LISTEN up, ladies, and you shall hear
‘Bout the all-night ride of a girl’s sixteenth year,
On twenty-six, April, in Seventy-seven;
Now two years into that famous rebellion.
Then General Washington had given his leave,
For Ludington’s soldiers, this being spring’s eve,
To go home to their families, and lay down their arms,
And plant needed crops back home on their farms.
So home to New York’s Putnam County they went,
Colonel Ludington his four-hundred men sent,
And himself to his homestead in Patterson.
On his first night home with his daughters and sons,
In late April’s cruel icy downpour,
There came a pounding at Ludington’s door.
Early that night a drenched rider carried
News of trouble due south in Danbury:
“A group of two-thousand British roams
Burning the food stores and citizens’ homes.”
The news must have given them all a cold chill,
As Washington’s army lay in Peekskill,
And two-day’s march too far away,
To Ludington’s army’s one-half day,
But spread over forty-miles’ delay.
The rider declared he could go no farther,
But Ludington had to prepare for warfare.
With little time to stand and quibble,
He sent his eldest, his trusted Sybil.
She knew the neighbors: his trusted men,
The turncoats, the path, and its treacherous bends.
She’d ridden it–in daylight–again and again.
Sybil bundled in her warmest,
Knowing that she, for the war, must
Ride in the wind and the dark and the rain,
Through forty miles of deep muddy terrain,
Made worse by the ice and thaws of spring,
To protect the people and throw off the king.
She gathered a branch to use for protection
And to knock on doors without dismounting.
She saddled her young horse who held her affection,
Named for the shape on his head, a white mar,
And she made her way with her stick and her Star.
Off she rode making all haste,
With wind and rain hard in her face,
Quickly drenched through her clothes to the bone,
Fingers and ears in the wind cold blown.
A mile she rode through the dark, cold night,
Before she would see the first hint of light,
At this farmhouse, she slowed at the door,
To bang with her branch and warn them of war:
“The British are burning, the British are burning
Danbury homes and food stores.
Gather at Ludington’s. Now. Tonight,”
She repeated until she saw candlelight,
And heard a reply, before spurring
Star on and back to the road.
Three-hundred-ninety-nine left to go.
A few later she saw a foreboding glow,
As she passed the road that to Danbury goes,
Not the dawn of a peaceful morning,
But the rise of flames’ cruel burning,
Just before she set Star turning
Southwest to Carmel, then Mahopac Pond,
Fast as she could before new light dawned,
Getting off when she had to, to lead through the mud,
Or when he stumbled, to check Star for blood.
She rounded the pond aiming northwest towards Stormville,
And lo! A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
Three men camping by fire in the woods this night.
Outlaws… horse thieves… or worse.
Gripping her stick, worried for the perverse.
She grew lonely and spectral and somber and still.
How to get past them and on up the hill?
She slid off and led Star silently ’round,
Shushing her horse as they moved in the dark,
Watching for rocks and mud, through wide arch.
Safely away, she remounted and bound
On to Stormville ‘fore turning southeast,
To the last few houses, by no means least,
Sybil, in one night, had conquered this beast.
By the time the sun rose, young Sybil had found,
She’d reached her home, on her father’s farm,
There the men were all gathered to take arms,
And her father hugged her before facing the Brits
In Danbury where, though outnumbered,
With element of surprise and unencumbered,
Ludington’s men forced those Brits back to their ships.
Without Sybil and her all-night ride,
The Brits might have marched on through Carmel,
And Peekskill and, there, been able
To surprise Washington’s men by riding that tide.
Perhaps that’s why Washington thanked her in person,
Knowing, without her, the war would have worsened.
The fate of a nation was riding that night,
On Sybil Ludington’s speed and her flight,
With her courage, her stick, and her Star,
On a longer trek than Revere, by far.
She circled part of Putnam County, New York,
A sixteen-year-old girl and her year-old horse,
To save Danbury, Carmel, and Washington’s men.
What might have happened without her there and then?
And what, in the end, was Sybil’s fate?
She married, had children; lived to seventy-eight.
But not before she stood guard for her father,
When the Brits meant to kill him; they shouldn’t have bothered.
She helped hide Enoch Crosby, American Spy,
But her Patterson gravestone ‘d be easy to pass by.
They misspelled her name: It’s S-*Y*-
B-I-L, Sybil Ludington of Patterson,
Who saved Danbury, Carmel, and Washington–
With her stick and her Star–from British canon.
You know the rest. In the books you will read,
Of Revere, Allen, Adams, and Greene;
But some of us will not forget
This heroine, who’s owed a debt,
For riding through the cold spring rain,
Through the dark and deep muddy terrain,
Dodging thieves in her flight,
Some forty miles and through the night,
Rode Sybil Ludington with little light,
And so through the night went her cry of alarm
To every Putnam village and farm,—
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door
And a word that *should* echo forevermore
Borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last.
So if you’re in Carmel, remember what she’s done,
And have a New York picnic under the sun,
And under the statue of Sybil Ludington, riding far,
Immortalized there with her stick and her Star.
–by L.F. Sarrouf