By Michael Williams
Most Americans are familiar with the story of the daring midnight ride of Paul Revere who bravely rode out to warn American patriots of the impending invasion of British soldiers.
But few are familiar with a lesser-known story of Sybil Ludington, a courageous 16-year-old girl who made an even more amazing ride to muster troops for her father, a colonel in the militia.
Sybil was born in Paterson, New York in 1761, the oldest of 12 siblings. Her father Colonel Henry Ludington was a farmer in Kent. Sybil spent her days helping her mother, Abigail, with spinning, knitting, weaving and sewing.
Like many people in the area, Sybil was tired of being ruled by Great Britain and wanted the colonies to be free and independent.
On the night of April 26, 1777, Sybil was helping to tuck in her brothers and sister when someone began knocking on the door. Colonel Ludington opened the door and there stood a messenger who was exhausted and out of breath.
“The British are in Danbury, Connecticut,” he said. “They are burning the town.”
Colonel Ludington was stunned. Danbury was the supply center for the militia. The British force of 2,000 men had found several buildings where supplies were stored. They also found large quantities of rum. Rather than destroy the rum, they drank it and soon became very disorderly. Military order broke down and the men went on a drunken spree burning numerous buildings and structures while British General William Tryon tried to restore order.
Ludington needed to assemble as many militiamen as possible, but he could not leave and the messenger had been riding a long distance and was too tired to go further. He needed to be there when they arrived to get them prepared for battle. Somehow he needed to warn the neighboring towns and villages the British were attacking. In addition, he needed to alert the militiamen so they could assemble.
“Let me ride out to warn everyone, father,” Sybil volunteered. She stood there bravely prepared to ride out into the darkness and face uncertain danger.
Ludington was uneasy about sending a teenage girl into such a dangerous situation, but he felt he had no choice.
Sybil climbed up of her favorite horse, Star. Ever the lady, she rode sidesaddle. With a stick in hand and her father’s musket for protection, she began a 40-mile journey across the countryside.
Her first stop was a farmhouse. Using the stick to knock on the door, she awakened the residents. “The British are in Danbury, muster at Ludington’s!” she exclaimed.
She spent hours knocking on doors shouting the order to muster at Ludington’s. From Kent she rode to Mahopac then north to Stormville. Along the way she had to avoid British soldiers and outlaws who frequently robbed unsuspecting travelers. One outlaw tried to rob Sybil, but was frightened off when she pulled out the musket.
The night grew colder as she rode toward Carmel. In the distance, the night sky lit up as the fires of Danbury raged. The thunder of Star’s hooves echoed as she went door to door to warn the citizens of Carmel. Someone ran to the town square to ring the church bell to summon the soldiers. As Sybil was preparing to ride out, a man offered to finish the ride for her. She declined his offer and asked him to ride to Brewster to assemble the soldiers there.
By dawn, Sybil returned to the family farm. She had ridden more than twice the distance as Paul Revere and was less than half his age. The men had all received her warning and had marched out to fight the British. Sybil was exhausted. Once at home she laid down to rest.
The men arrived too late to save Danbury. But, they were able to defeat the British and force them to retreat to Long Island.
Sybil was a hero. Her ride was amazing not only because of the risk of danger, but her level of endurance. Modern riders with lightweight saddles can barely ride such distances in daylight on well-marked courses.
She was congratulated for her courage, not only by friends and neighbors, but also by General George Washington.
In the years to come Sybil married and had a family. She later told her remarkable story to her grandchildren who passed the story down to their children. Sybil died in 1839 at the age of 78.
A statue depicting the 16-year-old heroine stands in her hometown. Once a year her descendants have a family reunion and a picnic at the statue to remember their brave ancestor and her amazing ride.
Michael Williams is the author of “Great Kids in History,” a collection of 22 amazing stories of incredible kids that have accomplished amazing things. The book is wonderful reading material for parents and children alike and would make an excellent gift for the great kid in your life. “Great Kids in History” is available in Kindle or in print at Amazon.com.