Reproduced from Sybil
Ludington: The Call to Arms by V. T. Dacquino
LUDINGTON was the eldest of the 12 children of Abigail and Henry
Ludington. Henry was born in Branford, Connecticut, on May 25, 1739, the
son of William and Mary (Knowles) Ludington.
Abigail, his first cousin, was born in Rumbout Patent in Southern Dutchess
County on May 8, 1745. She was the daughter of Elisha, the tenth child of
the Colonel’s uncle.
Henry met Abigail when he was on his
way to Quebec with Connecticut troops during the French and Indian War. A
somewhat romantic account of their meeting was included in Willis Fletcher
Johnson’s memoir of Colonel Ludington in 1907:
As the Connecticut
troops on their way to that war marched across Dutchess County, New York,
through Dover [Plains] and Amenia, it is to be presumed that Henry
Ludington on that momentous journey called at his uncle’s home, and saw
his cousin, afterward to be his wife, who… was at that time consequently a
child of about ten years… but we may easily imagine the boy soldier’s
carrying with him into the northern wilderness an affectionate memory of
his little cousin, perhaps the last of his kin to bid him good‑by, and
also her cherishing a romantic regard for the lad whom she had seen march
away with his comrades.
After the Canadian campaign,
on May 1, 1760, Henry and Abigail were married. The following April, Sybil
was born, and soon after the young family moved to Dutchess County, New
York, and settled on 229 acres of undeveloped land in the Philipse Patent.
Later the Patent became the Fredericksburgh Precinct of Dutchess County.
In 1812, it became part of the Town of Kent in Putnam County.
When the Ludingtons arrived,
they were surrounded by dense wilderness. The land was fertile and cheap,
pasture for the stock abundant, and the water good; overall, the place was
healthy, pleasant, and free from many of the problems of other new
settlements. With persistence, determination, and the cooperation of
their growing family, Henry and Abigail struggled to make the new land
their home. While young Abigail rose to her duties as mother and wife,
Henry occupied a position of influence, respect, and authority.
Little is known of Abigail’s life
other than the fact that she bore 11 more children after Sybil. Her
courage was crucial to the development of their wilderness life during one
of colonial America’s most difficult times. Her everyday struggles did not
defeat her—she raised 12 children and stood by Henry as he played his role
as soldier and citizen. She lived to be 80 years old in a time when many
people died before they were 50. Abigail died on August 3, 1825.
Henry was a prominent figure and a
subject of interest to historians. “The Colonel,” as he was known for most
of his life, appears to us in numerous accounts of the times. Above medium
height, with blue eyes, he was a husky man with military bearing. As a
businessman, he was successful, irreproachable, and determined. In spite
of the demands of his mill, his farm, and his family, he was diligent in
fulfilling his civic and military duties. He was a member of the New York
Assembly from 1777 to 1781, and again in 1786. He was a justice of the
peace, town supervisor, and overseer of the poor. He also served as
sub‑sheriff and church trustee for many years, and as a member of the
Committee of Safety, which was considered the law in many places.
Henry Ludington even became involved
with spies. “John Jay was the acting judge for this section of Dutchess.
Jay and Ludington employed several secret agents to ferret out Tory
activities and many prisoners were taken to judge Jay. Enoch Crosby, who
was made famous by James Fenimore Cooper as Harvey Birch in The Spy,
spent much time at the Ludington home and had a code of secret signals
known to Sybil and her sister Rebecca, who were always on guard during
their father’s absence.
In all, Henry served his community
and country for more than 60 years. His military career began when he was
17 years old, in 1756, when he enlisted in the 2nd Regiment of
Connecticut—troops in the service of the king. He took part in the French
and Indian War from 1756 to 1769 and participated in the Battle of Lake
George in 1755, where he witnessed the horrors of war. His uncle and a
cousin were mortally wounded as they fought by his side. Still, he
re-enlisted and in 1759 was detailed to escort a company of invalid
soldiers from Canada to Boston. The march was made in the dead of winter,
and on many nights, with only a blanket for protection, he was forced to
dig himself into snowdrifts to avoid freezing. When his rations finally
ran out, he ate the bark and twigs of birch trees and berries that he
scavenged from the frozen countryside. Nonetheless, he survived to
complete his mission.
Soon after Henry arrived in Dutchess
County in 1761, he became sub‑sheriff and swore an oath to remain faithful
to the king, “to defend Him against all traitorous conspiracies and
attempts against his person, crown, and dignity to the utmost of his
power, and particularly to uphold the succession of the crown against the
claims of the pretended Prince of Wales, who had styled himself King of
England under the name of James the Third.”
William Tryon, the captain‑general
and governor of the Province of New York, appointed Henry as Captain of
the Fifth Company of the Second Battalion of the Fredericksburgh Regiment
of Militia in Dutchess County. On February 13, 1773, Henry accepted a
commission as captain in Colonel Beverly Robinson’s Dutchess County
regiment. Soon after, his loyalty to the king dwindled and he resigned his
commission in favor of the revolutionary cause.
It was a period in American history
when enemies could live next door or hide waiting and armed behind trees
or near an outhouse. Real battles with loss of life occurred in taverns
and in skirmishes in back yards between revolutionaries and their royalist
neighbors and former friends. Family arguments began in one‑room
schoolhouses and in April planting fields, where men tended the land,
ready in an instant to respond to the call for battle in defense of their
Henry’s military experience
influenced the Patriot’s Provincial Congress of the Colony of New York to
appoint him to the rank of colonel in the summer of 1776. A new provincial
congress, calling itself the Convention of the Representatives of the
State of New York, also commissioned Henry as a colonel. His regiment, the
Seventh of the Dutchess County militia, was thereafter referred to as
Colonel Ludington’s regiment.
Colonel Ludington’s area of
command in Dutchess County was along the most direct route the British
might take to and from Connecticut and the coast on Long Island Sound. He
was forced to bring his regiment into “active and constant service in the
counties of Dutchess and Westchester, either to assist the regular troops,
or to quell the turbulent Tory spirit of that section, or to repress the
vicious and exasperating conduct of the ‘Cowboys and Skinners….’”
One record described the
Colonel’s section as “deplorable.” “Small parties of volunteers on one
side, and parties of Royalists and Tories on the other, constantly
harassed the inhabitants and plundered without mercy friend and foe alike.
To guard against surprise required the utmost vigilance. Within this
territory resided many friends of the American cause, whose situation
exposed them to continual ravages by Tories, horse thieves, and cowboys,
who robbed them indiscriminately and mercilessly, while the personal abuse
and punishment were almost incredible.”
Colonel Ludington and his regiment
often prevented marauders from obtaining supplies for the British forces.
Much of General Howe’s cattle and grain came from Cowboys and thieves. The
Colonel’s success enraged Howe who put a price on Colonel Ludington’s head
of 300 English guineas, “dead or alive!”
Henry was also deeply involved in his
family life and in the workings of his farm and his gristmill and sawmill.
Erected in 1776, the gristmill was the first in the region. It enjoyed a
fine reputation for quality milling and had the distinction of being built
almost solely by women because most of the men were away in military
Henry and Abigail raised 12 children
in the Ludington house. Their births were recorded in the Colonel’s family
register and inscribed on the flyleaf of one of the ledgers he used in his
many capacities as a public servant:
Sibyl, April 5, 1761. Rebecca, January 24, 1763. Mary, July 31, 1765.
Archibald, July 5, 1767. Henry, March 28, 1769. Derick, February 17, 1771.
Tertullus, Monday Night, April 19, 1773. Abigail, Monday Morning, February
26, 1776. Anna, at sunset, March 14, 1778. Frederick, June 10, 1782.
Sophia, May 16, 1784. Lewis, June 25, 1786.
On the surface, Sybil’s life was free
from many of the hardships of the time. Her parents were far from poor,
and her father had great influence in the county. However, she bore many
burdens on her young shoulders. The oldest of 12 children, she was
expected to take a prominent role in raising her siblings. In addition,
she had to face the reality that her father might leave home some morning
and never return or that a shot could ring out at any time and take him as
he sat at the family table. Sybil’s world of “simple country‑girl
prosperity” was actually a complex maze of uncertainty, fear and bravery.
Given the turmoil of the times, Sybil was compelled to take a leading role
in protecting her father, who was a wanted man. An incident recounted by
Lewis S. Patrick illustrates the extent of her commitment toward this end.
One night Ichabod Prosser, a
notorious Tory, came with hopes of getting the large reward posted on the
Colonel’s head. Prosser’s men surrounded the house and prepared to attack,
but Sybil and her sister Rebecca outsmarted them:
These fearless girls, with guns in hand were acting as sentinels, pacing
the piazza to and fro in true military style and grit to guard their
father against surprise and to give him warning of any approaching danger.
They discovered Prosser and his men and gave the alarm. In a flash,
candles were lighted in every room of the house and the few occupants
marched and counter‑marched before the windows and from this simple and
clever ruse, Prosser was led to believe that the house was strongly
guarded and did not dare to make an attack. He kept his men concealed
behind the trees and fences until daybreak, when with yells they resumed
their march and hastened southwards toward New York City, ignorant of how
they had been foiled by clever girls. The Colonel’s most vigilant and
watchful companion was his sentinel daughter, Sibbell. Her constant care
and thoughtfulness, combined with fortuitous circumstances, prevented the
fruition of many an intrigue against his life and capture.
Into this tense situation, a chain of
events began that challenged Sybil’s courage to the utmost—the British
march on Danbury, Connecticut, and the subsequent burning of that city.
The commissioners of the Continental
Army had been using Danbury as a depot for military stores, and British
General William Tryon was assigned to prevent their use by enemies of the
king. On April 24, 1777, 20 transports and six war vessels left New York
Harbor for Compo Beach in Connecticut. Troops reached Compo the next day
and debarked, ready to begin the long march to Danbury. Tryon’s men
proceeded as if on parade. One soldier was described in detail:
Upon his head a metallic
cap, sword‑proof, surmounted by a Cone, from which a long,
chestnut‑colored plume fell to his shoulders. Upon the front of the cap
was a death’s head, under which was inscribed the words: “Or Glory.” A red
coat faced with white, an epaulette on each shoulder, buckskin breeches of
a bright yellow, black knee boots, and spurs completing the costume. A
long sword swung at his side, and a carbine was carried, muzzle down, in a
socket at his stirrup. These were models of discipline and military
splendor, and mounted on handsome chargers, sixteen hands high.
Another detachment, the 64th Foot—a
grenadier regiment—wore “high grenadier caps and red coats faced with
black.” This “parade” of the king’s forces marched steadily through
Connecticut toward an unsuspecting Danbury.
Word spread ahead of the British, and
Connecticut revolutionaries mustered to resist as best they could along
the route of the march. Generals David Wooster and Benedict Arnold,
receiving intelligence at New Haven, gathered a small escort and pushed
westward, picking up various militia companies as they advanced.
Meanwhile, General Gold Selleck Silliman with 500 militiamen was already
on the trail of Tryon. Colonel Henry Ludington came in from New York with
One Connecticut regiment, known as
“The Gallant Seventeen,” hid in the shadows of the moonlit night waiting
to ambush the advancing column. They struck out of the darkness, killing a
number of soldiers, with only one American slightly wounded, but they did
not stop the march. The British loaded their dead and wounded in an
oxcart, sent them back to the ships, and continued on. After passing what
is now called Aspetuck, the royalist troops stopped in the parish of
Weston, where they probably rested.
Rumors spread like wildfire among the
threatened citizens. One story that reached Redding held that General
Tryon was out to kill young boys because they would grow into soldiers.
“The women of Redding had heard of this propensity and at his approach
gathered all the boys of thirteen and under… and conveyed them to a
secluded place near[by] where they were left under the charge of one
Gershom Barlow. Here they remained until the invader had regained his
ships, provisions being cooked and sent to them daily.”
One Redding mother, Rebecca Sanford
Barlow, earned a place in history because she stayed with her sick
children to face the enemy while most of her neighbors fled in fear. “The
terrified inhabitants resolved on instant flight. Each family gathered
together such of their effects as they could take with them and quickly
quit the village, traveling the whole night to reach a place of refuge.
Mrs. Barlow had two sick children and could not carry them away. To leave
them was out of the question, so she and her family remained alone to face
the enemy, deserted by all her neighbors.”
Some hid in barns and forests, others escaped the area with all the goods
they could gather in carts and wagons. Parents had to face the horrifying
decision whether to accompany their families to safety or stay and do what
they could to secure their homes against the enemy.
In a place called Couch’s Rock in
Weston, Connecticut, a small regiment of revolutionaries under Captain
Zalmon Read met with British troops in full force and was immediately
taken captive with no fatalities, sending a clear message that this was an
enemy to be reckoned with. From there, the British troops moved across the
Weston border into Redding and proceeded through the town causing no
destruction or casualties. At Redding’s Ridge, they stopped for breakfast
and relaxed in the comfort of royalist hospitality. At the time, Redding
was known as “Tory country.” Although no buildings were destroyed, several
prisoners were taken.
Before reaching Danbury, the
2,000‑man British force had to pass through Bethel, Connecticut. Rain fell
heavily through the night causing difficult conditions for soldiers on
both sides. A man named Luther Holcomb put the British army on edge by
marching to the top of a hill pretending to be followed by a number of
troops. “Halt the whole universe! Break off by kingdoms and prepare to
attack!” he shouted. The British be1ieved him enough to prepare for
battle, but when it was realized that there would be no attack, they
marched quietly out of Bethel in the rain without incident. As they left,
American troops slipped in quietly behind them at 11:30 P.M. under the
direction of Generals Benedict Arnold, David Wooster, and Gold Selleck
Silliman. Together they ordered 600 men to prepare to fight the British in
the pouring rain with muskets that could barely shoot in dry weather. They
waited in Bethel for the return of the British, hoping for a surprise
attack, but Tryon brought his troops back through Ridgefield after his
night in Danbury.
On the following afternoon, the enemy
reached Danbury in sunshine between two and three o’clock, but another
storm was on its way bringing the additional heavy rains that Sybil could
be forced to ride through that night. As the afternoon continued, a few
incidents occurred. British soldiers chased one horseman through the
streets. He escaped when he unrolled a bolt of cloth he was carrying and
frightened a pursuer’s horse. A second incident involved four young men
who shot into a column of soldiers from the house of Captain Ezra Starr,
which was raided immediately after the shots rang out. The house was
burned along with the bodies of the men who had been accused of the
As the day proceeded, British
soldiers continued to take control of Danbury. “As the British troops
reached a point near the present location of the court‑house their
artillery was discharged and the heavy balls, six and twelve‑pounders,
flew screaming up the street, carrying terror to the hearts of the women
and children, and dismay to the heads of the homes thus endangered.”
John Porter came into the village to
see what was happening. Porter was “a man of powerful build, with muscles
like steel, and a movement that was a very good substitute for lightning.”
When he was to told to halt, he stood tall against them, and asked, “What
for?” He advanced on them, and they said, “You are our prisoner.” He
continued his move on them. “Guess not,” he said. They were close upon
him, but there was a gully behind them. In a flash he had the foremost
trooper in his grasp. In the next instant, he hurled him against the other
two, and the three of them tumbled into the gully in a demoralized heap.
The rest of the squad, seeing the disaster, immediately surrounded and
subdued Porter. Porter and a man named Barnum are believed to be the only
prisoners the enemy carried away from Danbury. They were thrown into a New
York prison called Sugar House Prison. Porter was released eventually, but
Barnum later died there of starvation.
British troops remained in Danbury
all day destroying patriot military stores. Those goods found in a Church
of England and goods found in the homes of royalists were taken into the
street to be burned and their buildings spared, but houses owned by
revolutionaries used as storehouses for grain and meat were burned to the
ground. “It is said that the fat from the burning meat ran ankle‑deep in
the street. No less free ran the rum and wine, although not in the same
As night began, drunken brawls and
loud laughter became more frequent. “The drunken men went up and down Main
Street in squads, singing army songs, shouting coarse speeches, hugging
each other, swearing, yelling, and otherwise conducting themselves as
becomes an invader when he is very, very drunk.”
During some of the day and most of
the night, Connecticut farmers sneaked back into the enemy camp to kill an
occasional soldier. All around them revolutionary troops were being
mustered until finally, General Tryon gave an order to move out.
By midnight, three Danbury buildings
had been burned and many of the drunken revelers were sleeping soundly. By
about one o’clock Sunday morning, Tryon ordered the gathering of soldiers
and the work of real destruction began. More buildings were burned. Those
owned by Tories were marked with a cross, which protected them; houses
without crosses were torched. In the meantime, as the flames filled a
rainy night sky, dispatchers rode frantically in all directions, and
American troops rallied to a belated defense of Danbury.
Before long, a rider roused the
Ludington household, and Sybil was galloping into the night on her way to
muster the Colonel’s regiment. W. F. Johnson told the story of her ride in
1907. It is presumed that he based his information on the records of Lewis
S. Patrick, the Colonel’s great‑grandson.
According to Johnson:
At eight or nine o’clock that evening a jaded horseman reached Colonel
Ludington’s home with the news. We may imagine the fire that flashed
through the veteran’s veins at the report of the dastardly act of his
former chief. [General Tryon, the last of the British governors of New
York, had appointed Colonel Ludington a captain in a colonial regiment
before the Colonel became a revolutionary.] But what to do? His regiment
was disbanded; its members scattered at their homes, many at considerable
distances. [It was April, planting season, and the farmers needed to tend
their fields and were granted leaves to get their farm work done.] He must
stay there to muster all who came in. The messenger from Danbury could
ride no more, and there was no neighbor within call. In this emergency he
turned to his daughter Sybil, who, a few days before, had passed her
sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and
tell them to be at his house by daybreak. One who even rides now from
Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely
stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a quarter and a
century ago [now over two centuries ago] on a dark night, with reckless
bands of “Cowboys” and “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 was. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the
whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house at Fredericksburgh,
and an hour or two later was on the march for vengeance on the raiders.
In this dramatic rendition of Sybil’s ride, Johnson
is not correct when he refers to Sybil as a “child.” Sybil’s world wasn’t
the world we live in today. Sybil’s mother, Abigail, for example, was only
fifteen when she married Henry.
Sybil was a very capable young woman
at sixteen and was engaged in the revolutionary cause beyond just helping
to protect her father or doing domestic chores. The story of her
conspiring with Enoch Crosby, a notorious spy, attests to this fact. Sybil
also knew the roads and where the men lived, perhaps as a result of riding
with her father along the narrow, dirt roads of Mahopac and Carmel. They
undoubtedly laid out the best route to be used to muster the regiment in
times of emergency. It is doubtful that she had to rouse each of the men
individually. Key people in each village heard her banging on their
shutters, and in turn, alerted the local contingent while she rode on to
complete her mission. In the morning, Colonel Ludington’s regiment was
gathered in his yard, preparing to face the enemy.
During the night, Tryon was forced to
make several decisions. Earlier hopes to take captured supplies to New
York City for British use were abandoned. Additional supplies would slow
him down and make it impossible to fight those on their way to engage him.
He chose instead to burn as much of the stores as possible to prevent
their use by the revolutionaries. He was also forced to abandon any plans
of invading Dutchess and Westchester Counties. The next morning, Sunday,
April 27, it was clear to General Tyron that he would have to make it back
to Compo by way of Ridgefield and get his men aboard the ships as quickly
as possible to avoid the troops at Bethel.
General Alexander McDougall was marching in from Peekskill, and Colonel
Ludington was on his way from Dutchess County. By this time, however, the
troops from Bethel had crossed over into Ridgefield. McDougall had 1,200
men to support the 600 to 800 from Bethel. Behind them were the troops
from Dutchess County consisting of another 400 men. Johnson described them
They were a motley company, some without arms, some half dressed, but all
filled with a certain berserk rage. That night they reached Redding and
joined Arnold, Wooster, and Silliman. The next morning they encountered
the British at Ridgefield. They were short of ammunition and were
outnumbered by the British three to one. But they practiced the same
tactics that Paul Revere’s levies at Lexington and Concord found so
effective. Their scattering sharpshooter fire from behind trees and fences
and stone walls, harassed the British sorely, and made their retreat to
their ships at Compo resemble a rout. Nor were instances of individual
heroism in conflict lacking. Arnold had his horse shot from under him as,
almost alone, he furiously charged the enemy, and the gallant Wooster
received a wound from which he died a few days later. There were far
greater operations in the war than this, but there was scarcely one more
expeditious, intrepid and successful. Writing of it to Gouverneur Morris,
Alexander Hamilton said, “I congratulate you on the Danbury expedition.
The stores destroyed there have been purchased at a high price to the
enemy. The spirit of the people on the occasion does them great honor‑is a
pleasing proof that they have lost nothing of that primitive zeal with
which they began the contest, and will be a galling discouragement to the
enemy from repeating attempts of the kind. The people of New York
considered the affair in the light of a defeat to the troops.”
Tryon reached Ridgefield more slowly
than he had expected, and after burning a mill belonging to Isaac Keeler,
stopped his troops for lunch and rest just outside North Salem. At that
point, General Wooster attacked Tryon but was counterattacked. Wooster
retreated but returned. On his return and attack of the rear guard, he was
Captain Stephen Rowe Bradley assumed
command of Wooster’s troops. His company went on to join General Arnold,
who was still highly respected; it would be three years until his infamous
betrayal. During the battle, a cannonball was fired into the nearby Keeler
Not far from the tavern is a memorial
to the soldiers from Ridgefield who fought in the battle of 1777. It
commemorates: “eight Patriots, who were laid in these grounds, companioned
by sixteen British soldiers living, their enemies; dying their guests.”
Tryon burned several homes in
Ridgefield and went on to burn more houses and destroy more supplies in
Wilton before making his way to the Saugatuck River and Compo Beach.
General Tryon’s officers, however, reported 50 to 60 enlisted men and five
officers killed or wounded in the two‑hour battle at Ridgefield alone.
For Further Reading
Dacquino, Vincent. Sybil Ludington:
The Call to Arms. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press,
2000. ISBN: 193009809X
Amstel, Marsha. Illus. by Ellen Beier.
Sybil Ludington’s Midnight Ride. Minneapolis, MN:
Carolrhoda Books, Inc., 2000. ISBN: 1575052113
Hominick, Judy and Jeanne Spreier.
Ride for Freedom: The Story of Sybil Ludington. New York, NY:
Silver Moon Press, 2001. ISBN: 1893110249
Winnick, Karen. Illus. by the author.
Sybil’s Night Ride. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, Inc.,
2000. ISBN: 1563976978