Many acts of heroism by ordinary Americans during the Revolutionary War have been forgotten over time. In some cases, a deed long forgotten has been rediscovered and a hero reborn. Sybil Ludington is a once-forgotten hero who has become a role model for young American women.
Born on April 5, 1761, Sybil was the eldest child of Henry Ludington, who operated a mill in Kent, then part of Dutchess County, and served in the colonial army. When she was 15, in 1776, her father joined the revolutionary Dutchess County militia as Colonel of the Seventh Regiment. According to family history, Col. Ludington often met at his home in Fredericksburgh with American spies from British-occupied parts of New York. Sybil and her younger sister Rebecca took an active part in their father’s cause as armed sentries guarding against raids from forces loyal to Britain.
Col. Ludington knew he could depend on Sybil when he received news on April 26, 1777, that a large British force had landed at Compo Beach, Connecticut to seize nearby Danbury. He was ordered to summon his troops at once to help retake the town, but his men were at their homes throughout the region. He needed someone to ride through the region that night to alert them. Sybil accepted the mission. She rode more than 40 miles at top speed in dangerous conditions to rouse troops from Fredericksburgh south to Carmel and Mahopac, then north to Stormville. Ludington’s 400 men soon joined the pursuit of the British forces that had left Danbury and fought the Americans at Ridgefield. Reinforced by Ludington and other militia troops, the Americans drove the British back to their boats.
Later, Sybil and Rebecca would take on perilous patrol duties on their father’s newly-acquired lands in eastern Dutchess County. After the American victory, Sybil settled into the life of a young colonial woman. She married Edmond Ogden in 1784 and moved with him to Catskill. After Ogden died in 1799, she raised their son, who became a lawyer and a state assemblyman, and eventually moved in with his family in Unadilla, Otsego County.
In 1838, Sybil applied for a federal pension newly available to widows of Revolutionary War veterans. She was turned down because she lacked proper documentation of her marriage. She died on February 26, 1839, and was buried under her maiden name, with her first name spelled “Sibbell.” For the next forty years, she vanished from history.
Martha J. Lamb, the editor of the Magazine of American History, rediscovered Sybil Ludington in the 1870s. She described Sybil’s ride and her sentry duty for her father, possibly for the first time in print, in the multivolume History of the City of New York, published between 1877 and 1881. Lamb’s account was cited by other writers for years to come. It was retold more dramatically in William Fletcher Johnson’s 1907 biography of Col. Ludington. While some questioned the truth of the story, Sybil became more widely known as a “female Paul Revere,” and her story became part of Hudson Valley’s heritage.
A statue was built in Sybil’s honor in the 1930s, and stories about her appeared in magazines and newspapers as the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution approached. In 1975 the U.S. Postal Service included her in a series of postage stamps honoring little-known “Contributors to the Cause.” By now, Sybil Ludington is one of the best-known female heroes of the American Revolution. She represents untold numbers of women who aided the fight for American independence.