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Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Three Revolutionary Women

Since my work recently has led me to delve into America’s Revolutionary War, I'm uncovering names and people with whom I had no prior knowledge, but who were ordinary people who lived during extraordinary times. Many of the names I’m working with are well known: George Washington, Samuel Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Paul Revere, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin. These brave men are the ones who crafted the Constitution and designed our current form of government. We’ve heard stories about these men over the years, but there were women living here too, who were every bit as brave and outspoken against British tyranny. We’ve all heard stories about women who spent the war posing as men and fighting alongside them in battle. But there were others, every bit as brave and loyal. Allow me to introduce three of them to you. 

Sybil Ludington, The Female Paul Revere

Sybil was born in 1761, the eldest of twelve children born to Henry and Abigail Ludington. She grew up in Dutchess County, NY, where her father toiled as a farmer and miller. Henry received his military training during the French and Indian War and served as an aide to George Washington at the outbreak of the Revolution. When that war began in earnest, Henry became a militia colonel who commanded the seventh regiment of the Dutchess County militia, a volunteer group whose area of involvement included a route favored by the British, running between upper New York, Connecticut and Long Island Sound. 

In April 1777, Colonel Ludington’s troops had disbanded in order to take care of the spring planting. A horseman galloped up to the Ludington home with news that Danbury, 25 miles away, was under attack by the British. At the time, the town of Danbury was being used as a storehouse for Continental Army supplies. In addition to destroying Army supplies, any home deemed not loyal to the British was to be set on fire. 

The messenger had ridden hard and both he and his horse were spent. The Colonel needed to muster his troops, which numbered 400, without leaving his home, where they would all assemble. It fell to Sybil to spread the word. 

Whether she volunteered or was forced into service, one thing is clear about Sybil. She was a sixteen-year-old female, riding a work horse, using a man’s saddle and a halter made from hemp. She set off on her journey of about forty miles to rouse the men. The part of New York state she was in still to this day contains dangerous and rugged roads, so you can imagine what it was like to cover such ground in the dark, in the rain, and on horseback. She also had to avoid any British soldiers in the area, British loyalists and outlaw bands roaming in the region. Paul Revere’s ride was only about twenty miles, by comparison.

Sybil succeeded in her mission, and by morning the men had all mustered at her father's home, from where they marched to Danbury. They arrived too late to stop the carnage, but they fought the British as they were leaving Danbury and made them pay dearly for the invasion. Sybil was later personally thanks for her service by George Washington himself. Today, a statue of Sybil Ludington is on display in Carmel, NY.

Statue of Sybil Ludington on Gleneida Avenue in Carmel, New York by Anna Hyatt Huntington | Public domain image, from Wikimedia Commons

Emily Geiger, Patriotic South Carolinian

The British invaded the Carolinas in 1781. Generals Nathanael Greene, Thomas Sumter, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee and Francis Marion, who later became known as The Swamp Fox were charged with the responsibility of ridding South Carolina of the British. With a unit of British reinforcements coming, General Greene felt if his forces could combine with General Sumter’s, they could overtake the reinforcements and do major damage. However, seventy miles of rough terrain separated the two generals, much of it marshland, and there were British sympathizers at every turn. 

General Greene put out a plea for a civilian to deliver a message to General Sumter. It would be dangerous work, and his men were ill and weak from lack of food. Eighteen-year-old Emily Geiger overheard her invalid father discussing the general’s dilemma and his call for help. She walked to General Greene’s camp, a few miles from where she lived with her father, and bravely offered to act as a courier for him. She was familiar with the route and wished to help the colonists any way she could. A desperate general agreed with her and wrote the letter to be delivered to General Sumter. 

She created a story for herself that she was going to see her uncle, just in case anyone should ask. But Tories were everywhere in South Carolina, and one had witnessed her arrival and subsequent departure from the general’s camp. She was tailed by the British from the moment she left camp. 

Not suspecting she had been seen leaving the colonist’s camp, Emily rode hard about halfway to her goal. Fatigue and darkness forced her to beg for a room for the night from a total stranger. Unfortunately for Emily, the stranger was secretly a Tory. The man tracking her followed her to this house and decided he too needed some sleep before apprehending Emily. She woke upon the man’s arrival and decided to escape after everyone fell back asleep. She snuck out the window, saddled her horse and took off, knowing the man she’d left sleeping would be after her as soon as he woke. 

She got about 2/3 of the way to her goal when she was stopped by three British soldiers. They became suspicious of her story that she was to visit an uncle, and the fact her horse had been ridden hard made them more suspect. They captured Emily and took her to the camp of the British general, Lord Rawdon. He questioned her and found her answers evasive, so he ordered her locked into an upstairs room and went in search of a woman who could frisk her. 

She quickly realized her dilemma and feared for her life should the missive to General Sumter be found. She opened the letter from General Greene, memorized its contents, and tore the letter into bite-sized pieces, which she began to eat. By the time the woman arrived and searched her and her clothing, nothing was left of the letter. General Rawdon let her go, but had his men accompany her to what they assumed was her uncle’s house, a few miles away. This home belonged to a colonist, who offered her a fresh mount and a guide to show her a shorter way to get where she was going. The guide helped her navigate her way through the night but left her the next morning. 

She continued her perilous ride until the afternoon of the third day, when she came upon soldiers in the Patriot uniforms. They delivered her to General Sumter. Even though she was hungry, bone-tired and near to passing out, she delivered the message she’d been sent with. General Sumter marshaled his forces and they left within an hour of Emily’s arrival, on their way to General Greene. 

Three chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution in South Carolina were named for this patriotic female of the Revolution and she is now part of the South Carolina state seal. The woman holding the laurel branch is the image of Emily Geiger.   

Lydia Darragh, Quaker Pacifist

Alas, no pictures exist of Lydia Darragh, nor are there any bronze statues in her honor. She was a Quaker woman, living in the Philadelphia area during the war. Born in 1729 in Dublin, Ireland, she emigrated to America around 1756 with her husband, William. He worked as a tutor and she was a midwife. In October 1777, the British troops occupied Philadelphia, and General Howe took over a large parlor room of the Darragh home for his staff meetings. In December 1777, Lydia was told of a major meeting that would take place that evening, and that she should retire early. 

Instead of going to sleep, Lydia listened through the door and learned that the British troops were being ordered to leave the city in a few days to make a surprise attack on the Continental Army camped at White Marsh, under the guidance of George Washington. She scurried back to bed when the British disassembled, and had to be roused to follow them out, lock the door and extinguish the candles. 

The following day, Lydia was given permission to cross British lines in order to buy some flour. She dropped off her empty bag at the mill and headed to Washington’s camp. She delivered the message about the impending attack on their encampment and returned to the mill for her flour. When the British attempted their attack, the Americans were ready for them, and they were repelled, resulting in a Patriot victory.

In 2013, the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution created the Lydia Darragh Medal, which may be awarded at any time to any lady who works behind the scenes to support the causes of the Sons of the American Revolution. 


  1. This was a great post, Becky. I am researching the pre-American Revolution for my present WIP and discovered Sybil's ride in that research. I'm so glad you are working on a Revolution story.
    You chose some exemplary women in history who had courage and intelligence. It's a shame they are not heralded as much as men in the history we learned in school.
    Can't wait to see what your story is going to be. Happy holidays, Becky!

    1. Have a great new year, Sarah. Can't wait to read your WIP. I find the Revolutionary War period to be such a vibrant setting and a perfect backdrop for feisty women.

  2. These women are unsung heroes whose stories are every bit as, and even more, interesting than the stories of men who made it into the traditional history books. (Hope that made some sort of sense - lol). Happy Holidays to you!

    1. I agree, Kaye. These more or less unsung heroines helped shape our country and deserve their moment in the sun.

  3. Astounding courage and ingenuity. What a great post!These stories make me wonder how many have been lost in the mists of time, and remain forgotten.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, C.A. There are a lot of people who helped shape the war but will never be named in the history books. Glad I could highlight 3 of them.

  4. Thank you for telling their story. Doris

    1. Thanks, Doris. I enjoyed finding these ladies and wonder how many more there are.