Today in History – The Midnight Ride of Who?

by William “Doc” Halliday

Listen, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere

These are the first two lines of “Paul Revere’s Ride.”  The poem was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and first published in the January 1861 edition of the Atlantic Monthly. The poem transformed the silversmith into a Revolutionary War hero 43 years after his death. When I was a child in Massachusetts I was taught that Paul Revere was a hero. But it’s not true; or at least not entirely accurate. Instead of lauding Mr. Revere, I want to compare him to another individual.

Around dawn, 239 years ago today, on April 27, 1777 Sebal Ludington completed a forty mile ride on horseback warning colonists that the British were coming. She was the only rider on that mission, where Mr. Revere was one of three riders. Sebal’s 40-mile ride was three times the length of that of Mr. Revere’s, and was completed in the rain compared to Mr. Revere’s dry weather.

Sebal’s ride was unplanned, whereas Mr. Revere was a cog in an elaborate plan by the Sons of Liberty who had known the British were coming but lacked their timing and route. Mr. Revere was forty years old at the time of his ride. He was an experienced member of the Committee of Public Safety, having served terms of guard duty and had completed at least 18 similar rides. He was also a ringleader of the Boston Tea Party. Sebal was barely 16-years-old. She had no military, courier or seditious experience. During the ride Sebal used a stick to fend off a highwayman.

Sebal’s father, Henry Ludington, had fought in the French and Indian War. He had been loyal to the British until 1773 when he joined the rebel cause. He was rapidly promoted to Colonel and became the leader of the 7th Regiment of the Duchess County Militia.  Colonel Ludington’s area of command was along an unprotected route that the British could take between Connecticut and the coast of Long Island Sound.

When a 2000 man British force commanded by General Tryon and British loyalists attacked the nearby town of Danbury, Connecticut, a rider came to the Ludington household in Duchess County, New York to warn them and ask for the local regiment’s help.  For safety reasons, the Continental Army had recently relocated its supplies from Peekskill to Danbury, where they were thought to be safe, and were consequently only lightly guarded. At that time, the Colonel’s regiment was disbanded because it was planting season, and all of the men were miles apart at their individual farms.  The rider was exhausted and unfamiliar with the area. Colonel Ludington had to prepare for battle, so his young daughter Sebal volunteered to ride through the night, alerting his men of the looming danger and urging them to assemble to fight the British.  Beginning about 9 p.m., Sebal rode all night through the dark woods, covering a significantly longer distance than Mr. Revere rode. At Carmel a man offered to accompany her on the remainder of her task, but she declined the offer. Sebal sent him eastward instead to warn the people in Brewster. Because of her brave undertaking, almost the entire regiment of four-hundred men was gathered by daybreak to fight the British, when the soaked and exhausted girl completed her journey.

Sebal was barely 16-years-old. She had no military, courier or seditious experience….she used a stick to fend off a highwayman.”

Sebal never gained the fame that Paul Revere did, but the future President of the United States George Washington went to the Ludington home after the conflict at Danbury to personally thank Sebal for her assistance.

After the war, in October of 1785, Sebal married Edward Ogden. They owned a tavern in Catskills, New York that Sebal operated alone after Edward’s death. In later years, she lived with her son Edward in Unadilla, New York.

She died in 1839.  In 1976, the United States Post Office issued a stamp commemorating Sebal’s ride. There are numerous spellings of her name, most predominately Sybil. Since she signed her Revolutionary War pension application as “Sebal” it is apparently the spelling she preferred and thus the one I have used.

William “Doc” Halliday is an historian and writer. He can be contacted at doc@dochalliday.us

William "Doc" Halliday

Historian, Political Commentator

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