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The Legend of the Teenage Revolutionary War Rider, Sybil Ludington

Photo Credit: Anthony22 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Anthony22 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

In the beginnings of the Revolutionary War, messengers on horseback were extremely important. Famous riders like Paul Revere were tasked with traveling across the colonies, giving warning that the British troops were on the move. Indeed, the famous poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” by Longfellow, gave credence to the daring exploits of a man willing to risk life and limb, traveling long and far to alarm the country about incoming danger.

Paul Revere wasn’t the only messenger

While Paul Revere may be one of the most famous messengers, he was not the only messenger who alarmed colonists about the movement of the British soldiers. Thanks to the poem that was written about him, he ascended to fame, but his work was not necessarily unique. There were others who served their country by riding horseback to give a warning about approaching soldiers. One such story was about the young Sybil Ludington.

A stamp depicting Sybil Ludington.
Sybil Ludington commemorative stamp. (Photo Credit: US gov / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

As the tale goes, Sybil, born in Fredericksburg, New York, in 1761, was only 16-years-old when word reached her that British soldiers were on the march. Their aim was to attack a supply depot in Danbury, Connecticut. Her father, the leader of a nearby militia, would need to be alarmed of such an attack. And so, the lone teenage girl climbed atop her horse and rode to warn the city of Danbury.

She fought off bandits

One story about her exploits was that when on her journey, she was accosted by several highwaymen who intended to rob her. Taking a large stick in her hand, she waylaid the bandits and continued on her journey, holding the stick in case she ran into trouble again. This story, while a bit fantastical, rooted itself into the legend of Sybil to the point where many depictions of her, such as in statues, show her riding her horse, wielding the wooden stick above her head.

A side view of a statue of Sybil Ludington.
Sybil Ludington statue at the Offner Museum, Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, SC. (Photo Credit: Doug Coldwell / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Her journey was a long one. In fact, she traveled twice as far as Paul Revere, riding her horse a total of 40 miles through the night. On the horse named Star, Sybil rode through Putnam County and warned her father and his 400 men about the attack.

The soldiers took heed of her warning and immediately began to mobilize, making their way to Danbury. While they were unable to reach the city in time to prevent the British attack, they were able to provide aid to those embroiled in the fight. In the end, the battle would be a success for the British, but such an attack would result in stirring up the Americans in Connecticut to fight back.

Is the story of Sybil Ludington true?

As for Sybil, her life became enshrouded in a combination of myth and reality. While her story – riding 40 miles in the black of night to warn about an attack – is quite incredible, there are those who argue that it never even happened at all.

A headstone for Sybil Ludington.
Grave of Sybil Ludington, bearing a spelling variation of her first name. (Photo Credit: Anthony22 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY SA 3.0)

Even though she played an important role in warning the soldiers, she wasn’t mentioned in any historical records until 1880. A book, written by Martha Lamb, drew upon many records in order to provide an account of Sybil’s life and her famous ride. Yet, Lamb did not provide any sources for her documentation, making the information impossible to verify.

So, the question remains, did a woman like Sybil Ludington really exist? Did she make a midnight ride that was twice the distance as Paul Revere at the age of 16? Or is this simply a piece of folklore, a story meant to inspire people to greatness, yet with no basis in reality? To this day, it is still unclear.

Read another story from us: Myths of History: Was Napoleon Bonaparte Short?

The only historical evidence we have of this tale was written by a woman who provided no sources for her conclusions. Without accurate historical records and with a startling lack of any mention in other historical sources, it’s hard to conclude that Sybil really went upon such a legendary journey.

However, this doesn’t stop people from believing from such a story. Sybil Ludington’s tale about a young woman who knew her duty and rose up to protect her country, despite the obstacles facing her is an inspiration.

Andrew Pourciaux

Andrew Pourciaux is a novelist hailing from sunny Sarasota, Florida, where he spends the majority of his time writing and podcasting.