In the 1700s, it was a sin to be lazy. Especially for teenagers. Especially for girls. So it comes as no surprise that a sixteen year old Connecticut girl rode on horseback forty miles, through the entire night to alert patriots that the British were coming. No, I’m not confusing Sybil Ludington for Paul Revere.
On this day, April 18, 2021, the 246th anniversary of Paul Revere’s iconic midnight ride, Sybil Ludington remains lost to history. Sybil Ludington, a teenage girl, rode nearly three times the length that Paul Revere rode, on April 26th, 1777.
Sybil rode all night to gather Continental militia to repel the British invasion of Danbury, Connecticut, and in so doing protected further damage of essential munitions storage that was indispensable to General George Washington’s troops. Sybil played a critical role in supporting the cause of American freedom and independence.
Teenaged Sybil, was the eldest of twelve siblings. She knew nothing of being lazy. She lived on a farm with her family in Fredericksburg. Young Sybil found herself working around the farm and the home to help her family. She was especially expected to be of help in caring for the younger children. You know what breeds leadership? Taking care of eleven younger brothers and sisters. Sybil was no stranger to hard work and selflessness.
Sybil’s father was a respected militiaman for the Continental Army. He fought in the French and Indian War. By 1773 he became a Patriot and joined the American Revolution. He had rose to the rank of colonel and commanded the Seventh Regiment of the Duchess County Militia in Connecticut. Her father was away serving the Continental Army leaving Sybil to help her mother take up the helm. While Sybil’s father was away, it was up to her to keep her family and farm intact.
Whenever her father returned for farming and planting season, Sybil listened in awe to her father and his tales of duty and sacrifice for a free America. Sybil’s patriotism brewed in her heart as she witnessed the colonies grow more disgruntled and angry of the oppression of the English King. The King imposed taxes in retaliation against the Colonist’s uprisings. Protests arose throughout the colonies and they were punished with the Intolerable Acts.
Sybil lived in uncertainty for the future. Her father was risking his life as a colonel for the Continental army and the family sat in their farm like sitting ducks as the family of a known rebel Patriot that defied the British Army, the biggest most powerful army in the world. In the midnight hours of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere rode his legendary ride to warn the Patriot militia that British forces were approaching. The lives of the colonists, including Sybil’s, were forever changed. The world would never be the same.
Her life on the farm became particularly lonely since the war had begun. Her father was often away commanding his growing regiment in the mid-Atlantic area. But, while she stayed on the farm, Sybil maintained her Patriot spirit.
The Colonists dreamt of an independent nation, young and prosperous. “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” – George Washington. Any single event or incident could change the trajectory of history. One fateful night, Sybil would find herself in the center of the Revolution with a duty to serve her country.
In April of 1777, Sybil’s father’s regiment disbanded for farming season in various areas in Connecticut. Danbury, Connecticut was a supply depot for the American Army that held important provisions in the New England and mid-Atlantic area. The Continental Army was a ragtag militia that was going up against the most powerful military force in the world. Every supply mattered. The Colonists had everything to lose.
The English King knew this and sent his Royal Army, led by Governor Tryon from New York, to raid, destroy, and pillage the Continental ammunitions and supplies. 1800 British Troops arrived in Danbury, Connecticut and burned down the supplies of the Continental Army. Since Colonel Ludington’s troops were disbanded for planting season, there were barely enough American troops to put up a resistance against decimation by the British attack.
On April 26, 1777, Colonel Ludington received word of the attacks on Danbury, and had to quickly prepare for battle with his troops that were separated throughout Connecticut. But who could rally the troops?
Sybil didn’t even hesitate to mount her horse and face the night alone. That night, she was a soldier for the Continental army. She raced through the night, about 40 miles (more than three times the distance that Revere rode) through the woods, the mud, and the cold rain to send word of the British attacks on Danbury to her father’s troops.
She rallied hundreds of American soldiers to prepare for battle by the time dawn broke. The American troops that young Sybil Ludington gathered were able to battle the British troops the next day preventing further damage of much needed Continental supplies.
Sybil was an American hero that day. But just like many American heroes of the Revolution, she’s been lost to history. She was even forgotten by her own fellow countrymen. Sybil later married, and after her husband’s death of yellow fever, she applied for a pension for her husband’s service in the Revolutionary War.
However, she was denied the pension because she was unable to provide proof of marriage. Sybil Ludington lived in poverty until her death, and her legacy has been generally forgotten, until now.
Sybil Ludington’s story deserves to be remembered, and the history of revolutionary women should live on in the hearts and souls of those of us that get to live in this great free nation, the United States of America, because of what they believed in and what they fought for.