The Forgotten Ride of the “Female” Paul Revere

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Most Americans have heard the tale of Paul Revere and his famous Midnight Ride shouting “The British are Coming!” But I’ll wager you’ve never heard of the equally heroic “female Paul Revere,” named Sibbell Ludington. Her trip was 2 years later in 1777, twice as long, and she was only a 16 year old girl!

Sibbell lived with her family in Kent, NY. Her father Henry was a colonel in the Continental Army’s local militia. Like most Revolutionary War-era girls, Sibbell helped her mother with the spinning, weaving, and sewing. She made butter, soap, and candles, mended clothes and tended the garden. She was the oldest of TWELVE brothers and sisters and there was always plenty to be done. Our young heroine also had a beloved horse named Star, who will soon play an important role in this tale as well.

When she was 16, her mother Abigail expected Sibbell to be responsible and lady-like. Sibbell however had other ideas. She wanted to help her father’s militia. Colonel Ludington had fought in the French and Indian War, owned the Kent mill, and was a respected community leader. When the American Revolution broke out, he volunteered to lead the local militia. He would later become an aide to General George Washington.

Young Sibbell had caught Revolutionary Fever from her father. She was tired of being ruled by fat old King George from way across the ocean. Just like other Patriots, she wanted her new country to have freedom, liberty and independence.

On the night of 26 April 1777, a hard rain drummed down on the roof of the Ludington home. She was just tucking her brothers & sisters into bed when an exhausted messenger arrived at their door. He alerted father that Redcoats were burning down Danbury just 25 miles east! Danbury, CT was a critical supply center for the Continental Army. A mere 150 militia were stationed to protect the town.

2,000 Redcoats had entered Danbury and discovered the militia’s stores, including cots, tents and uniforms, foodstuffs like pork, molasses, and corn, plus several hundred bottles of rum.  The British soldiers confiscated the supplies, found the rum and decided to drink rather than destroy.  Fires were started by drunken soldiers as military discipline broke down. Militia messengers were dispatched to announce the British destruction.

Col. Ludington’s 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia were unfortunately on furlough. The colonel began to organize his men in Kent, but most were scattered throughout the countryside in their homes, and it was well after dark. Speed was of the essence!   Someone would have to muster the regiment and warn the neighboring towns. The exhausted messenger was not familiar with NY and his horse was too spent to help.

Here was Sibbell’s chance to finally get in the action and do something for her new country! She knew the terrain and her horse Star could handle the long ride. She stepped forward and asked to take the assignment.

I can do it, Father!”

The colonel was naturally reluctant. This would be a dangerous assignment should she be caught by the Redcoats. But his options were limited. Over the protests of his wife, he agreed to let her go.  The route would be daunting, over 40 miles in length. She would not only have to alert the militia, but avoid the advancing Redcoats, loyalist Tories, as well as the ‘Skinners,’ highwaymen who roamed the woods at night. As she saddled Star, her father planned the circuitous route she would need to take.

At 9 pm, Sibbell kissed her parents and mounted Star. She rode to farmhouse after farmhouse along dark, muddy Horse Pond Road, pounding on doors with a long stick and shouting the message:

The Redcoats are burning Danbury!  Colonel Ludington orders all militia men to report to the Kent Mill!”

It was about 10 when Sibbell reached Carmel to the south. By now, many people were sleeping soundly in their beds. Rather that knocking on every door, she told the first few to ring the church bell and wake their neighbors. She then continued on in the cold, dark rain through Shaw’s Pond, Mahopac, then back north through Farmer’s Mill.

As she rode, Sibbell encountered an advance patrol of British soldiers and had to hide Star behind a stand of trees until they passed. As for the Skinners her father had warned her of, she chased one away by wielding her father’s musket in the startled thief’s face.

After alerting the last town of Stormville, she headed back to Kent. By the time she finally returned home, more than 400 militia men were mustered and ready to march against the Redcoats.   More were arriving down the roads.  The eastern sky was glowing red as dawn approached. Sibbell realized she had ridden all night, a route of over 40 miles. Her family greeted her with joyful hugs and were proud of her feat, but all she wanted at that moment was dry clothes and a soft bed.

The regiment was too late to save Danbury, but they were able to stop the British advance and push them back in the Battle of Ridgefield.  The people of NY and New England spread the news of Sibbell Ludington’s heroic ride. General Washington went to her house to thank her personally for her valiant courage.  Alexander Hamilton wrote her a letter, praising her deed: “I congratulate you on the Danbury expedition. The stores destroyed have been purchased at a pretty high price to the enemy.”

Sibbell’s contributions do not end there. She continued to help throughout the Revolutionary War as an army messenger, delivering coded communications, and as a lookout with one of her sisters.  In 1784, at 23, Sibbell married a war veteran and innkeeper named Edmond Ogden. She spent the rest of her life in Unadilla, NY.  Sibbell raised a son, Henry (named after her father, who eventually became a lawyer) and ran the tavern after her husband’s death. No doubt she told her son and grandchildren riveting stories of her own daring and dangerous MIDNIGHT RIDE.

Sibbell lived a long life, passing away at the ripe age of 78. She was buried next to her father and husband in NY. 

Her son Henry wrote in his memoir:

“One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a quarter century ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of “Skinners” abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. There is no extravagance in comparing her ride with that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house.”

Her hometown was later renamed Ludingtonville in honor of Sibbell. Historical markers tracing her route can be found throughout the county roads. In Carmel, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington placed a larger than life statue of Sibbell on her horse. There she rides, sitting side-saddle on Star, one hand pulling back on the reins, the other clenching a stick over her head; a look of fierce determination on her face, as she shouts and rides through the night. A plaque beneath the statue reads:

SIBBELL LUDINGTON—REVOLUTIONARY WAR HEROINE  April 26, 1777. Called out the volunteer militia by riding through the night, alone, on horseback, at the age of 16, alerting the countryside to the burning of Danbury, Conn. by the British.

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