Monday, May 27, 2013

Between the Lines: Sybil Ludington

Happy Memorial Day everyone! Since this is a day for remembering those who served and gave their lives fighting for freedom, I thought I'd recognize one of them. Because this blog is all about writing for children and talking about children's books, it seemed appropriate to see if I could find someone under the age of 18 who played a part in our country's struggle for liberty and freedom.

There are plenty of well known characters in children's historical novels that I could have interviewed, but I decided it would be cool to interview a real child hero. She's not very well known, but she played a key role in the history of the area along the Connecticut/New York border where I grew up. I was very fortunate that she was able to take some time to chat with me. Her name is Sybil Ludington, and she's a real honest-to-goodness heroine of the American Revolution. So without further ado, let's find out more about her.

Greg:  Hi Sybil, thanks for taking time out of your Memorial Day to talk to us.

Sybil:  Not at all, it is a pleasure to be able to be here.

Greg:  I don't know how many people out there will be familiar with your story, but you're better known now than you were 20 years ago or so. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sybil:  Certainly. I was born in what was then called Fredericksburg, New York in 1761. During the revolution, my father, Henry Ludington, was colonel of the local militia. One night in April, 1777, a few days after I had turned 16, a messenger arrived at our house with news that the British had ransacked the town of Danbury, Connecticut, looted the stores of food and supplies hidden there and then set it ablaze.

Greg:  Wow. That sounds a lot like what happened in Lexington and Concord. Why did your father wake you up?

Sybil:  He needed to rouse the militia and get them turned out to come to Danbury's aid. We had about 400 men located within a 40 mile area, and someone needed to alert them. The messenger was tired and did not know the area. I volunteered to ride out and spread the alarm.

Greg:  That was really brave of you, to go out riding in the dark and spread the word.

Sybil:  I don't know about that, but it had to be done, and Father could not spare any of the nearby militia to do it. I pulled on my father's riding breeches while he went out to the barn\and saddled our horse. 

Greg:  Gee, that must have been scary, to ride out on a mission like that in the dark.

Sybil:  The night was dark, but I knew the route. I was not much concerned with the ride itself, but there were other dangers.

Greg:  Like what?

Sybil:  Although there were many patriots in the area, there were also a number of Tories--those who remained loyal to England and the crown. It was possible that they would try and stop me. There was also the danger of running into a British military scouting party. But beyond that, there were also highwaymen that roamed the roads looking for travelers to rob. We called them "skinners".

Greg:  So, what happened? Were you  scared?

Sybil:  I rode through the night and alerted all of the militiamen. I have to admit that I was scared. It was dangerous enough riding in the dead of night through woods and fields. I expected to be waylaid at any moment. But I knew that if I did not raise the militia the British forces might cross over into New York in an attempt to outflank General Washington in nearby Peekskill. At the very least, they would pillage the Connecticut countryside on their way back to their ships in Westport. I had to alert them. They were all that stood in the redcoats' way.

Greg:  Did they make it in time?

Sybil:  Not in time to save Danbury. When I returned home at dawn, they were already mustering. My father led them off later that morning and they arrived in time to reinforce minutemen in Ridgefield, Connecticut, on the southern border of Danbury. They were led by Benedict Arnold and David Wooster.

The Battle of Ridgefield was small, but we managed to do some damage to the British. We built a barricade to bar their way, but they forced their way through. In the fighting, General Wooster was killed. He was a great patriot. The militia harassed the British all the way back to their ship. They paid dearly for those stores.

Greg:  I heard that you were hailed as a hero. General Washington and the French general, Rochambeau, personally thanked you for your service. I'd like to personally thank you, too. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story with us.

Sybil:  Yes, and thank you for having me. I think anyone in my situation would have done the same. When something needs to be done, you just do it. It's not a case of being brave or anything.   The real heroes are those who fight to keep us free. I'd like to thank all of them, thank you.

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