Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolutionby Melissa Lukeman Bohrer
Much has been written of the brave deeds, acts of heroism, and intellectual prowess of the men who drafted the Declaration of Independence over two hundred years ago, yet almost no attention has been paid to the extraordinary women of that time -- women who helped found our nation with courage, sacrifice, and intellect equal to any of the famed male politicians of 1776. Glory, Passion, and Principle tells the story of eight incredible women, each deprived of formal education, world travel, or equal status, and yet all managed to flourish against incredible odds. Whether advising such men as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Franklin on political theory; publishing poems and plays that would rouse a nation to independent furor; helping negotiate treaties; acting as spies; or fighting alongside men in the military -- these women broke the limiting definitions imposed upon them, much as America was doing for itself, and helped form and found the country that is America today.
Each chapter features a different woman. Abigail Adams, political confidante and wife of John Adams, used her intellect to influence her husband's position in the Continental Congress, and earned the distinction of being the only person to put Thomas Jefferson in his place. Nancy Ward, the brave and diplomatic leader of the Cherokee tribe, matured from a young widow to bold warrior, risking her life and those of her people when she warned the Patriots of imminent attack by Native American tribes. She became a strong voice when the Treaty of Hopewell was signed in 1785. Yet another bright light was Sybil Ludington, a sixteen-year-old who took it upon herself to alert her town's militia that the British were coming, and survived a ride twice as long as Paul Revere's. And where Revere got caught, Ludington did not. Alongside Ludington, Adams, and Ward, the five other chapters chronicle the lives of Deborah Sampson, Lydia Darragh, Mercy Otis Warren, Phillis Wheatley, and Molly Pitcher. Filled with unimaginable heartbreak, personal sacrifice, and cunning survival skills, Glory, Passion, and Principle is an inspiring testament to the women who undoubtedly made a considerable dent in our great nation's history.
Boston Herald Conventional histories of the American Revolution feature the drumbeat of the founding fathers....[Glory, Passion, and Principle] rectifies the oversight with eight spirited narratives about women who played inspirational roles in the birth of the nation.
Jennifer Lee Carrell, Ph.D. author of The Speckled Monster Evoking passion as fierce as that of its heroines, Glory, Passion, and Principle sings out history far too long left silent....An inspiring read!
Publishers Weekly Each chapter...drop[s] the reader right into the action. Bohrer portray[s] a culturally diverse group of women, offering a valuable perspective on the efforts and achievements of some minority women during that era.
- Atria Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.32(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.09(d)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: With the Wind in Her Hair: Sybil Ludington
But she was too tired when she got home,
to realize the worth of the deed she had done.
-- Marjorie Barstow Greenbie
Putnam County, New York 1777
On a cold and cloudless winter night, Sybil Ludington blew out the candle in her brother's bedroom and fearfully tightened her grip on her rifle's stock. She leaned forward and peered out the large window; a deep darkness had enveloped the whole of her father's grounds. There was no moon that night, nothing at all to see by. She strained anyway, looking south, out past the house and into the extended lot. Nothing but craggy black shapes, which she knew -- prayed -- to be trees. She pulled back, leaving the window ajar so as to hear any ominous sound. She tiptoed out of the room, the floorboards creaking, trying not to wake her six younger siblings or her mother, who was sleeping with the newest baby, two-month-old Abigail; and with a solemn nod she joined her waiting sister in the hall.
The news had at first come as a shock, but the longer she dwelled on it, the more she realized the inevitability of British soldiers coming after her father. Not only was he a colonel, not only was he protector of crucial Patriot supplies, not only was he the key to conquering the strategic Hudson Highlands, but above all, he used to be one of them. A Loyalist. The utmost vengeance, Sybil had come to learn in her short, hard life, was always reserved for one of your own. Indeed, General Howe himself had placed the bounty on her father's head: 300 guineas. A shocking sum. Enough to buy their whole town.
It all started the summer before. General Howe had landed on Staten Island with 9,000 troops; with him, under his brother's command, came a British fleet from Halifax and an armada of 130 warships and transports. By mid-August 1776, 32,000 fully equipped, highly trained British and German soldiers had taken Staten Island and proceeded to invade Long Island.
General George Washington immediately saw the danger. He knew that saving Long Island was hopeless at this point, but he also knew that supplies were in as much demand as men, and if he could save their critical stash of food and ammunition in White Plains -- which surely the British were aiming for -- then he could at least have a partial victory, and would be able to rally for a comeback at a later date. Without it, the entire Northeast could be in jeopardy. He called upon the Patriots' most skilled defender of supplies -- Colonel Ludington -- to defend this most critical stash. Ludington obliged. Despite a terrible and bloody defeat at White Plains, the supplies remained virtually untouched. Immediately following the battle, General Howe put a price on Ludington's head, dead or alive.
Sybil and her sister strained their eyes in the darkness. Though their property was a sprawling 230 acres, much of it was wooded. The clearing in the back stretched to about half an acre, gently sloping, leading to a stream, on the other side of which stood thick woods. From her vantage point at the window, she could see her father's gristmill and the corral, the only other structures on the property. It was possible the enemy could be hiding behind these, but unlikely: should anyone approach due east, the horses were sure to make noise. No, they would come from here -- from the south.
Sybil was fighting sleep when she heard the sound of breaking twigs and cracking ice; she snapped to attention and listened. Hurried footsteps followed, scurrying over the frozen winter earth. The sounds came from the gristmill. She leaned forward, heart pounding, and saw silhouettes of dark armed figures emerging slowly from behind its walls. Muffled, urgent voices followed. A never-ending supply of men seemed to creep out from behind the building. They were heading for the house.
She could feel the muscles in her body tighten. Bounding up the stairs, she ran for Rebecca, but saw Rebecca running for her. Her heart sank even more. This could only mean they were approaching from the back, too. Noise suddenly rose up all around them, confirming what she already knew: she and her family were surrounded.
Quickly lighting candles in every room, Sybil and Rebecca ran noisily throughout the house, waking their four younger brothers and sisters. They shoved weapons and candles into their hands, yanking them out of their beds. They dropped the younger ones in front of windows and bid the older ones to pace, guns held high, as they had rehearsed. Sybil ran to her post. As she watched, the men seemed to slow and then stop, looking at the windows. Their noises died down. They now seemed unsure.
Sybil raised her musket with a shaking hand and leaned it against her shoulder as her father had taught her. She squatted, aimed the rifle to the sky, and held her breath. She squeezed the trigger. The shot crackled with a deafening noise, and the kick knocked her back to the floor. She scrambled to her knees and looked out the window. The men were running.
Records indicate that Sybil had in fact spotted Ichobod Prosser, a notorious Tory who had come after her father in hopes of the reward, and his men. Prosser's band of armed Tories, estimated at some fifty men strong, had planned to abduct the colonel, torture him, bring him back, collect the reward, and watch as he was put to death. After seeing the many windows light up in the colonel's home and the figures marching in almost every window, they had second thoughts. Years later, when they learned that it was in fact Sybil and her siblings, they confessed to be "ignorant of how they had been foiled by clever girls."
Sybil's ruse had worked; it was the beginning of a "constant care and thoughtfulness towards her father that prevented the fruition of many an intrigue against his life and capture."
Arriving in 1761 as a staunch Loyalist, Henry Ludington served in the French and Indian war as part of the Second Regiment of Connecticut, troops in the service of the king. He also fought in the Battle of Lake George. But by the mid-1770s, Ludington's loyalty to the king was shaken, as was many of his neighbors' and friends'. This was not particularly unusual, as many colonists were becomingly increasingly angered and dismayed by the continual taxation heaped upon them by the British. Voices were starting to be heard decrying the notion of "taxation without representation." Newspapers printed many stories of abuse by British soldiers toward Americans. Many Loyalists began to question their commitment to a king who was so heavy-handed, so petrified of his subjects yearning for a small degree of self-determination. Many, including Henry Ludington, began to embrace the idea of independence. In 1775 Henry Ludington officially broke from the king, renouncing his position in the Royal Army. His reputation preceding him, he was immediately embraced by General George Washington, who needed men exactly like him.
It was 1776 when Henry Ludington was named colonel and given a regiment in Dutchess County, along what was then the most direct route between Connecticut and the Long Island Sound. It was a strategic site and one of the most crucial for the Patriots. The Hudson Highlands were the key to defending a huge territory. If they fell, the entire Northeast could be divided. It was also the most dangerous area to defend: sandwiched on both sides by deep and dense woods, the small province of Fredericksburg was easy prey to gangs of Tories and Royalists on the one side and small bands of rogues on the other. The townsfolk were increasingly harassed, threatened, and robbed by these outlaws, sometimes even kidnapped and killed.
Ludington's regiment consisted of 400 men, all farmers whose homes were scattered about the sparsely settled area of the nearby towns. He was forced to bring them into active and constant service, although none were professional soldiers, and some resented the duty. The system of communication was poor, and weapons and supplies rudimentary.
Colonel Ludington's importance in the small precinct of Fredericksburg grew gradually over the years. He and his wife went on to have twelve children, the oldest daughter, Sybil, born in 1761. By all accounts, Sybil was a feisty, independent girl who spent her childhood tending to her many younger siblings. From the time she was old enough for chores, Sybil worked in her home, sewing, weaving, cleaning, cooking -- embracing all the domesticity required of her sex. Never given a formal education as were her brothers, Sybil did learn to read and write, though not exceptionally. Education was apparent in the Ludington home, for the children were literate; but its value and importance were measured with the boys and almost nonexistent with Sybil and her sisters. Sybil's brothers were sent to school and practiced their lessons at home; Sybil and her sisters, on the other hand, were educated in domesticity, reared for their expected roles as mothers and wives. Besides, a house filled with twelve children could only spare so much time for reading and writing, and this usually took place around the hearth, with the whole family assembled together at night.
Sybil was impatient with education anyway; her real love was the outdoors, horses, and her father's activities. In fact, her mother commented more than once that her oldest was quite a tomboy. In what little spare time she had, Sybil rode horseback, becoming quite expert at it, riding both straight and astride, surprising those who knew her with her speed, agility, and love for it. She would ride her father's big bay, a husky thoroughbred gelding, traveling the many fields and paths through the woods and on into neighboring towns. At age fifteen she was given her own horse, a one-year-old colt she named Star for the white patch on his nose. Watching his daughter ride horseback, with her hearty laughter and seeming abandon, her long auburn hair flying away in the wind, her father more than once marveled at Sybil's independence.
When her father was given his own regiment, Sybil would spend hours watching him train his militia on the farm. Observing throughout the entire summer, fall, and winter of 1776, she developed a deeper understanding of what was at stake for all of them. With a keen and interested eye, she learned about her father's men, frequently journeying with them to their homes or on some errand, and found herself increasingly emboldened by their patriotism. Sybil yearned to take part in the events surrounding her. On the night of April 26, 1777, she found a way to do just that.
The night of the twenty-sixth began like most others. Though a frighteningly strong thunderstorm had been raging all day, the Ludington children had occupied themselves inside with a variety of household chores and games. Colonel Ludington had been away for three days with his militia in an effort to shore up Patriot supplies; he was expected home that evening. Sybil and Rebecca had helped their mother with supper and with washing up the little ones, and after a hearty meal of beef and potatoes, the family had settled before the hearth. Little Archibald, ten years old, prided himself on lighting the fire, and the fire he made that night was big enough to warm them all.
As her family sat listening to little Derrick practice his reading, Sybil peered out, searching the night sky for any sign of her father's return. In the distance she could see a vague red glow in the sky, and she turned away, overcome by a feeling of foreboding. She rested her head against the pane, and before she knew it was fast asleep.
The front door swung open, waking Sybil with a start. She reached for her rifle, but before she could find it, she saw it was her father. She relaxed and ran over to him with the others. He walked in dripping wet as the family gathered around, the older ones helping him with his hat, boots, and jacket and the younger ones, happy to be part of the commotion, clamoring for his attention. Sybil's mother put a kettle on the fire. Eager for news of their father's adventures, the family listened attentively while Colonel Ludington settled before the fire and shared news of his latest exploits.
Before her father could bring his cup to his lips, there was suddenly a loud pounding on the door. Jumping up, Colonel Ludington, still wet, grabbed his musket and motioned Sybil's mother to take the children out of sight. They huddled behind the parlor door, although Sybil went with her father, grabbing her rifle and standing by his side. He gave her a reprimanding look, but the pounding came again.
"Ludington!" a voice called out. The colonel moved to the side of the door and peered through a small window. With a sudden look of recognition, he quickly moved from the window, lay down his musket, and opened the door.
A rain-soaked man practically fell into the foyer, water dripping from hat to boots, a look of terror Sybil had never seen before in his eyes. He gasped for breath.
"Good God, man, what is it?" Ludington cried as he grabbed the man's arms, helping to steady him.
"Danbury has been sacked, sir. It is burning! The whole town is burning! The British have taken over!"
The colonel's face dropped in horror as he stared, glassy-eyed, into the distance. The Patriots had recently transferred massive supplies from Peekskill to Danbury, near the border. Meat, flour, rice, sugar, molasses, rum, powder, shoes, clothes, utensils, uniforms...critical supplies. Their destruction meant disaster. And if the British were already at Danbury, that meant they could overtake the Highlands in a matter of hours.
"The British are headed this way, sir, right now. We need your men."
"Who else has been sent for?" Ludington asked.
"You are the only one, sir."
It was a moment Sybil would always remember. The look of gravity on her father's face was unlike anything she had seen before. He stared at this messenger, this farmer of small frame, and slowly his look of shock turned to one of command.
"I cannot alert my men," Ludington said. "I must remain here to organize them when they arrive. You will go. I will give you the routes -- "
"I cannot sir, I cannot," the messenger interrupted. "I cannot ride one moment longer," he cried.
The colonel's face flushed with rage. He grabbed the man by the shoulders, and shook him with an anger that frightened even Sybil.
"You will, damn it! You will!"
But the messenger only cried and, as if in deep resignation, slumped down against the wall onto the floor, head in hands. The colonel stared at the man, and slowly his rage lifted, replaced with a blank desperation.
"Good God, man, do you realize what will happen if we do not stop them?" he said, more to himself than to the messenger. No answer came forth from the man, his head low as if browbeaten.
A look of fear mingled with horror filled Ludington's eyes. As the rest of the family froze in terror, a bolt of lightning cracked overhead, momentarily filling the night sky. No one spoke.
A wave of feeling suddenly rushed up in Sybil like she had never felt; a sense of purpose, of destiny. She knew then what she must do.
"I will go, Father," it is believed she said, as if someone else had spoken the words.
A low, muffled wail escaped her mother's lips. Her mother knew what that meant. It was a ride that had brought men in their prime to their knees. It was not a ride -- it was a sentence to death. Those woods were treacherous, even in the daylight, filled with thieves, outlaws, hostile Indians, Royalists, Tories, wolves, and bears. If somehow she didn't get killed, she would get captured, which would mean death. If somehow she didn't get killed or captured, she would certainly get lost, which would mean a later, slower death.
Sybil caught her brothers and sisters staring in astonishment. The look on her father's face deepened to one of greater horror; he half turned away, but she rushed up and grabbed his arm.
"Father, you have to let me go," she pleaded. "I know the routes. There is no one else."
Her father turned and looked deeply into her eyes, and slowly she could see his look change to one of admiration, then of respect, a respect she had only seen him give to other men. When he finally spoke, it was the voice of command.
Not five minutes later Sybil appeared downstairs, dressed and ready to go. She had pulled on long wool stockings under an old pair of her father's pants, and tied them tightly with a worn piece of cloth. She wore Archibald's long-underwear shirt, and had thrown her mother's thick cotton shawl over her shoulders. She tucked her pants into her riding boots and pulled her long auburn hair back with a string. Her big green eyes looked more innocent and beautiful than ever.
Star neighed outside the door, prancing impatiently in the rain. Her father had saddled him up and stood beside him, waiting.
Sybil quickly and quietly embraced each one of her siblings, then her mother, in whose eyes she found the fear she herself was trying so hard to defeat. Embracing for what then might have been a last time, she felt a clenching sadness well up inside her. Rebecca and Mary had started to cry, and she quickly turned and walked out, shutting the heavy oak door behind her.
Her father grasped Star's mane too tightly, trying to keep him still. He thrust his musket into Sybil's hand as she approached and gave her a quick once-over. She sensed a change in his manner: gone was friendly compassion; he now surveyed her as a soldier. He adjusted her stance, squaring her shoulders to face him, and shouted over the rain.
"You'll ride south toward the lake. Go through Carmel and Mahopac, but stay to the west on the path. Tryon has men in the woods, on the southeastern border, and cowboys and skinners have been spotted as well -- try to steer clear of the lake if you can. Circle up and head northwest after you have reached Mahopac. Ride until Stormville and then turn back southward home. Along the way, bang at every possible house. Wake the men no matter what. Tell them to be at my house by daybreak, if they want to spare their lives. Bid them spread the word."
"What do you mean, father, 'cowboys and skinners'?" Sybil asked, trying not to sound afraid.
The colonel had forgotten that this young girl had never entered the woods at night, and had only heard vague talk of armed men living there.
"It is a word we use for pro-British marauders who roam the county plundering farmhouses. Skinners are more dangerous. They are separate bands of mounted brigands who claim attachment to us or to the British, whatever suits their mood. They are a mean lot. They rob and kill and hide in the woods southeast of the lake. That is why I warn you not to wander too far over into their area."
Sybil felt as though she might run back into the warmth and safety of her home at that very moment, but the thought of disappointing her father and not being brave enough to help him and his men was too strong. Stormville and back. That was over forty miles.
"Keep your wits up. Should you encounter anyone hostile, ride away with all your might. You are as good a rider as any of my men. You can do this. God be with you, my child," he said, and lifted her onto her horse.
Records indicate that Sybil mounted Star astride, and her father handed her the gun. She felt a wet chill run up her spine as she turned one last time to look at her house. Her mother had joined her father in the doorway, the warm glow of light behind them.
Sybil kicked Star, as she had done a thousand times before, and in a matter of seconds they had blended into the darkness and were gone.
Well-known paths and familiar markers during daylight had always made these woods inviting to Sybil; but now, in the deep darkness of a stormy night, she felt herself in foreign territory, enemy territory, and she did not like it at all. The trees before her loomed dangerously overhead, arched and twisted forms of blackness, their branches reaching toward her, their sprawling height swaying with the storm. The paths she knew so well now seemed to mock her. Noises seemed to confront her from all sides, impossible to decipher; she couldn't tell if it was the cracking of fallen sticks and branches underfoot, the rain hitting the trees and earth, her horse's hooves hitting the muddy ground, or perhaps animals scurrying for cover. She heard the howls of a forlorn animal, a wolf, she thought, and had scarcely turned her head to see when she felt a hard, dull thud on her forehead. Before she knew it, she was off her horse and flying through the air.
She landed hard on the mud, the wind knocked out of her. Somehow she had managed to hang on to her rifle, and she clutched it as she dragged herself to her knees. Star, faithful, stopped and waited. Sybil reached up and felt for her head, wondering how she didn't see the branch. Before another possibility could dawn on her, she felt a boot, hard, in her stomach.
She keeled and rolled over, still clutching the rifle, as realization hit her. It was a man. She looked up, edging away, and saw two dark figures approach. The sky lit up, and she saw the face on the closer one, covered in mud, grotesque decaying teeth spread far apart in a lurid smile.
Without thinking, Sybil brought her rifle around, cocked it, and fired. She missed by several feet, hitting a tree and sending chips everywhere. The man paused, just long enough not to see Star, neighing, rear up and kick. Star caught him flush on the jaw and knocked him over.
Sybil whistled, and Star ran to her, getting between her and the second man. Sybil mounted him as quickly as she had ever done, and Star ran without prodding. The second man, though, had a hold of Sybil's leg. He held on, and horse and rider dragged him for nearly twenty feet, Sybil losing her grip on the reins, until finally he let go and fell face first in the mud.
Sybil climbed fully up on Star, giving him a kick and doubling their speed. She didn't know if it was tears or rain on her cheeks, but she had no time to think of it as she warned herself never to take her eyes off the path again.
A glimpse of a marker flashed in the lightning, and she saw the path. She turned onto a road she knew headed south toward Carmel. She knew there was a lake to her right, but as she galloped ahead, she could see no sign of water -- only a vast stretch of blackness, ominous and eerie. Her wet fingers kept slipping down the reins, and with her other hand she clenched her musket; she tried to keep it above Star, but could feel the weight of it pulling her arm down. Water ran down her face, into her eyes and mouth, but she had no free hands with which to wipe her face, so she simply bore the wetness.
After what seemed like hours, on the brink of despair, Sybil broke through the woods and into a clearing. The sky was tremendous. A red glow rose on the horizon, seeming to grow bigger by the second. It held no beauty, though; no spectacle of nature, it was only a blazing reminder of danger at their door. Danbury. That meant Carmel was to her left, only minutes away. She headed straight toward it and redoubled her efforts.
Almost immediately, Sybil came upon her first home. The house was dark, and she rode right up to the door and banged her rifle on the wood without dismounting. She couldn't help thinking of her own family and the fear they had felt when suffering a similar intrusion. Beating her rifle again on the door, she heard a voice pierce the night silence, a scream that scared her until she realized the voice was her own.
"Hello! Wake up! Danbury is burning! Please! Come quick! Hello!"
Lights came on, a face appeared at the window, then a man she recognized from her father's regiment opened the door. He stared at her, shocked. As records indicate, she yelled her fateful warning: "Meet at Colonel Ludington's home by daybreak. Bring your arms! Danbury has been sacked! It is burning! Spread the word!"
Galloping onward, not waiting for his reaction, Sybil felt empowered as never before, by a sense of passion, of patriotism, of camaraderie with the men. This was now her fight, too; she was as much a part of it as they were. On and on she rode, traveling south through the town of Carmel, arriving at home after home, spreading the word. She reached Mahopac, circled the lake to the north, and awakened the households there. She rode back up northeast into Cold Spring, finally arriving in Stormville. To her amazement, she found lights already on in the houses. The message was spreading on its own.
Resting on Star, she stared for a moment at the bustling village. Then she turned south, heading back home, to complete a ride that would later be found to have been a staggering forty miles in all.
Just two years earlier, Paul Revere had made his famous ride at the request of Dr. Joseph Warren, the Boston Patriot leader. Revere, a vigorous man of forty, rode through the gentle Massachusetts countryside, over roads well lit, well populated, and excellent by the day's standards. He had begun his ride at 11:00 p.m., and rode approximately twelve miles into Lexington, where he enjoyed a late-night supper with Samuel Adams and John Hancock, with "boots off and a glass of flip in hand," as it has been said. He then proceeded into the town of Concord, where he was arrested by a British patrol and had his horse confiscated, in all riding less than fourteen miles in two hours.
Dawn was breaking as Sybil rode out from the woods and into the field leading up to her home. Coming up the drive, she could see from her perch hundreds of men gathered on her father's front lawn. As she neared, the regiment -- over 400 men strong -- turned and watched. A chorus let loose a cheer, a greeting so filled with unity and admiration that she felt her heart rise. They closed ranks on her and embraced her as an equal. Her father spotted her and in no time swept her off her horse and into his arms, in an embrace she would remember for years. Her mother came running out, then her sisters and brothers, amid the cheers for Sybil. She felt part of the Revolution as she had never before. The fight for freedom was now personal.
General Tryon, drunk, pushed his way through the crowd of cheering soldiers, trying to see what all the fuss was about. Around him on every side houses burned; men drank straight from rum barrels; raucous screams carried through the streets, and smoke choked the air. It couldn't have been easier. Danbury, the touted Patriot stronghold, was taken. Valuable supplies were destroyed. The Hudson Highlands were now in reach, and the Patriots were too far away to do anything about it. His men were drunk, perhaps too drunk; he could have cut it off sooner, but he figured, let the men have their fun. Tomorrow they would get back to business.
Two days before, on April 25, 1777, a force of 2,000 British troops under General Tryon had landed with twenty transports and six warships at Campo Beach, near Fairfield, Connecticut, at the mouth of the Sagatuck River. They had spent the night camping in Weston, eight miles inland, and the next morning marched north through Bethel. General Washington, that fool, had left Danbury unguarded, taking his men to use them in another battle. The supplies were out in the open, and the British would steal every last one of them. Soon, though, when they saw the extent of the supplies and realized how much the burden would slow them down, they decided on the spot not to take them. Instead, they would burn them.
Marching inland virtually unopposed, they arrived in Danbury on April 26 and began burning the American Army tents, the supply stores, and the town. They successfully destroyed thousands of barrels of supplies and consumed incredible amounts of rum. They became dangerously drunk, setting many private homes on fire. It was a drunken orgy the likes of which had never been seen before, one in which thousands of drunken redcoats staggered up and down Main Street, singing, cursing, shouting insults, and wreaking dangerous havoc on all who lived there. Their behavior would later be described as one of the most shameful displays of British arms in the war.
On the morning of April 27, Colonel Ludington's regiment approached Danbury with his four hundred men. He was joined by a hundred Patriots from Bethel and by General Alexander McDougall's three hundred colonists, marching in from Peekskill. They marched all day, and by nightfall reached Redding, where they were joined by Patriot generals Wooster, Arnold, and Stilliman. They were now one thousand strong. But the British had over two thousand, and the situation looked bleak. Still, they mustered their forces and began to march.
With what would later be described as a "berserk rage," the American militia advanced strategically, engaging in one of the first known battles of guerilla warfare. They scattered their men far and wide and used sharpshooters to fire from behind trees and fences and stone walls. The British, drunk, surprised, and quickly overwhelmed, hastened to retreat to their ships. They raced to board, but the Patriots pursued them all the way, and many drowned in their hurry to escape the colonists' onslaught. General Wooster received a wound from which he died a few days later. Benedict Arnold, a great Patriot general at the time, had his horse shot out from under him as he furiously charged the enemy. The British reported fifty to sixty enlisted men and five officers killed or wounded in one two-hour stretch alone. The Americans had been victorious. The Highlands of the Hudson would be free from harm; indeed, no attempt was ever made to attack it in the same way again.
When she was twenty-three years old, Sybil Ludington married Edmund Ogden, with whom she had a son, Henry. Edmund was a farmer and innkeeper, according to various reports. In 1792 Sybil settled with her husband and little Henry in Catskill, where they lived until September 16, 1799, when Edmund contracted yellow fever and died. Henry was only thirteen years old.
In 1803 Sybil applied for and was granted an innkeeper's license, becoming the only woman among twenty-three men in that occupation. She ran the tavern herself until 1811, supporting herself and Henry. Henry went on to become an attorney and assemblyman, and Sybil would spend the remaining years of her life living with him and his family in Unadilla, a town in Otsego County. Henry and his wife had six children, and Sybil, the proud grandmother, helped raise them. She died on February 26, 1839, at age seventy-seven and is buried in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson.
Though her story was told publicly for the first time in a memoir of her father published in 1907, compiled by Willis Fletcher Johnson (associated with the New York Herald Tribune until he died in 1931), not until 1961 would she receive any recognition. That year, the Enoch Crosby chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) erected a statue of her on the shores of Lake Gleneida. In 1975 a postage stamp in her honor was issued as part of the national Bicentennial series "Contributors to the Cause." Another statue of her stands in Washington, D.C. Numerous articles have been written throughout the years calling her the female Paul Revere, comparing her ride to his.
In 1963 Congressman Robert R. Barry addressed the House of Representatives, wherein he read part of a resolution made by the National Women's Party that he then entered into the Congressional Record: "The best tribute we can bring to Sybil Ludington is to go forward ourselves in the present day campaign for the complete freedom of women -- with the same courage, the same determination, the same intensity of conviction that the heroic young Sybil Ludington displayed in her famous ride for freedom of the American colonists from the control of the Government and laws of England."
The Battle of Danbury was among the many battles of the American Revolution where the patriotism and courage of its defenders was put to the final test; many would not survive to enjoy the liberty so desperately fought for. While Sybil had risked her life to help the men in Danbury, another young girl in a neighboring colony would write of the death of one of its heroes. On news of the death of General Wooster, a young slave girl sat down in Massachusetts to express the collective grief of a nation during this time in her history. She composed a poem to his widow, a poem that many years later would garner fame, attention, and controversy. That girl's name, all would soon learn, was Phillis Wheatley.
Copyright © 2003 by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer
Meet the Author
Melissa Lukeman Bohrer's ancestors were founders of Massachussetts in the 1630s, distinguished soldiers, and aides-de-camp to General George Washington. A graduate of Columbia University and Brooklyn Law School, and a former columnist for The Brooklyn Heights Press, she lives in Westchester, New York, with her husband and three children.
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