have never questioned Paul Revere’s ride. There must be plenty of believers in Sybil Ludington’s ride, as a stamp commemorating her contribution to the Revolutionary cause was produced during our country’s Bicentennial.

Sybil Ludington American Revolutionary War

Photo: Public Domain

The statue of Sybil Ludington is an unusual depiction of the female form for her times when young ladies were expected to be either cooking or sitting demurely sewing by the fire. Sybil is shown as a girl of action, with wet hair flying, straddling her father’s trusty horse Star. She’s posed authentically– just as she was that fateful night, a tree switch in her hand, her mouth wide open in a bellowed call to arms.

The artist responsible for this iconic sculpture, Anna Hyatt Huntington, was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. A miniature of the statue resides a the DAR Headquarters in Washington, DC. The Daughters of the American Revolution donated the sculpture to the town of Carmel with the provision that they maintain the work. The piece has a design flaw where plaster will seep through the bronze encasement, making it look like the statue of Sybil is foaming at the mouth. It requires diligent maintenance to scrub away the debris. Over the years, The County Commissioner of Highways and local volunteer organizations have participated in the cleaning and maintenance of the statue and its surrounding grounds around sparkling Lake Gleneida.

Residents of Putnam and Duchess counties, both past and present, have a warm spot in their hearts for Sybil Ludington. This is particularly true for those in Carmel, where her statue resides, and in nearby Patterson where Sybil Ludington is buried with her family. Somehow her name was misspelled, on her tombstone as Sibbell Ludington. Errors on grave markers were not that uncommon when she died in 1839 at the age of 77 as census and other records often listed differentiated spellings.

If you ask Carmelites (residents of Carmel, NY) what they feel when they gaze upon her image while traveling up and down Route 52 they tell you it’s about the spirit of the Revolution, patriotism, and the graces of selflessness and fortitude that made their community and our great country what it is today.

No lesson about the Revolutionary War is complete without mention of Ms. Ludington. Residents past and present recall learning about her ride at school, at Scout meetings and from their parents, some of whom have family histories that date back to Colonial times. Footraces tracing Sybil’s path are held in her honor and roads and other local areas carry the Ludington family name. As widespread as her story is now in history books, she really belongs to the people of Putnam and Duchess. She is their daughter, representing all that is best and beautiful about this little corner of New York State.

Ms. Sybil Ludington is not just a heroine of the Revolution but her likeness is also a guiding star that watches over the pastoral town of Carmel, NY. She serves to remind us all that with the right amount of courage, anything is possible.

 

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