(WOMENSENEWS)–The British were coming! The British were coming!
Actually, on April 26, 1777, 2000 “Redcoats” had already arrived in Danbury, Conn., where American patriots stored munitions and supplies.
It was early spring. The colonial militiamen were home plowing and planting. A messenger rode frantically to Fredericksburg, N.Y., to alert militia colonel Henry Ludington. Someone had to gather the dispersed farmers.
His eldest daughter Sybil, 16, rode all night through pouring rain on treacherous paths while Danbury burned. Stick in hand, she beat the alarm on shuttered homes, covering 40 miles. By morning, the militia was ready to drive the British back.
Sybil’s story may be the only such tale celebrated by a surreal combination of the National Woman’s Party, the National Rifle Association, the Daughters of the American Revolution, a runners’ club and the U.S. Postal Service.
The National Woman’s Party, founded by suffrage militant Alice Paul, features one of several children’s books about Sybil’s ride in their museum shop.
The National Rifle Association offers a “Sybil Ludington Women’s Freedom Award” yearly in appreciation of women in the “shooting sports.” These awards also praise recipients who advocate for the right to carry arms.
The Daughters of the American Revolution has a statue of her in their Washington, D.C., headquarters. The statue’s sculptor, Anna Huntington, was known for equestrian pieces and “unwomanly” sculptures of military heroes from the Spanish conqueror El Cid to Joan of Arc. Her Sibyl, riding sidesaddle, stick in hand, was done in 1960, when the artist was 84 years old. A larger version of that statue stands alongside Gleneida Lake in Carmel, N.Y., near the original Ludington home site and yearly, the local Road Runner’s club sponsors a 50-kilometer race along the approximate path of the legendary ride.
In 1975, the Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in Sybil’s honor. (In 1975, you might recall, patriotism was feverish in some quarters as the nation’s bicentennial approached and the women’s movement was feverish about uncovering “lost” women in U.S. history.)
What young Sybil awakened that night was more than the defense of a young nation. She also shook loose one of the most peculiarly ironic legacies we have.
Louise Bernikow is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles. She travels to campuses and community groups with a lecture and slide show about activism called “The Shoulders We Stand On: Women as Agents of Change.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org