Sybil Ludington: Paul Revere In A Skirt?

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Sybil Ludington was a teenager during the Revolutionary War and may have taken a ride more dangerous than Paul Revere's. As part of our summer road trip series, "Honey Stop the Car," we visit a statue to Ludington in New York's Hudson River Valley.

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SCOTT SIMON, host: We've been motoring through the summer with our road trip Honey, Stop the Car. We're curious about those commemorative plaques and monuments in towns all over the country that honor local heroes or events. This morning - markers. Member station WSHU takes us to New York's Hudson River Valley and to a dramatic statue of a teenage girl from the Revolutionary War.

MARK HERZ: The teenager is 16-year-old Sybil Ludington. On the shore of Lake Gleneida, beside busy Route 52 in Carmel, New York, there's a larger than life size bronze statue of her on her horse. Marilyn Cole Greene is a local historian.

MARILYN COLE GREENE: It's just kind of a melding of two individuals, driven by a force.

HERZ: That force was the news in late April of 1777 that the British were in nearby Danbury, Connecticut, destroying military supplies, burning dozens of buildings and homes. The story goes, Colonel Henry Ludington got the word and sent his oldest child Sybil into the night to muster his regiment. It was urgent - a major economic and military hub was on fire.

GREENE: I don't know if you can see it from here, but the look on that animal's face, like, he knows that this is important, and we've got to get the job done.

HERZ: And then there's Sybil, sitting side-saddle on her horse, one hand pulling back on the reins, the other clenching a stick over her head; a look of strain and fierce determination on her face, yelling, as she rides through the long night.

She rode past this spot that would've been little more than an ox-trail, as she made her way on dark roads, trying to avoid British loyalists. She did everything Paul Revere did, only unarmed, in a skirt, and over twice the distance.

Her midnight ride was honored on a U.S. postage stamp for the bicentennial. But this inspiring tale of this youthful heroine of the Revolutionary War...

GREENE: There's no primary proof that any of this took place.

HERZ: You see, it's really oral history. The history also says Sybil Ludington stood lookouts with one of her sisters. Opposing the British king could've gotten her father captured or killed. And she's said to have used codes to pass messages to other revolutionaries.

On that night when it came time to muster the militia...

GREENE: This was a chance for Sybil to really get in and do something.

HERZ: Greene says if all Ludington did was to start to spread the word to one farm...

GREENE: She was doing a great thing. I mean this was war.

HERZ: Greene's a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she's been searching 20 years for solid evidence of any contribution Ludington may have made to the cause.

GREENE: I just have a feeling that she did something for her country, that she believed with her father wholeheartedly in helping all they could. I think we should honor that.

HERZ: Sybil Ludington married a war veteran and became a tavern owner. She's buried about 10 miles north of here. And Greene's hoping she can find some documentary proof that will persuade the DAR to mark her grave as that of a patriot.

For NPR news, I'm Mark Herz.

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