Illustration of men in colonial army uniforms shooting guns as canons go off in the background
Art by Allan Davey

Girl. Fighter. Hero.

Our thrilling play is based on the true story of teen hero Sybil Ludington, a brave Revolutionary War messenger.

By Mack Lewis
From the Issue

Learning Objective: Students will identify and summarize important events and details in a historical fiction play.

Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50
Topics: History,


As you read each scene, think about what’s most important in it. How would you sum up what happened?


H1: In 1776, America’s 13 Colonies were ruled by King George of England.

H2: Americans had to follow the king’s rules.

H1: But some Americans wanted to be free to rule themselves. These people were called Patriots.

H2: Others remained loyal to King George. They were called Loyalists.

H1: A war broke out. The Loyalists supported the British Army.

H2: On the Patriot side, George Washington led the Continental Army.

H1: This was the American Revolution, a dangerous and violent time in our history.

H2: A time when Patriots and Loyalists lived next door to each other. You never knew who you could trust.

H1: Only one thing was certain: This war would determine the future of America.

 March 1777, Hudson Highlands, New York

H2: Our story begins with 16-year-old Sybil Ludington. Her father was a Patriot and a commander of the local militia.

H1: The militia was a group of Patriot fighters. They were ordinary men—farmers, shopkeepers, and other civilians. They were gathered, or “called up,” to help the Continental Army in times of emergency.

N1: On a damp, dark night, a man in a black cloak knocks on the Ludingtons’ door.

N2: Sybil cracks the door open. Her mother and seven siblings look on, tense with fear.

Sybil: Yes, what is it?

N1: The man speaks in a whisper. His face is hidden by a hood.

Mr. Crosby: I have urgent news.

Sybil: Show your face, sir.

N2: The man looks around, making sure he was not followed. He peels back his hood.

Sybil: Mr. Crosby, dear friend!

N1: Sybil flings open the door. He enters.

Sybil: Why were you hiding your face?

Crosby: I did not recognize the horse out front. I didn’t know who might be here.

Sybil: That’s my new horse, Star.

Crosby: I’ve come to tell you that the British put up a reward for your father’s capture.

Sybil: Oh, no! He’s out gathering weapons. I must warn him.

Crosby: You stay here, Miss Sybil. I’ll go.

Sybil: I am perfectly able! Mr. Crosby, do you think it fair that women cannot join the militia?

Mother: Sybil, leave poor Mr. Crosby alone.

Sybil: But you know I am as skilled as any boy.

Crosby: No one doubts that, brave girl. But we are at war. The threats are real.

Late at night, April 6, 1777

N2: Sybil, a long gun in hand, is standing guard in front of her house. Mary runs up.

Mary: Men on horseback are coming! One of them is that rat Mr. Prosser.

Sybil: They must be after the reward for Father. If they find out Father isn’t here, they may attack us—maybe even set the house on fire.

N1: Sybil goes inside and wakes up her siblings.

Sybil: Everyone! Light candles and walk back and forth in front of the windows. Quickly! We must make it look like there are many men in the house.

N2: Prosser’s men ride up to the house and take positions behind the trees. They see shadowy shapes pacing in front of the windows.

Mr. Prosser: The Colonel is well-guarded tonight.

N1: Sybil and her siblings have fooled them into believing the house is full of soldiers.

Aide 1: It looks like there are a hundred troops in there.

Aide 2: Too many to fight.

Prosser: Hold your positions. We will attack when they leave.

N2: Hours pass and still the “soldiers” pace.

Prosser (frustrated): Move out, men. We will return another night.


Like many people in the 13 Colonies, Sybil Ludington believed strongly in independence. She believed that Americans should rule themselves as their own country and no longer belong to England. The Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, and the Declaration of Independence was signed a year later, on July 4, 1776. The war went on for another six years.

Evening, April 26, 1777

N1: The family is preparing for bed when there’s a pounding on the door. Sybil’s father answers.

Messenger (out of breath): Colonel Ludington! The British are invading Danbury. You must call up the militia and prepare for battle.

Colonel: My men are scattered over many miles. It will take all night to alert them!

Messenger: You and your men must march to Danbury at once. We have important supplies to protect there—food, tents, shoes, and weapons.

Colonel: Very well. Ride on and tell my men to gather here. I will organize them as they arrive.

N2: The messenger collapses on a bench, exhausted.

Messenger: I can go no farther, sir. I’ve already ridden 20 miles. Plus, I am not familiar with this area. How will I find all the members of your militia?

N1: Sybil steps forward.

Sybil: I will go, Father.

Messenger: You? You’re just a girl.

Sybil: I know these roads like no one else.

Messenger: Then you know that Loyalist bandits hide out in the forest. If they catch you, they may not let you go, especially since you are the Colonel’s daughter.

N2: Sybil stands tall with her shoulders back.

Sybil: Father, you know I can do it.

N1: Her eyes shine with determination. The Colonel hands her a long stick.

Colonel: Take this. Bang on each house as you ride past. Do not stop.

N2: Sybil hoists herself onto Star. She points at the fiery glow in the distance.

Sybil: Danbury burns as we speak. Hiya!

N1: Sybil rides off.

Messenger: You have sent her to her doom.

Colonel: You do not know my Sybil.


Later that night in the Highlands

N2: The wind howls. Sybil races along the rugged dirt road.

N1: She bangs on the shutters of the first house.

Sybil: The British are attacking Danbury! Tell your neighbors: Gather at Ludington’s.

N2: It starts raining as Sybil rides on to Carmel. She raises her stick to bang on another house.

N1: Suddenly, a man with a long gun steps out.

Mr. Scribner: Who goes there? Friend or foe?

Sybil: Sybil Ludington.

Scribner: What’s the news?

Sybil: The British are sacking Danbury! Gather at Ludington’s!

Scribner: I shall spread the word!

N2: The storm worsens, and Sybil’s clothes are soon soaked through. She rides on, shivering, her teeth chattering.

N1: When Sybil arrives in Mahopac, her legs ache terribly and her neck is stiff.

N2: She leans out to bang on the shutters of a cottage and slips, falling into the mud.

N1: Sybil clutches her ankle in terrible pain as a woman appears in the doorway.

Mrs. Shaw: Why, Miss Sybil, what are you doing way out here?

Sybil: Calling up the militia.

Shaw (helping Sybil up): A little thing like you shouldn’t be out riding in the dark of night. You are so far from home.

Sybil: People are depending on me.

Shaw: Let the men worry about the fighting. Come warm yourself in front of the fire, dear.

N2: Mrs. Shaw takes Sybil by the arm and leads her toward the door. Sybil breaks free.

Sybil: If the British take Danbury, they will keep going and come this way. They will burn our homes. They will capture and kill my father. Our dream of freedom will be as dead as ash.

N1: Sybil hobbles back to Star and climbs on.

Sybil: I must continue on.

N2: Sybil rides off, her voice echoing in the night.

Sybil: To arms! To arms!


Even though women were not allowed to join the army, they helped in important ways. Women cooked for the army, ran into battle with water for soldiers, sewed military clothes, and fed and cared for the wounded. Women and children also helped make gunpowder and cannonballs. The women who stayed behind often had to keep their homes safe, as Sybil did, while their fathers, husbands, and sons were away fighting. There were also women who dressed up as men to be able to fight.

Near dawn, April 27, 1777

N1: Sybil and Star trudge down the road.

N2: Sybil sees shadowy figures in the distance.

Sybil: Whoa, boy.

N1: A group of bandits steps out in front of her. They surround her, grabbing Star’s reins.

Sybil: Get back, you thieves! How dare you!

Bandit 1: Now, now, little miss. We mean only to take your purse.

Bandit 2: And your horse.

Sybil: I’d die before I’d see a Loyalist on my horse.

Prosser (appearing): That can be arranged.

N2: Sybil feels herself being pulled down. Star rears up on his hind legs, kicking. Sybil slips off and hits the ground—hard.

Sybil: Mr. Prosser? How low you have fallen!

Prosser: Ha! It looks like you are the one who has fallen.

Sybil (standing): You’ll never get away with this.

N1: With her stick, Sybil jabs wildly at the bandits. They step back, surprised, giving her just enough time to hop up on Star.

Sybil (as she races off): You shall pay for your wickedness!

Early morning, April 27, 1777

N2: Sybil, slumped forward in Star’s saddle, emerges from the trees to see her home bathed in morning light.

N1: In front of her house stand some 400 men: the militia. The Colonel is calling out directions.

N2: Sybil’s mother and sisters are carrying food and water. Her little brothers are feeding the horses. One of the men sees Sybil.

Scribner: Sybil Ludington the Brave! You have done it! We are off to defend our territory.

All: Cheers for Sybil the Brave! Hooray!

N1: The men clap and cheer.

Colonel (proudly): I knew you could do it, Sybil.

May 1777

N2: Sybil is mending a saddle when Mary rushes over.

Mary: Come quick! Continental soldiers are marching up the road!

N1: Sybil follows Mary out to see her father with General George Washington and an army of men.

Colonel: General Washington would like a word with you.

N2: Sybil walks over and curtsies. The General extends his hand.

Washington: I want to shake the hand of the person who gathered our troops to defend Danbury.

Sybil: Thank you, sir. But I understand we were too late. Danbury was destroyed.

Washington: We may not have saved our supplies, but we forced the British out of the area and kept many citizens safe.

N1: Sybil smiles.

Washington: Young lady, you rode 40 miles in the dead of night! Many of my men could not have done that.

Sybil: I am honored to have helped. And I hope I have shown you that it is not only the best “men” who can fight for freedom.

This play was originally published in the December 2016 / January 2017 issue.  

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Activities (9)
Quizzes (2)
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More About the Story


summarizing, fluency, vocabulary, close reading, character, character’s motivation, inference, plot, synthesizing, informational writing

Complexity Factors

Levels of Meaning

This play has two purposes: to relate a historical event in which a teenage girl made a courageous ride to gather a militia in the American Revolution, and to highlight a young woman's accomplishment as evidence of women's equality with men.


The play is mainly chronological, with a prologue to provide background and context.


The play includes some challenging academic and domain-specific words (e.g. militia, trudges, territory) and a few plays on words.

Knowledge Demands 

The play refers (with explanations) to Patriots, Loyalists, the Continental Army, and the 13 Colonies. Familiarity with the American Revolution and the Colonial Period will be helpful.

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Watch a Video/Preview Text Features

  • Both our video “Time Machine: The American Revolution” and the captions with the feature provide important background information that will help students understand the play. 
  • Distribute the video/text features activity sheet and preview questions with students. 
  • Show the video. Invite students to share what they thought was interesting or surprising in it. Then, as a class, look at the pictures and read the captions in the play. 
  • Have students do the activity in small groups; they will need to draw on information from the video and the captions to complete it.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes, activity sheet online)

  • Distribute our vocabulary activity sheet to preview the highlighted words and their definitions. 
  • Highlighted words: militia, civilians, cloak, rugged, trudge, emerges, territory 

Set a Purpose for Reading (10 minutes)

  • Call on a student to read the Up Close box on page 21. 
  • Distribute the summarizing activity, which gives students an opportunity to summarize each scene as they read.

2. Reading the Play

Close-Reading Questions (20 minutes)

  • Reread the prologue. In 1776, what did the Patriots want? What did the Loyalists want? (summarizing) The Patriots wanted to be free from King George of England and to rule themselves. The Loyalists wanted to continue to be ruled by King George. They supported the British army. 
  • Reread Scene 1. What is Sybil like? Which details support your answer? (character) Sybil is brave and confident, and thinks women are as able as men. While her family looks on “tense with fear,” Sybil opens the door for a stranger. When she learns that someone must warn her father about the British, she immediately says that she’ll go. She challenges Mr. Crosby on whether women should be able to join the militia, saying, “I am as skilled as any boy.” 
  • In Scene 2, how does Sybil fool Mr. Prosser and his aides? What does this show about her? (character) Sybil has her siblings walk in front of the windows carrying candles to make Mr. Prosser and his aides believe many soldiers are in the house. This shows that she is clever and quick-thinking. 
  • At the end of Scene 3, why does Sybil’s father agree to let Sybil gather the troops? (character’s motivation) Colonel Ludington knows that the troops must be gathered immediately and that Sybil is up to the job. When the messenger suggests that she can’t do it, the Colonel says, “You do not know my Sybil.”
  • What challenges does Sybil face in Scene 4? (inference) Sybil rides through pouring rain, becoming wet and cold. Her long ride makes her legs ache and neck stiff. She must break free from Mrs. Shaw, who thinks a girl shouldn’t ride in the dark.
  • In Scene 5, what does Sybil mean when she says to Prosser, “How low you have fallen!”? (inference) She means that Prosser has become a terrible, shameful person. He suggests that he would kill Sybil for her horse, and he pulls her off of it. 
  • Based on Scenes 6 and 7, what did Sybil achieve with her ride? (plot) Sybil successfully gathered the militia; 400 men showed up at the Ludingtons’ house. They then went to defend Danbury. Although the city was destroyed, the militia forced the British out of the area and saved citizens’ lives

Critical-Thinking Question 

  •  What does Sybil mean by her last line in the play? How does the caption on page 24 support her statement? (synthesizing) Sybil says, “I hope I have shown you that it is not only the best ‘men’ who can fight for freedom.” She means that women can fight for freedom as well, as she did when she gathered the militia. The caption explains that women helped in other ways too. They cooked for soldiers and brought them water in battle, sewed military uniforms, and took care of the wounded. Some even dressed up as men so they could join the fight. 

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Summarizing

  • Have students use the summarizing activity they completed as they read to help them respond to the writing prompt on page 25. 
  • As an optional extension, have students decorate their articles to look like colonial newspapers and display them on your bulletin board.

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Use our summarizing activity and answer key as a guide to prepare your own summary to share with students before they read each scene. Alternatively, do this with the first few scenes, then let students summarize the rest after reading. 

For Advanced Readers

Have students use the summaries they wrote, along with additional research, to create a picture book about Sybil Ludington and her ride. Each summary can be the basis for a page of text, which students can then illustrate.

For ELL Students

Show students a map of the United States and point out the states that made up the original 13 Colonies. Show them where New York and Connecticut, the states relevant to the play, are.

For Guided Reading

Work with individual groups on one or two scenes at a time, focusing on identifying the key events or details in each scene. As you work with groups, have other students answer some or all of the questions on the CloseReading and Critical-Thinking activity sheet.