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The Teenage Paul Revere in a Skirt: Sybil Ludington

Updated on March 13, 2016

Commemorative Stamp of Sybil Ludington

Milking the Cows One Minute, Saving New York the Next

The Teenage Paul Revere in a Skirt: Sybil Ludington

Most sixteen year old girls today are interested in friends, boys, driving and school—very few of them are asked to risk their lives raising an army to fight back against the invading army of an oppressive country.
But that’d what happened to Sybil Ludington.

Born in April 1761 in Connecticut, Sybil was the eldest of twelve children in her family. Soon after she was born, her family relocated to New York, where her father Henry Ludington, a former Loyalist, turned Patriot in 1773 and was named colonel of the local militia. Colonel Ludington and his regiment were posted along a highway that the British army regularly used to transport items between New York and Connecticut and the Long Island Sound.

When Sybil’s father wasn’t serving as colonel, he and his men were farmers, and they regularly would disband to tend to their crops during planting season. It was during one of these breaks on April 26, 1777 that British troops were planning to attack the nearby town of Danbury, Connecticut to capture or destroy the Patriots’ supplies. A messenger was dispatched to Colonel Ludington’s house to summon the militia, but he arrived by eight o’clock at night. All of the militiamen were at their respective farms, and the messenger was too tired from riding to continue safely to alert them. Knowing that he had to summon his men but couldn’t be far from his post and didn’t have any nearby neighbors to help him, Colonel Ludington turned to the one person he trusted to alert his soldiers, who knew many of them by name and where they all lived—his daughter Sybil, having turned sixteen just a few scant days before.

Understanding the risks if she were caught by redcoat scouts or by the brigands that regularly traversed the roads, Sybil didn’t hesitate to agree to her father’s request. Saddling a fresh horse, and armed with her father’s musket and a stick, Sybil departed from her home, riding to the house of every militia member, waking them up and warning them of the incoming attack. She rode through the entire rainy night from Carmel to Mahopac to Kent Cliffs to Farmers Mills, covering forty miles—longer than the more famous Paul Revere’s ride from Boston to Lexington and Concord a few years before. She paused at every house she came upon, banging on doors and windows and shouting, "The British are burning Danbury! The Colonel is mustering the troops!” to wake the families up, giving the men time to prepare and the women and children time to move safely away. At one point a highwayman (a dangerous robber, sort of the 18th century version of a carjacker) accosted Sybil as she rode, but she fought back, beating him with the stick she had used to whip her horse to run faster.

Sybil Ludington Monument, Carmel, NY by Anna Hyatt Huntington

Sybil Ludington Monument, Carmel, NY by Anna Hyatt Huntington
Sybil Ludington Monument, Carmel, NY by Anna Hyatt Huntington

By the time she returned home to her proud family, all of the militiamen—about 400 soldiers—plus another 1200 volunteers were assembled at dawn. They were unable to save Danbury, but Colonel Ludington and his men did drive the Redcoats back to Long Island Sound, saving other towns and stopping their advance onto New York.

Little was said about Sybil’s courageous ride in order to protect her and her family from British retaliation. Most people didn’t know of the dangerous journey the brave teenager took, but it didn’t escape the attention of one man: General George Washington. Washington himself took the time to visit the Ludington homestead and personally thank Sybil for her courage.

From then on, Sybil lived a peaceful life, marrying a lawyer, running an inn and having one son before passing away on February 26, 1839. Her story might have been forgotten if not for one of her grandnephews, a historian who wrote about the event in an article. A statue of her was erected in Carmel, New York, and there are several historical markers that follow the route she took that night. A section of the town of Kent, N.Y. where her family lived is now called “Ludingtonville,” as is Ludington Road, and in 1912 Fred C. Warner wrote the poem “On an April Night, 1777” about Sybil’s daring ride in the style of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” A commemorative stamp of Sybil was issued in 1975 for the United States’ bicentennial anniversary.

Sybil Ludington works cited:

“Paul Revere Wears a Skirt,”
“Heroines of History: Sybil Ludington—The Lone Messenger,”
“Sybil Ludington,”
“Sybil Ludington,” National Women’s History Museum,
“Sybil Ludington,”

Sybil Ludington's Grave

Sybil Ludington's grave (first name misspelled) in Patterson, NY
Sybil Ludington's grave (first name misspelled) in Patterson, NY


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