Sybil Ludington: The Girl Who Rode Twice As Far As Paul Revere?

Sybil Ludington was a Revolutionary War heroine who rode to warn of incoming Redcoats and to rally troops.

May 1, 2024By Madison Whipple, BA History w/ Spanish minor

sybil ludington


Every American is familiar with the story of Paul Revere, the man who rode into the dead of night, rallying the colonial militia with his cries. “The British are coming!” is a familiar refrain that served to prepare the colonial troops for the oncoming battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. However, Revere wasn’t the only patriot to ride out at midnight, warning troops about imminent invasion. Two years later, a 16-year-old girl did the same but is less remembered for her actions. This is the story of Sybil Ludington.


Sybil Ludington’s Beginnings

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The Long Island Sound, near the Ludington property, today. Source: Riverhead News-Review


Sybil (sometimes spelled Sibbell) Ludington was born on April 5, 1761 in Fredericksburg, New York (now known as Kent). She was the first of twelve children born to Henry and Abigail Ludington.


Henry Ludington was a gristmill owner, and the family’s farm sat in an area between Connecticut and the coast of the Long Island Sound. This area was particularly alluring to the British troops, as it gave access to the wider colonies but allowed a sea route for attack as well.


In addition to his profession as a gristmill owner, Henry Ludington had served in the British military for decades, including in the French and Indian War. However, by the time of the American Revolution, Ludington had switched sides and hedged his bets on the Patriot cause and American independence.

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While the Revolutionary War raged, the Ludington family lived in Dutchess County (now known as Putnam County), and Colonel Henry Ludington was named commander of the county militia.


Not much else is known about Sybil’s life before April of 1777 when her actions shot her into the spotlight.


The Midnight Ride

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Woodblock print entitled “The Fight at Ridgefield.” Source: Keeler Tavern Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut


The story goes that on April 26, 1777, 16-year-old Sybil and her family encountered a rider at their home. The rider warned Colonel Ludington that the British had arrived in the nearby town of Danbury, Connecticut, and were burning it to the ground.


Danbury, a revolutionary stronghold, was stockpiled with arms and munitions storage. British General William Tyron sought to capture and destroy the important base of power in Western Connecticut with the help of some 2,000 British troops.


Upon hearing the news, Colonel Ludington knew that rallying the troops was important if they were to catch up with the Redcoats. The problem was that the militia had disbanded for the season and were scattered around the county throughout the New York and Connecticut border areas. The Colonel only commanded around 400 troops, but every last soldier was necessary to track the British down as they retreated.


A statue of Sybil Ludington On the banks of Lake Gleneida in Carmel, New York. Source: Veteran Life


Accounts vary; some say that Sybil Ludington volunteered for the job of raising the alarm, while others claim that her father asked for her help. Either way, legend states that the 16-year-old fearlessly mounted her horse and rode off into the night, facing total darkness, rough terrain, and stormy weather.


Sybil rode all through the night, alerting her father’s men of the attack on Danbury. Her ride, in total, was said to have been around 40 miles, or almost triple the length of Paul Revere’s ride. While she made it back to her family farm around dawn, Sybil could have certainly been captured by British troops or highwaymen with no allegiance to either side at any time. The ride was a dangerous one, but she was knowledgeable enough to track down all of her father’s troops.


Troops across New York and Connecticut rallied thanks to midnight riders like Sybil, and they caught up with the British troops near Ridgefield, Connecticut, the following day. A major conflict followed, with one American General, David Wooster, killed, and General Benedict Arnold (who had not yet been discovered as a traitor) had his horse shot out from under him.


Still, due to the quick response of riders like Sybil, the British suffered heavy casualties and were forced to retreat to the Long Island Sound.


Accounts of the Ride 

sybil ludignton historical marker
The Historical Marker for Sybil Ludington in New York’s Hudson Valley via Lite FM


Interestingly, no contemporary accounts of Sybil’s ride exist. The earliest version of her story thought to exist appeared in a history book from 1880, which cites no primary or contemporary secondary sources.


Though there was never any mention of her ride in Sybil’s own correspondence, her nephew, Charles H. Ludington, penned a petition for her inclusion in a ceremony honoring Revolutionary War heroes in 1854.


Ludington’s letter states, “My aunt Sybil rode on horseback in the dead of night…through a country infested with Cowboys and Skinners (highwaymen) to inform Gen’l (Israel) Putnam.” Thus, her nephew’s letter, written nearly 80 years after the event, became the earliest written account of the daring female Paul Revere.


Several other accounts followed, which ensconced Ludington in heroism and patriotism to the American people forevermore. In 1940, a poem was written about Sybil Ludington, claiming her cries, described as a “high-pitched feminine halloo,” pierced through the night. She went on to shout to the soldiers:


Up, Up there, soldier. You’re needed, come!

The British are marching!” and then the drum

Of her horse’s feet as she rode apace

To bring more men to the meeting place.


Sybil Ludington was memorialized as a Revolutionary War heroine through later accounts, but without any contemporary evidence, it begs the question, did the ride of Sybil Ludington really happen?


The Colonial Revival Period

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A print made for the centennial of the American Revolution in 1876 by William R. Smith. Source: Library of Congress


During the mid-to-late 19th century, a sort of nostalgia emerged out of the coming centennial of American independence. This patriotic era is notable for producing and making famous several stories of Revolutionary heroes, the symbolic patriots that all Americans should strive to be.


Sybil Ludington’s story came about early in this period in the aforementioned letter from her nephew, petitioning to include Sybil in a ceremony that honored Revolutionary War heroes. Ludington was one of a cast of characters that symbolized the struggle for freedom and the patriot cause. Other such patriots included Betsy Ross and the story of her first flag, as well as Paul Revere and his midnight ride.


During and after the centennial, patriotic family stories became more widely circulated and allowed these household names to be cemented in the American psyche. Women like Ludington and Ross left behind very few documents of their own, meaning that their stories could be adapted and changed to fit the narrative of the time.


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Betsy Ross, 1777 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, ca. 1930s. Source: Library of Congress


Whether or not Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag is irrelevant because it became a story ingrained into the fabric of the country and the role that women played in the Revolution, as is the case with Sybil Ludington. The colonial revival period sparked an admiration for the courage and valor of those Revolutionaries who had built the nation, and they were stories that could endure for various causes.


As Smithsonian Magazine author Abigail Tucker writes in her article “Did the Midnight Ride of Sybil Ludington Ever Happen?,” Ludington is an inspiration to several factions within the United States, from feminist groups who seek to uncover the integral role that women have played in building society, to the National Rifle Association, who honor Ludington’s memory with the Sybil Ludington Women’s Freedom Award, which has been given to the likes of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and other female leaders.


Sybil Ludington: Symbol of Patriotism 

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The Sybil Ludington Postage stamp. Source: National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC


Vincent Dacquino, a New York historian, is the definitive voice on Sybil Ludington, as he has written four books on the lesser-known midnight rider. In his research, he has discovered several documents from Ludington’s lifetime, including letters that she wrote later in life. It is important to note that she never mentions her famed ride in life; however, it could have been because that one event was overshadowed by the other chapters of her story.


Ludington married Edmond Ogden in 1784, who later died young of yellow fever. Sybil was left widowed with a young son, Henry, whom she raised and provided for by working as an innkeeper in Catskill, New York. Perhaps the story of her ride was apocryphal, but Sybil Ludington endured silently as a single mother throughout her life, one who raised a son who would go on to become a prominent lawyer and a New York State assemblyman in 1819. Sybil Ludington died in 1839 at the age of 77 and is buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York.


Sybil (spelled Sibbell here) Ludington’s grave. Source: boneladyblog


Sybil Ludington’s story has never faded into the background and gained traction from the 20th century onward. A towering statue, sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington, stands by the lakeshore in Carmel, New York, depicting Sybil on her horse, shouting her warning about the attack on Danbury. The statue was dedicated in 1961 and can still be seen today.


More recently, her story has been marked by road signs throughout Putnam County, New York, she has been featured on a US postage stamp, and even appeared on television in an episode of Comedy Central’s “Drunk History.” In addition to these cameos, her alleged path through the countryside is now the course of an ultramarathon named in her honor.


Though it is difficult to prove whether or not Sybil Ludington’s midnight ride really happened, she is still ensconced in American history as a symbol of the patriot spirit during the Revolutionary War. Her story shows the lengths that even teenagers were willing to go to in the fight for freedom on the homefront, as well as the important, if not understated, role that women have often played in American history. Her story exemplifies what being an American should look like, even 300 years later.

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By Madison WhippleBA History w/ Spanish minorMadison is a contributing writer with specialties in American and women’s history. She is especially interested in women’s history in the context of the American Civil War. In her free time, she enjoys going to museums, reading, and jogging.