Sybil Ludington

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Sybil Ludington
Ludington statue 800.jpg
Born(1761-04-05)April 5, 1761
DiedFebruary 26, 1839(1839-02-26) (aged 77)
Spouse
Edmond Ogden
(m. 1784; died 1799)

Sybil (or Sibbell) Ludington (April 5, 1761 – February 26, 1839) is recognized as a heroine of the American Revolutionary War; the accuracy of these accounts is questioned by modern scholars. On April 26, 1777, the 16-year-old daughter of a colonel in the Colonial militia, Henry Ludington, is said to have made an all-night horseback ride 40 miles (64 km) to rally militia forces in neighboring towns after the burning of Danbury, Connecticut by British forces.

Accounts of Ludington's ride are based on a brief mention in 1907 memoirs about her father, published privately by his grandchildren. A 2015 report in The New England Quarterly says there is little evidence backing the story;[1] whether the ride occurred has been questioned[2][3][4][5] since at least 1956.[6]

Relatively unknown through the 1870s, Ludington became widely recognized around the time of World War II, after historic roadmarkers were placed in locations she was speculated to have visited on her ride. Memorial statues honor her, and books have been written about her. She was honored on a United States Bicentennial postage stamp that was released on March 25, 1975, which depicts her on a horse.

Early life, family and death[edit]

Grave of Sybil Ludington, bearing a spelling variation of her first name

Ludington was born on April 5, 1761 in Fredericksburg, New York.[7] She was the first of 12 children[8] of Abigail[a] and Henry Ludington, a gristmill owner. According to his relatives, Sybil's father had fought in the French and Indian War, and volunteered to head the local militia during the Revolutionary War.[10]

At the age of 23, in 1784 Ludington married Edmond Ogden. They had a son named Henry in 1786.[7][b] In 1792, the family settled in Catskill, and Ogden died in 1799. In 1811 Ludington moved to Unadilla, New York.[11][12]

Ludington lived in Unadilla until her death on February 26, 1839, at the age of 77. She was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York.[12] Her tombstone shows a different spelling of her first name.[2]

Ludington's ride[edit]

Modern accounts recognize Ludington as a heroine of the American Revolutionary War.[13][14][15][16]

Historical accounts[edit]

Accounts originating from the Ludington family say Sybil played an important role during the British raid on Danbury.[1][5][10]

According to the story told decades later,[1] on April 26, 1777, then 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode 40 miles (64 km) from her hometown in Fredericksburg, New York (near Danbury, Connecticut) through Putnam County, New York, to rally approximately 400 militiamen under the command of her father, Colonel Henry Ludington, as British troops were burning Danbury,[17] where the Continental Army had a supply depot.[18] Troops from New York and Connecticut rallied to engage the British the next day in the Battle of Ridgefield, and the British retreated.[2]

A brief mention[4] of Ludington's ride was published by his grandchildren in 1907 as part of Ludington's father's memoirs.[10] Several modern accounts say Ludington was congratulated for her heroism by General George Washington;[14][19][20] more recent scholarship has raised doubt that the ride even took place.[1][2][3][4]

Research history[edit]

Close-up of smaller version of a statue representing Ludington by Anna Hyatt Huntington at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina

A 2022 Smithsonian magazine article written by Abigail Tucker states that the earliest known record of the 1777 account of Ludington's ride came in 1854 from Sybil's nephew, Charles H. Ludington, who sought to have his aunt recognized as a hero.[2] Ludington was included in an 1880 book about the New York City area by local historian Martha Lamb.[3] A brief[c] later reference appeared in the 1907 memoirs[d] written by Willis Fletcher Johnson about Sybil's father and published privately by his grandchildren.[3][10]

Tucker states that letters written by Ludington herself do not mention the ride.[2] Accounts vary as to whether she rode bareback or sidesaddle, what the name of the horse was, and how her name was spelled (Sybil, Cybal, Sibyl, Sebil, Sybille, or Sibbell).[2]

In 1838, Ludington asked for a pension based on her husband, Ogden, having fought in the Revolutionary War, but she could not prove that she was married to him. According to Paula Hunt, writing in The New England Quarterly journal, "None of the sworn affidavits attesting to Henry Ogden’s military service and the legitimacy of Sybil's marriage mentioned her ride, nor did she attempt to claim it as justification for a pension."[7]

Lamb stated that her account relied on sources including letters, sermons, genealogical compilations, wills, and court records to document details.[21] She cites no sources,[2] nor provides documentation of the ride. Hunt suggests the account may have been told to Lamb by Ludington's descendants.[22]

Owing partly to a lack of contemporary accounts, Hunt raises questions about the events.[1] She writes that neither of the original publications about the ride "had offered any information about Sybil's course",[23] and the purported route was devised speculatively by the project managers who later installed historic markers, a "relatively inexpensive but increasingly popular means for states and localities to promote tourism".[24] The installation of the historic roadside markers beginning in 1934 – although based on speculative locations according to Hunt – led to publications that propelled Sybil to the status of a heroine by 1937, and the publication of a 1940 poem about her brought the story to a national audience.[25] Doubts about the story had been raised as early as 1956;[6] contrasting it to the Betsy Ross story, Hunt cites Henry Noble McCracken's, Old Dutchess Forever! The Story of an American County and two New York news articles from 1995,[5][26] writing that:

In Sybil's case, the state-sanctified historical roadside markers, statue, and postage stamp celebrating her ride, and the many books and newspaper and magazine articles that retold her story, had created an aura of authority that effectively dispelled any intermittent bouts of skepticism.[6]

Hunt has provided a history of how the Ludington story has been portrayed in the media and literature, and in efforts to promote tourism.[1] Pollak wrote in 1975 in the New York Times that "Many children's books treat the account as historical fact", although the Putnam County Historian indicated there was "no solid evidence that Sybil actually made the ride".[5] Hunt states that many popular details were fiction, such as the horse named Star, the stick she held, and the distance of 40 miles.[27] Hunt states that the two accounts of Ludington's ride were not mentioned in any other significant history produced in the same era, and that even as stories of heroic women of the colonial era proliferated by the 1870s, the only published accounts of Ludington were Lamb's and Johnson's.[28] She writes:

Sybil's ride embraces the mythical meanings and values expressed in the country's founding. As an individual, she represents Americans' persistent need to find and create heroes who embody prevalent attitudes and beliefs.[29]

Contemporaneous sources suggest that the patriot army – and the town of Danbury, Connecticut – were already aware of the approaching British troops,[30] as noted in The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, May 19, 1777, which stated:[31]

On Saturday, the 26th of April, express came to Danbury from Brigadier General Silliman, advising that a large body of enemy had landed the day before at sun set, at Compo, a point of land between Fairfield and Norwalk, and were marching toward Danbury. Measures were immediately taken.

In 1996, the national Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) said that the evidence was not strong enough to support their criteria for a war heroine, and added a note to an exhibition saying of the ride, "It's a great story, but there is no way to know whether or not it is true."[32] The DAR chapter near her historic home says that her exploit was documented, and it continues to honor her.[33]

Hunt concludes, "The story of the lone, teenage girl riding for freedom, it seems, is simply too good not to be believed."[34]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Image of US 8-cent stamp is labeled, "Sybil Ludington Youthful Heroine".
Sybil Ludington commemorative stamp

In 1934, New York State began to install a number of historic markers along Ludington's purported route.[35]

A commemorative sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington was erected at Lake Gleneida near Carmel, New York, in 1961.[5] Smaller versions of the statue are at the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters in Washington, D.C.,[36] the public library in Danbury, Connecticut, and at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.[37]

In 1975, Ludington was honored with a postage stamp in the "Contributors to the Cause" United States Bicentennial series.[14] The National Rifle Association instituted the Sybil Ludington Women's Freedom Award in 1995.[15][38]

Composer Ludmila Ulehla wrote the 1993 chamber opera Sybil of the American Revolution based on the story of Ludington's ride.[39] In 2014, Ludington was featured on the American Heroes Channel documentary American Revolution: Patriots Rising.[40] The movie Sybil Ludington, The female Paul Revere was produced in 2010.[41]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Abigail was Henry's cousin, according to Johnson.[9]
  2. ^ A New York Times article says Ludington raised six children.[5]
  3. ^ Lewis states that only 2 out of the 300 pages in the book cover Sybil's ride.[4]
  4. ^ The privately published Colonel Henry Ludington, a Memoir is characterized by Hunt as "a not wholly reliable source".[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Hunt, Paula D. (June 2015). "Sybil Ludington, the Female Paul Revere: The Making of a Revolutionary War Heroine". The New England Quarterly. 88 (2): 187–222. doi:10.1162/TNEQ_a_00452. ISSN 0028-4866. S2CID 57569643.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Tucker, Abigail (March 2022). "Did the Midnight Ride of Sibyl Ludington Ever Happen?". Smithsonian. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d Eschner, Kat (April 26, 2017). "Was There Really a Teenage, Female Paul Revere?". Smithsonian. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d Lewis, Jone Johnson (August 15, 2019). "Sybil Ludington, Possible Female Paul Revere". ThoughtCo. Retrieved July 6, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Pollak, Michael (October 22, 1995). "Heroine of 1777 Still All in a Revolutionary Lather". New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c Hunt 2015, p. 220, note 114.
  7. ^ a b c d Hunt 2015, p. 189.
  8. ^ Johnson 1907, p. 45.
  9. ^ Johnson 1907, p. 35.
  10. ^ a b c d Johnson, Willis Fletcher (1907). Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir. New York: privately printed by his grandchildren, Lavinia Elizabeth Ludington and Charles Henry Ludington. p. 90. Retrieved April 24, 2021. (Project Gutenberg file)(google books).
  11. ^ "Sybil Ludington". The Town of Patterson, NY. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Hunt 2015, pp. 189–190.
  13. ^ Hunt 2015, pp. 188, 212, 214.
  14. ^ a b c "Sybil Ludington". Women on Stamps: Part I. Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved July 10, 2022.
  15. ^ a b "The Extraordinary Story of Sybil Ludington". National Rifle Association. Retrieved July 12, 2022.
  16. ^ Bohrer 2003 and Moore 2006.
  17. ^ Frank, Lisa Tendrich (2013). An Encyclopedia of American Women at War: From the Home Front to the Battlefields, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 365. ISBN 9781598844436.
  18. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 187.
  19. ^ Miller 2003, p. 18, "Later, America's general George Washington came to Sybil's house to thank her."
  20. ^ Moore 2006, p. 300, "Afterward, General George Washington made a personal visit to Ludington's Mills to thank Sybil for her courageous deed."
  21. ^ Lamb 1986, pp. v–vi.
  22. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 190.
  23. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 199.
  24. ^ Hunt 2015, pp. 196–199, quote on p. 196.
  25. ^ Hunt 2015, pp. 196–201.
  26. ^ Bernstein, Paula (March 20, 1975). "A Legendary Woman Rides onto a Stamp". Daily News. p. 164.
  27. ^ Hunt 2015, pp. 202, 207.
  28. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 195.
  29. ^ Hunt 2015 pp. 187–222; quote p. 187.
  30. ^ Levine, David (March 25, 2022). "A Look Back at Sybil Ludington's Historic Hudson Valley Ride". Hudson Valley. Retrieved July 9, 2022.
  31. ^ The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, May 19, 1777
  32. ^ Hunt 2015, pp. 217–218.
  33. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 218.
  34. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 222.
  35. ^ Hunt 2015, pp. 196–200.
  36. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 217.
  37. ^ Willicox, Kathleen (2014). "Sybil Ludington: NY's Lesser-known (Teenage, Female) Paul Revere". New York Makers Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  38. ^ Hunt 2015, p. 214.
  39. ^ "Sybil Ludington". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Gale. July 8, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  40. ^ Peterson, Tyler (November 10, 2014). "American Heroes Channel Orders New Miniseries The American Revolution". Broadway World. Retrieved July 9, 2022.
  41. ^ "Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Revere". Rotten Tomatoes. 2010. Retrieved July 8, 2022.

Sources[edit]