Honoring a Local Hero: Sybil Ludington, Revolutionary War Heroine

I had a free day today, a rare thing, so my fiancé and I decided to take a drive. I had wanted to find and visit the grave of Sybil Ludington (April 5, 1761 – February 26, 1839) ever since a friend told me a couple of weeks ago that she was buried in Patterson, NY (a town only about twenty five minutes from my home). So this afternoon, after running all of our errands we set out to find the cemetery. It was a beautiful autumn day, perfect day for a drive, and I was excited from the very beginning by the sudden, startling glimpses of orange, saffron, and gold that I finally started to see, breaking out from amongst the green.

We made good time to Route 311, and I stopped at the first Presbyterian Church that I found. My friend had told me she was buried in the cemetery right across from it. That cemetery had a heavy chain over the opening in the wrought iron fence, but I ducked right under, took offerings of fresh water and apples and started walking the graves, paying my respects. It was lovely, well maintained, and very peaceful. It was not however, the correct cemetery. After looking at all the gravestones that could possibly be from the nineteenth century, I left my offerings, pouring out the water (taking the container with me), and got back into the car. Sybil was nowhere to be found.

My partner suggested that we keep driving. It was a nice day and maybe there was another church and cemetery farther along. He is a wise man. After another maybe ten minutes, we drove past an Episcopal Church actually in Patterson and low and behold, there was a marker commemorating the Revolutionary War heroes: Henry Ludington and his daughter Sybil.

Ludington marker on street

My friend had been correct: there was a Presbyterian church right across the street too. I saw two workmen doing repairs on the church and asked one of them, who turned out to be very sweet and very helpful, if he knew where Sybil Ludington’s grave was. He said he’d only been there three weeks and wasn’t sure. Then as I thanked him, he thought for a moment and pointed off to our left, saying that an awful lot of people come to photograph there so it’s probably that way. He was right and within seconds I was standing in front of Sybil’s grave.

sybil luddington grave1

(note the different spelling Sybil vs. Sibbell. The spelling of names really wasn’t standardized in the US until the early 20th century with the advent of social security and the need for consistent record keeping. One source  notes that she preferred to spell her name Sebal!)

Firstly, it’s meticulously kept, which was a joy to see. In fact, this cemetery is a lovely, serene place, obviously used to visitors. Secondly, both Sybil’s grave and her father’s were marked with several flags, and her father had special markers, one affixed to his stone, and one in the ground next to it, naming him as a Revolutionary War soldier. I like that. It’s right and proper. I was happy to see them remembered in such a manner.

father grave

Sybil is there with her family. To her left is a woman whose stone was a bit too difficult for me to read, but I did note that the last name was Ludington. Then there is her father’s grave, and to his left, her mother’s.

mother grave

It was lovely. I knelt and poured out the water that I had brought as offering and thanked her for her service, for her courage, and told her that she was an inspiration for many of us today. I said that I would write about her, and tell more people about her act of valor during the war and it seemed to me that she was pleased. (Yes, I talk to the dead and sometimes they answer). I didn’t stay too long after that, but took a few photographs, thanked the workmen, and went back to the car to start on the way home. We actually followed the path that she rode for at least a half hour, maybe longer before veering off.

For those who don’t know who Sybil Ludington is, and are reading this going “What’s the big deal? What did she do?” let me give a little background.

Sybil and her father lived about 25 miles from the town of Danbury Connecticut in 1777 when the Revolutionary War had been raging for about a year. Her dad was a colonel in the local militia and had also fought in the French and Indian War of 1756. On the night of April 26, 1777, her father received word that the British forces had landed in Connecticut and were attacking. Because she knew the area, and where the majority of militia were located, Sybil mounted her horse Star and set off around 9pm to rouse them to muster. She rode over forty miles (longer than Paul Revere and in worse weather!), alone and in the dark. She was sixteen years old and she rode through dawn of the next day, eluding both British patrols in the area and British loyalists. One source (This site says that after she warned the militia in Carmel, one of the militiamen offered to ride with her but she turned him down, instead telling him to go to the town of Brewster to warn people there. This, dear readers, is valor.

Colonel Ludington and his troops did not arrive in time to save Danbury but they did fight the British troops out of the area. After the battle of Danbury, George Washington himself came to the Ludington home to thank Sybil for her service and courage.

I think it’s important to remember our local heroes, even if we are not related to them by blood. It’s part of building a strong, vibrant community rooted in the wisdom and experience of the past, reaching toward a healthy future. We need strong roots to blossom. I talk about this a little bit in my opening piece in Walking the Worlds (issue 2). This is regional cultus and it’s crucial toward building a strong tradition.

So find out who your local heroes are. Learn about them, learn their stories and why they are considered so relevant, so important. It’s shared community building and that’s a good thing.

Here are a few more links about Sybil Ludington:

  1. there’s a rather nice write up at her entry at findagrave.com.
  2. The national women’s history museum provides this bio.
  3. And here is the American national bio.

ludington episcopal church

(all photos are mine, taking September 28, 2015. Please do not use without permission)

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