Illustration by Allan Davey

STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, RH.6-8.9, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Time, Continuity, and Change • Individual Development and Identity • Power, Authority, and Governance

FLASHBACK

True Teens of History

Girl Hero of the American Revolution

During the bloody war for our nation’s independence, one teen made a courageous ride to protect her family and community. Like many ordinary Americans, she risked her life for the country she loved.

As You Read, Think About: How did the American Revolution affect the lives of everyday people?

For the first time in her 16 years, Sybil Ludington felt as if the whole world rested on her shoulders. Not an hour earlier, she had been safe in her home in Fredericksburg, New York, with her parents and siblings. Now she was racing on horseback in the dead of night for the lives of her family, her village, and her fellow Patriots, who were fighting a brutal war for independence from Great Britain.

The first sign of the emergency had been a sudden pounding at the door late that evening in April 1777. It was a messenger. British troops were destroying the nearby town of Danbury, he cried breathlessly.

Located just 12 miles away in Connecticut, Danbury was a key supply base for the American colonists who formed the Continental Army. Earlier that afternoon, about 2,000 British troops had invaded the town.

The soldiers had lugged thousands of pounds of goods belonging to the American army into the street and set them on fire. Countless barrels of beef, flour, and corn went up in flames—along with about 1,000 tents. The troops then went wild, torching houses and forcing the residents to flee.

The messenger had ridden several hours from Danbury to reach Sybil’s father, Colonel Henry Ludington. He was the leader of a local militia of farmers and laborers. Now his forces were needed to fight off the British, the messenger said. But the colonel’s men were spread over many miles. Someone would have to ride into the night and gather them.

For the first time in her 16 years, Sybil Ludington felt as if the whole world rested on her shoulders. Not an hour earlier, she had been safe in her home in Fredericksburg, New York. She had been with her parents and siblings. Now she was racing on horseback in the dead of night. Sybil was fighting for the lives of her family, her village, and her fellow Patriots. They were in a brutal war for independence from Great Britain.

The first sign of the emergency had been a sudden pounding at the door late that evening in April 1777. It was a messenger. “British troops are destroying the nearby town of Danbury!” he cried breathlessly.

Danbury was located just 12 miles away in Connecticut. It was a key supply base for the American colonists who formed the Continental Army. Earlier that afternoon, about 2,000 British troops had invaded the town.

The soldiers had carried thousands of pounds of goods belonging to the American army into the street. They set them on fire. Countless barrels of beef, flour, and corn went up in flames. So did about 1,000 tents. The British troops then went wild. They torched houses, forcing the residents to flee.

The messenger had ridden several hours from Danbury to reach Sybil’s father. Her father’s name was Colonel Henry Ludington. He was the leader of a local militia of farmers and laborers. The messenger said his forces were now needed to fight off the British. But the colonel’s men were spread over many miles. Someone would have to ride into the night and gather them.

Sybil was racing on horseback in the dead of night for the lives of her family, her village, and her fellow Patriots.

After his long journey, the messenger was too exhausted to go further. And Sybil’s father needed to stay home to organize his men when they arrived. Sybil knew that Fredericksburg could be the enemy’s next target. If the British made it there, they might burn the village, or capture or kill her father. His militia had to be summoned to fight back—and fast. Sybil clenched her jaw and volunteered to make the ride. 

Sybil knew the country roads well. Still, the woods could be dangerous at night. As she rode, she couldn’t help but imagine the armed groups of British supporters who roamed the countryside. They wouldn’t hesitate to use violence if they caught her. 

Sybil pushed this terrifying thought out of her mind and urged her horse to go faster. She believed passionately that Americans should rule themselves as their own nation and no longer belong to Britain. This was her fight too.

After his long journey, the messenger was too exhausted to go further. And Sybil’s father needed to stay home to organize his men when they arrived. Sybil knew that Fredericksburg could be the enemy’s next target. If the British made it there, they might burn the village. Or they might capture or kill her father. His militia had to be summoned to fight back, and fast. Sybil clenched her jaw and volunteered to make the ride.

Sybil knew the country roads well. Still, the woods could be dangerous at night. As she rode, she could not help but imagine the armed groups of British supporters who roamed the countryside. They would not hesitate to use violence if they caught her.

Sybil pushed this terrifying thought out of her mind. She urged her horse to go faster. She believed passionately that Americans should rule themselves as their own nation and no longer belong to Britain. This was her fight too.

The Road to Battle

Most histories of the American Revolution (1775-1783) focus on the nation’s founders, such as George Washington. But the Revolution started as an uprising among the everyday people of the 13 British colonies (see map, below)

By the mid-1700s, many colonists had grown angry at how tightly Britain’s King George and the British Parliament controlled their lives—without giving them a voice in that lawmaking body. 

When Britain passed a series of heavy taxes on the colonies beginning in 1763, many Americans denounced them as “taxation without representation.” They formed groups to protest the taxes and boycott British goods. 

Tensions rose higher when Parliament forced colonists to quarter (house) British troops, hoping their presence would help prevent rebellion among the Americans. Then, in 1768, the British tried to squash protests in Boston by sending soldiers to occupy the city. Angry townspeople clashed with the soldiers in the streets. 

Average Americans began stashing away weapons and organizing militias like Colonel Ludington’s. War was coming.

Most histories of the American Revolution (1775-1783) focus on the nation’s founders, such as George Washington. But the Revolution started as an uprising among the everyday people of the 13 British colonies (see map, below).

By the mid-1700s, many colonists had grown angry at how tightly Britain’s King George and the British Parliament controlled their lives. Britain did not give them a voice in that lawmaking body.

Then, beginning in 1763, Britain passed a series of heavy taxes on the colonies. Many Americans objected, calling them “taxation without representation.” They formed groups to protest the taxes and boycott British goods.

Tensions rose higher when Parliament forced colonists to quarter (house) British troops. Parliament hoped the presence of the troops would help prevent rebellion among the Americans. In 1768, the British tried to squash protests in Boston by sending soldiers to occupy the city. But angry townspeople clashed with the soldiers in the streets.

Average Americans began stashing away weapons. They began organizing militias like Colonel Ludington’s. War was coming.

Illustration by Allan Davey

FOR FREEDOM! American troops were farmers, laborers, and tradesmen—both young and old.

War Begins

Meanwhile, prominent men from across the colonies were forming a different kind of resistance. In September 1774, its leaders held the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia to challenge Britain’s Parliament. Some spoke of revolution. Others hoped to mend relations with Britain.

Then, on the morning of April 19, 1775, British troops marched toward the town of Concord, Massachusetts, near Boston. Their mission: to destroy military supplies kept there by colonists. 

But American militiamen were ready for them. In the resulting clashes, now known as the Battles of Lexington and Concord, 73 British soldiers and 49 colonists were killed. 

“The people had gotten ahead of their leaders,” says historian T.H. Breen of the University of Vermont. Whether Congress was ready or not, the war had begun.

Meanwhile, important men from across the colonies were forming a different kind of resistance. In September 1774, these leaders held the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia to challenge Britain’s Parliament. Some spoke of revolution. Others hoped to repair relations with Britain.

Then, on the morning of April 19, 1775, British troops marched toward the town of Concord, Massachusetts, near Boston. Their mission was to destroy military supplies kept there by colonists.

But American militiamen were ready for them. The clashes that broke out are now known as the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In the fighting, 73 British soldiers were killed. So were 49 colonists. 

“The people had gotten ahead of their leaders,” says historian T.H. Breen of the University of Vermont. Whether Congress was ready or not, the war had begun.

What You Need to Know

THE 13 COLONIES: Starting in the 17th century, settlers supported by Great Britain established these colonies along the eastern shore of North America. After fighting against Britain in the American Revolution, the colonies became the first 13 states in the newly formed United States.

THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS: The ruling body of the rebellious American Colonies and the first government of the United States. Its leaders, who included many of America’s founders (right), first gathered in September 1774 and met throughout the Revolution to guide the war effort. 

THE 13 COLONIES: Starting in the 17th century, settlers supported by Great Britain established these colonies along the eastern shore of North America. After fighting against Britain in the American Revolution, the colonies became the first 13 states in the newly formed United States.

THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS: The ruling body of the rebellious American Colonies and the first government of the United States. Its leaders, who included many of America’s founders (right), first gathered in September 1774 and met throughout the Revolution to guide the war effort. 

The People’s Fight

In June 1775, Congress approved the formation of a Continental Army and named Washington as its commander. But there were few trained fighters to face the experienced British troops. Washington’s forces were made up mostly of civilians—farmers and tradesmen, both native-born men and immigrants, from all of the 13 colonies. They left their homes to join the struggle for American independence.

As men went off to war, women were often forced to defend their children, homes, and farms on their own. British soldiers routinely raided houses, stealing whatever they could take and destroying everything they couldn’t. 

In their own way, women fought back, however. Many contributed to the war effort by sewing military uniforms. Some followed their husbands, sons, or brothers to the battlefield, working as cooks or nurses in the soldiers’ camps. One Massachusetts woman, Deborah Sampson, even disguised herself as a man to join in the fighting and was wounded in several battles against British forces.

Young people did their part too. Teens 15 and older could sign up to fight with their parents’ permission—and many did. Kids helped manufacture gunpowder and cannonballs. They also served as spies, passing almost unseen among British troops and reporting back to Patriot camps. Andrew Jackson of South Carolina, a future U.S. president, may have been as young as 13 when he served a militia as a messenger.

In June 1775, Congress approved the formation of a Continental Army. Washington was named its commander. But this army had few trained fighters to face the experienced British troops. Washington’s forces were made up mostly of civilians, both farmers and tradesmen. They were a mix of native-born men and immigrants. They came from all of the 13 colonies. They left their homes to join the struggle for American independence.

These men went off to war. Meanwhile, women were often forced to defend their children, homes, and farms on their own. British soldiers routinely raided houses. They stole whatever they could take. And they destroyed everything they could not.

But in their own way, women fought back. Many contributed to the war effort by sewing military uniforms. Some followed their husbands, sons, or brothers to the battlefield. They worked as cooks or nurses in the soldiers’ camps. One Massachusetts woman even disguised herself as a man to join in the fighting. Her name was Deborah Sampson. She was wounded in several battles against British forces.

Young people did their part too. Teens 15 and older could sign up to fight with their parents’ permission. Many did. Kids helped make gunpowder and cannonballs. They also served as spies. They passed almost unseen among British troops and reported back to Patriot camps. Andrew Jackson of South Carolina, who later became a U.S. president, may have been as young as 13 when he served a militia as a messenger.

The Midnight Ride

And then there was Sybil. Her hope for the new nation kept her riding through the April night. At houses scattered across the countryside, she banged on doors, waking families and calling the men to battle.  

In the hours before dawn, Sybil finally made it home, exhausted, as her father’s men were assembling nearby. Militiamen from the area were joining Continental Army units as they rushed to Connecticut to fight the British soldiers.

In the end, the British forces who attacked Danbury got away. The Continental Army’s supplies there had all been destroyed. It was a dark day for the Patriots. There would be many more dark days to come in the fight against Britain. 

But the actions of Sybil and countless others like her eventually led to victory. And Sybil’s ride would make her a symbol of the role everyday people played in winning independence.

And then there was Sybil. Her hope for the new nation kept her riding through the April night. At houses scattered across the countryside, she banged on doors. She woke up families. And she called the men to battle.

In the hours before dawn, Sybil finally made it home, exhausted. Her father’s men were assembling nearby. Militiamen from all around the area were joining Continental Army units as they rushed to Connecticut to fight the British soldiers.

In the end, the British forces who had attacked Danbury got away. The Continental Army’s supplies there had all been destroyed. It was a dark day for the Patriots. There would be many more dark days to come in the fight against Britain.

But the actions of Sybil and countless others like her eventually led to victory for the Americans. And Sybil’s ride would make her a symbol of the role everyday people played in winning America’s independence.

Sybil’s story reflects how everyday people played a role in the founding of our nation.

Sybil’s Story Lives On

What happened to Sybil after her daring ride in April 1777? History books tell us almost nothing about that night—or the rest of her life. She didn’t write her own story down, and there are no other records of it from that time. 

Following the burning of Danbury, fighting between the British and Continental armies lasted for four more grueling years. British forces finally surrendered in October 1781. In 1783, Great Britain and the new United States signed a treaty formally ending the war. 

Historians would go on to write about the great leaders and battles of the Revolution without mentioning the night ride of 16-year-old Sybil Ludington.

But about 60 years after her death in 1839, tales of the young hero suddenly began appearing in accounts of the war. 

Sybil’s story had been kept alive privately by her family, it turned out. Eventually, one of her descendants had shared it with a historian who was writing about the American Revolution. 

From there, the legend of Sybil’s ride began to grow. Over the years, she’s been celebrated differently by each generation. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Sybil represented the bravery of average Americans in hard times. Later, women striving for equality began honoring her as a “foremother” who helped form a nation. 

Sybil’s story captures our imagination because it is thrilling and heroic. It’s also powerful because it reflects how people like Sybil played an important role in the founding of our nation, says historian Vincent Dacquino, who has written four books about her. 

“She was a tough woman who did what she had to do,” he says. “She was exactly what Americans are made of.” 

What happened to Sybil after her daring ride in April 1777? History books tell us almost nothing about that night or about the rest of her life. She did not write down her own story. And there are no other records of it from that time.

Following the burning of Danbury, fighting between the British and Continental armies lasted for four more grueling years. British forces finally surrendered in October 1781. In 1783, Great Britain and the new United States signed a treaty that formally ended the war.

Historians would go on to write about the great leaders and battles of the Revolution. They did not mention the night ride of 16-year-old Sybil Ludington.

But about 60 years after her death in 1839, tales of the young hero suddenly began appearing in stories about the war.

It turned out that Sybil’s story had been kept alive privately by her family. Eventually, one of her descendants had shared it with a historian who was writing about the American Revolution.

From there, the legend of Sybil’s ride began to grow. Over the years, she has been celebrated differently by each generation. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Sybil represented the bravery of average Americans in hard times. Later, women striving for equality began honoring her as a “foremother” who helped form a nation.

Sybil’s story captures our imagination because it is thrilling and heroic. It is also powerful because it reflects how people like Sybil played an important role in the founding of our nation, says historian Vincent Dacquino. He has written four books about her.

“She was a tough woman who did what she had to do,” he says. “She was exactly what Americans are made of.”

Write About It! A person’s legacy is his or her lasting impact. How would you describe Sybil Ludington’s legacy? Why might each generation have celebrated her in different ways?

The 13 Colonies 

Founded by British settlers along the North American coast, the colonies won independence from Britain in the American Revolution, becoming the first 13 states in the U.S.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

MAP SKILLS

1. The 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord took place close to which other city on the map? 

2. The 1781 Battle of Yorktown was fought close to which body of water? In which colony? 

3. What natural formation made up much of the western border of the 13 Colonies?

4. Which of the 13 Colonies was divided into two separate areas at the time of the war?

5. Which city on the map is located at about 40°N, 75°W?

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