On this day:
1777 – Legend tells that Sybil Ludington, aged 16, rode 40 miles to alert American colonial forces to the approach of the British regular forces
Sybil Ludington (April 5, 1761 – February 26, 1839), daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington, has been celebrated as a heroine of the American Revolutionary War who, mounted on her horse, Star, became famous after 1900 for her night ride on April 26, 1777, to alert militia forces to the approach of the British regular forces. The ride was similar to those performed by Jack Jouett, William Dawes and Paul Revere, although she rode more than twice the distance of Revere and was only 16 years old at the time. Her story was first published in 1880 by local historian Martha Lamb/ Lamb stated that her book relied on numerous primary sources, including letters, sermons, genealogical compilations, wills, and court records. Historian Paula Hunt says “Sybil’s ride embraces the mythical meanings and values expressed in the country’s founding. As an individual, she represents Americans’ persistent need to find and create heroes who embody prevalent attitudes and beliefs.”  The legend was attacked by some conservatives as too trivial and too feminist. They did not claim it never happened. More recently prominent conservatives have hailed her exploits. However in 1996 the national Daughters of the American Revolution said the evidence was not strong enough for their criteria and removed a book about her from their bookstore, though the DAR chapter near her home insists her exploit is real and continues to honor her. Paula Hunt concludes, “The story of the lone, teenage girl riding for freedom, it seems, is simply too good not to be believed.” Sybil Ludington was an aunt of Harrison Ludington, a governor of Wisconsin.
Sybil was born in Fredericksburg (now Ludingtonville), Kent, New York. Sybil was the eldest of twelve children. Lewis Ludington was the youngest and born June 25, 1786. Sybil’s mother, Abigail Knowles Ludington, married her first cousin Henry Ludington after meeting him during the French and Indian War. Sybil was conceived a year after the couple married. The small family moved to Dutchess County, New York, where it expanded. They lived on and farmed a very large piece of land.
On April 26, 1777, Sybil Ludington rode forty miles through the night to warn approximately 400 militiamen under the control of her father that British troops were planning to attack Danbury, Connecticut, where the Continental Army had a supply depot. On her way to gather her Father’s troops she warned the people of Danbury. Sybil’s father, Colonel Henry Ludington, fought in the French and Indian War and following that he volunteered to head the local militia during the American Revolution. Due to her father’s position, Sybil had to move from town to town following her father, and unknowingly playing an important role in the success of the colonies. The afternoon after Sybil’s ride through Danbury the British troops burned down three buildings and destroyed multiple houses, but did not kill many people. Unlike Paul Revere, little was spoken of Sybil Ludington’s ride for personal reasons and the only record of this event was written by her great grandson. Ludington’s ride started at 9 p.m. and ended around dawn. She rode 40 miles (64 km) into the damp hours of darkness. She rode through Carmel on to Mahopac, thence to Kent Cliffs, from there to Farmers Mills and back home. She used a stick to prod her horse and knock on doors. She managed to defend herself against a highwayman with a long stick. When, soaked with rain and exhausted, she returned home, most of the 400 soldiers were ready to march.
The men arrived too late to save Danbury, Connecticut. At the start of the Battle of Ridgefield, however, they were able to drive General William Tryon, then governor of the colony of New York, and his men, to Long Island Sound. She was congratulated for her heroism by friends and neighbors and also by General George Washington.
After the war, in 1784, when she was 23 years old, Sybil Ludington married Edmond Ogden, with whom she had one child and named him Henry. Edmond was a farmer and innkeeper, according to various reports. In 1792, she settled with her husband and son in Catskill, where they lived until her death on February 26, 1839, at the age of 77. She was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York. Her tombstone, at right, shows a different spelling of her first name.
In 1935 New York State erected a number of markers along her route. A statue of Sybil, sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington, was erected near Carmel, New York, in 1961 to commemorate her ride. Smaller versions of the statue exist on the grounds of the Daughters of the American Revolution Headquarters in Washington, DC; on the grounds of the public library, Danbury, Connecticut; and in the Elliot and Rosemary Offner museum at Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.
In 1975, Sybil Ludington was honored with a postage stamp in the “Contributors to the Cause” United States Bicentennial series.
Each April since 1979, the Sybil Ludington 50k Run, a 50-kilometre (31 mi) ultramarathon footrace, has been held in Carmel, New York. The course of this hilly road race approximates Sybil’s historic ride, and finishes near her statue on the shore of Lake Gleneida, Carmel, New York. Poet Berton Braley wrote a poem about the event. The following is an excerpt of the full poem that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal in 1940.
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of a lovely feminine Paul Revere
Who rode an equally famous ride
Through a different part of the countryside
In April, Seventeen Seventy-Seven
A smokey glow in the eastern heaven
A fiery herald of war and slaughter
Came to the eyes of the Colonel’s daughter
“Danbury’s burning,” she cried aloud
The Colonel answered, “Tis but a cloud”
A cloud reflecting the campfire’s red
So hush you, Sybil, and go to bed
The door’s flung open, a voice is heard
Danbury’s burning — I rode with word
Send a messenger, get your men!
His message finished, the horseman then
Staggered wearily to chair
And fell exhausted in a slumber there
The Colonel muttered, and who my friend,
Who is the messenger I can send?
Who is my messenger to be?
Said Sybil Ludington, “You have me.”
So over the trails to the towns and farms
Sybil delivered the call to arms,
Up! up! there, soldier! You’re needed to come!
The British are marching! — and then the drum
Of her horse’s feet as she rode apace
To bring more men to the meeting place
Such is the legend of Sybil’s ride
To summon the men from the countryside
A true tale, making her title clear
As a lovely feminine Paul Revere.
Born on this day:
1774 – Christian Leopold von Buch, German geologist and paleontologist (d. 1853)
Christian Leopold von Buch (April 26, 1774 – March 4, 1853) was a German geologist and paleontologist born in Stolpe an der Oder (now a part of Angermünde, Brandenburg) and is remembered as one of the most important contributors to geology in the first half of the nineteenth century. His scientific interest was devoted to a broad spectrum of geological topics: volcanism, fossils, stratigraphy and more. His most remembered accomplishment is the scientific definition of the Jurassic system.
He was known as Leopold von Buch.
Buch studied with Alexander von Humboldt under Abraham Gottlob Werner at the mining school in Freiberg, Saxony. He afterwards completed his education at the universities of Halle and Göttingen.
German and Italian explorations
He began writing on geological topics early in life. His Versuch einer mineralogischen Beschreibung von Landeck (Breslau, 1797) was translated into French (Paris, 1805), and into English as Attempt at a Mineralogical Description of Landeck (Edinburgh, 1810). In 1802 he published Entwurf einer geognostischen Beschreibung von Schlesien (“The Geognosy of Silesia”), which became the first volume of his Geognostische Beobachtungen auf Reisen durch Deutschland und Italien (“Geognistic Observations while Travelling through Germany and Italy”, see below). He was at this time a zealous upholder of the Neptunian theory of Werner, with some modifications. In 1797, he met Humboldt at Salzburg, and with him explored the geological formations of Styria, and the adjoining Alps. In the spring of 1798, Buch extended his excursions into Italy, where his faith in the Neptunian theory was shaken. In his early works, he had advocated the aqueous origin of basaltic and other formations, but now he saw cause to abandon Werner’s theory, and to recognize the volcanic origin of the basalts.
He saw Vesuvius for the first time in 1799. Later, in 1805, he had the opportunity, along with Humboldt and Gay Lussac, of witnessing its actual eruption. It was a remarkable eruption, and supplied Buch with data for refuting many erroneous ideas then entertained regarding volcanoes. In 1802 he examined the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne in the south of France. The aspect of the Puy de Dôme, with its cone of trachyte and its strata of basaltic lava, induced him to abandon as untenable the doctrines of Werner on the formation of these rocks. The results of all these geological travels were given to the world in the two volumes of his Geognostische Beobachtungen (Berlin, 1802 and 1809).
In 1806, Buch proceeded to Scandinavia and spent two years in examining its physical constitution. This furnished the materials for his work entitled Reise durch Norwegen und Lappland (“Travels in Norway and Lapland”, Berlin, 1810). He made many important observations on the geography of plants, on climatology and on geology. He showed that many of the erratic blocks on the North German plains must have come from Scandinavia. He also established the fact that the whole of Sweden is slowly but continuously rising above the level of the sea from Frederikshald to Abo.
Canary Islands and the Atlantic
In 1815 Buch visited the Canary Islands in company with Christen Smith, a Norwegian botanist. These volcanic isles furnished the starting point from which Buch commenced a regular course of study on the production and activity of volcanoes. This is attested by his standard work on the subject entitled Physical Description of the Canary Isles (1825). His observations convinced him that these and other islands of the Atlantic owed their existence to volcanic action of the most intense kind, whereas the groups of islands in the South Sea were the remains of a pre-existing continent. During his time in the Canary Islands, he visited the Las Cañadas Caldera on Tenerife and the Caldera de Taburiente on La Palma. When he published his memoirs and observations about his excursion, he introduced the Spanish word “Caldera” (meaning “Bowl”) into the geological and scientific vocabulary. After his return from the Canaries he visited the basaltic group of the Hebrides and the coasts of Scotland and Ireland.
Buch’s geological excursions, even in countries which he had repeatedly visited before, continued without interruption until a very advanced age: eight months before his death he visited the mountains of the Auvergne, and on returning home he read a paper on the Jurassic formation before the Academy of Berlin. Humboldt, who had known him intimately for a period of more than sixty years, called him the greatest geologist of that period. Buch was unmarried and lived aloof from the world, entirely devoted to scientific pursuits. His excursions were always taken on foot, with a staff in his hand, and the large pockets of his overcoat filled with papers and geological instruments.
He died in Berlin.
In the third edition of his On the Origin of Species published in 1861, Charles Darwin added a Historical Sketch giving due credit to naturalists who had preceded him in publishing the opinion that species undergo modification, and that the existing forms of life have descended by true generation from pre-existing forms. According to Darwin:
The celebrated geologist and naturalist, Von Buch, in his excellent ‘Description physique des Isles Canaries’ (1836, p. 147), clearly expresses his belief that varieties slowly become changed into permanent species, which are no longer capable of intercrossing.
Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr has written that Buch was the first naturalist to suggest geographic speciation, in 1825.
Memberships and honors
In 1825, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Buch was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 19XX.
Recipient of the Blue Max
Elected as the first foreign member of the Geological Society of London
The German Geological Society (DGG) named its Leopold-von-Buch-Plakette after him.
Besides the works already mentioned, he was the author of many important tracts on paleontology, for example:
On the Ammonites, 1832
On the Terebratulae, 1834
On the Ceratites, 1841
On the Cystidae, 1845
Other noteworthy books were:
Geological Map of Germany (42 sheets), Berlin, 1832
Über den Jur in Deutschland, 1839