Sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington rode 40 miles through Putnam and Dutchess Counties waking up patriots to join the militia, led by her father, Colonel Henry Ludington, delivering the urgent warning that the British had burned Danbury, Connecticut, and were fast approaching.
Born in New York in 1761, Ludington was the eldest of Henry and Abigail’s twelve children. In addition to working as a farmer, Ludington’s father was a gristmill owner who served in the military for over sixty years, including during the French and Indian War. He was loyal to the British crown until 1773, when he switched sides and joined the Patriots in the American Revolution. He was promoted to Colonel of his local regiment. His land was along a route between Connecticut and the coast of Long Island Sound that was vulnerable to British attack.
On April 26, 1777, Colonel Ludington received word from a rider that the nearby town of Danbury was under attack by British troops and needed help. At the time, Ludington’s regiment had disbanded for planting season, and his men were miles apart at their respective farms. With the rider too tired to continue and Colonel Ludington focused on preparing for battle, young Sybil rose to the cause. Some accounts say she volunteered; others that her father asked for her service, but either way, she rode through the night alerting the Colonel’s men of the danger and urging them to return to the fight. She rode all night through dark woods and in the rain, covering anywhere from 20 to 40 miles (estimates vary). By the time she returned home, hundreds of soldiers were gathering to fight the British. Ludington’s troops arrived too late to win the battle, though they did fight with departing British soldiers.
After the war, Ludington married in 1784, at age 23, when she met Edward Ogden. The couple had one son, Henry, and lived in Catskill, New York. Ludington’s husband died of yellow fever in 1799. Four years later, she bought a tavern and helped her son become a lawyer. When she sold the tavern, she earned a tidy profit, three times what she paid for the land, and purchased a home for her son and his family, where she also resided. After her son died in 1838, Ludington applied for a Revolutionary War pension, since her husband had served in the military. Her pension was denied, claiming insufficient proof of marriage. At age seventy-seven, Ludington died in poverty.
Ludington was honored with a stamp by the Postal Service in 1975. There is a statue of her by Lake Gleneida in Carmel, New York and there are historical markers tracing the route of her ride through Putnam County.