Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Midnight Ride of Sybil Ludington, American Revolutionary

Sybil Ludington and her "Midnight Ride" (26 April 1777)

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
 Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, 
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five: 
Hardly a man is now alive 
 Who remembers that famous day and year.

Well, I don't know who Longfellow was thinking about here--everybody hears about Paul Revere and his damn midnight ride. 

Anna Hyatt Huntington's sculpture of
Sybil Ludington, on her midnight ride,
Carmel, New York
(photo by Anthony22)
But not too many people hear about the ride of Sybil Ludington--at the age of sixteen, she undertook a dangerous ride to alert her father’s militia forces of the approach of the British.

On the night of 26 April 1777, during a terrible rainstorm, she road forty miles, from Putnam County, New York, to Danbury, Connecticut. (Revere, by the way, was forty years old and didn't complete his ride--he was captured by the British.)

Born on 5 April 1761, Sybil Ludington was the daughter of Abigail Knowles and Henry Ludington, the eldest of their twelve children.

Henry Ludington was both a farmer and the owner of a grist mill. Ludington began his military service in 1755, at the age of sixteen, when he enlisted in the Second Connecticut Regiment. He fought for the British against the French in the so-called French and Indian War, part of the larger European conflict known as the Seven Years' War. Ludington served from 1755 until 1760. In recognition of his distinguished service, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the British Colonial Army. Ludington resigned in protest after the Stamp Act (1765), but rejoined in 1773 when he was commissioned as a captain.

But at the outbreak of the Revolution, rather than continue as a British officer, Ludington joined the Continental Army and took command of a volunteer infantry regiment. On 26 April 1777, Ludington learned of Governor William Tryon's planned attack on Danbury, Connecticut--this was where supplies and munitions for the Patriot army were being stored. 

And now attention turns to Sybil Ludington. Accounts differ about why she made the ride--according to family legend, she volunteered to make the trip, though it may be that she rode at her father's direction. 

In any case, Sybil made the journey, setting off after nine p.m. and riding through the night. Despite the dangers, she carried her father's order for muster, spreading the word to the militiamen to rally at her father's farm. By daybreak, most of the men had gathered. 

The British nevertheless managed to burn Danbury and destroy the Continental Army's supplies. Ludington's men were late for the series of skirmishes that became known as the battle of Ridgefield, arriving "short of ammunition" and "outnumbered by the British three to one," but they nevertheless were able to "harass the British" with their "scattering sharpshooter fire from behind trees and fences and stone walls," and the British retreated to their ships." 

Whether her father's troops won the battle or not, Sybil Ludington's ride achieved its purpose. In a history written by a member of Henry Ludington's family, Sybil and her sister Rebecca are also credited with having aided her father in his espionage work, established under the direction of General George Washington, whom Henry Ludington came to serve as an aide-de-camp. The two girls were "privy" to the "doings" of one of their father's spies; they "had a code of signals, by means of which they frequently admitted him in secrecy and safety to the house, where he was fed and lodged."

And when their father's activities raised hostilities in their neighbors, the two girls also took action:
These children would sit for hours, armed with heavy muskets, at the upper windows, behind casks on the piazza, or in a neighboring cornfield, watching for the approach of suspicious or openly hostile characters and ready to give their father warning.
While her actions in defending her father's spies and her father himself may be part of a family historian's fanciful collection of stories, and while some details of Sybil's ride may have been fancifully embroidered in later retellings (I've left out the fluff here), the fact of her ride is not in doubt.

After the war, Sybil Ludington married Edward Ogden, variously described as a lawyer (Encyclopedia Britannica!!!), a farmer, or an innkeeper. (Then again, sometimes he's named as "Edmund" Ogden--for what it's worth, the family historian identifies Ogden as a lawyer, but says he's named Henry!)

Sybil Ludington Ogden's headstone,
Maple Ave. Cemetery,
Patterson, New York
(note the spelling of her name,
"Sibbell" and "Edmond"
as her husband's name)
Now Sybil Ogden, she moved to Catskill, where she had one son, named Henry (the family historian may be confusing Sybil's husband's name with her son's). She died on 26 February 1839, aged seventy-seven. 

There are no known references to Sybil Ludington Ogden's ride before 1880, when Martha Lamb, a New York historian, included it in her History of the City of New York

I know I'm always bitching about the Encyclopedia Britannica's refusal to include women, but as noted above, there is an entry for Sybil Ludington

A profile of Sybil Ludington Ogden is also provided by the town of Patterson, New York, as part of ts "Historic Patterson" website.

Although Sybil Ludington Ogden's application for a Revolutionary War pension was denied--the reason given was that there was insufficient proof of her marriage to Edward Ogden, who had served in the Continental Army--she was honored by a U.S. postage stamp in 1975.