THE CALL TO ARMS
From the series "New Yorkers and the Revolution"
by V. T. Dacquino
From "Before Sybil's Ride":
British troops remained in Danbury all day destroying partriot 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 direction!"
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 Tyron 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, Tyron 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 imagaine the fire that flashed through the veterans veins at the report of the dastardly act of his former chief. [General Tyron, the last of the British govenors 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 dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a quarter and a century ago [now over to centuries ago] on a dark night, with reckless bands of "Cowboys" and "Skinners" abroad in the land. But she 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 Fredricksburgh, 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 knew the roads and where the men lived, perhaps as 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 400 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.
A postage stamp was issued in her honor in 1975 as part of the national Bicentennial series " Contributors to the Cause." Equestrian statues depicting the young woman, brandishing a branch to sound the alarm to muster, stand in Putnam County and in Washington, DC. Her bold ride, through forty miles of dense woods to summon her father's regiment in 1777 by beating on the shudders of his sleeping militia men, has been celebrated in several illustrated books for children. She has been the subject of numerous school reports, plays, poems, and even an opera. Yet, most history books have ignored Sybil Ludington. That should change now with the publication of the first serious biography of this remarkable woman.
There are half a dozen roadside markers in Putnam County along the route of Sybil Ludington's historic ride. One of these markers caught the eye of Vincent Dacquino, who realized he had been oblivious to an important event in the American Revolution that occured right in his neighborhood. As he began sifting through every available source for biographical material, he discovered that few researchers agreed about the basic facts of Sybil's life before and after the ride.
The story of Sybil's ride is generally agreed on: In April 1777 British General William Tyron invaded Connecticut from Long Island Sound. He attacked with 2000 men. His purpose was to burn Danbury, a depot for revolutionary stores, before marching on Dutchess and Westchester Counties. As Danbury burned, a messenger was sent 17 miles to the home of Sybil's father, Col. Henry Ludington, and he sent Sybil, his eldest daughter, then sixteen years old, through dangerous territory to summon his regiment to halt the British advance. At that time the part of Dutchess County that would later become Putnam County was between the lines of the British and revolutionary armies and infested with marauding bands of men who preyed on both sides. There were loyalists and deserters there as well. Sybil rode safely through the rainy night, and by daybreak the Colonel and his men were ready to take part in the successful rout of the British.
But what was her life as a young woman; what became of her after her ride? Dacquino found that no two sources agreed on such basci things as her husband's name and the number of her children. His search became an obsession, the results of which have been published in Sybil Ludington: The Call to Arms. Dacquino traces the story of the Ludingtons from the French and Indian War, in which the Colonel served, to the Revolutionary War, where a price was placed on his head by the British, (Sybil and her sisters cleverly outwitted a gang of royalists who attempted to abduct or assassinate their father.) Henry Ludington owned a mill and property. Greatly respected, he entertained many influential men, including Washington.
Following the war, Sybil settled in Catskill with her husband, Edmond Ogden and their son, Henry. When Henry was 13, his father died of yellow fever. A single parent, Sybil became a successful tavern keeper, a profession then dominated by men. She raised Henry to become and attorney and community leader. When he married, Henry moved his young family and his mother to Unadilla in Otsego County. Like his grandfather, the Colonel, he became an assemblyman. His eldest son, Edmund Augustus, graduated from West Point and became a military hero commemorated with a monument at Fort Riley, KS.
Vincent Dacquino is the author of Kiss the Candy Days Good-bye, a Dell/Yearling paperback. He has been a teacher in the Westchester, New York, school system for many years and is the founder of the Peanut Butter-and-Jelly Writing Academy for young writers. His research work for the book was featured in the Spring 2007 issue of New York Archives. His new book on Sybil Ludington, Sybil Ludington: Discovering the Life of a Revolutionary War Hero for fourth and fifth graders was published by Purple Mountain Press in May 2008.
This is the first book in a new series from Purple Mountain Press, "New Yorkers and the Revolution," which looks beyond the famous generals of the period to the diverse group of people who contributed to the cause: common soldiers, women, Native Americans, and African Americans. The second in the series is Marinus Willett: Defender of the Northern Frontier,.
104 pages, illustrated, 6 x 9, index, 2000
$15.00 paperback--A Purple Mountain Press original
Copyright © 2000-2007 Purple Mountain Press. All rights reserved.