Famous people who may never have existed

Sybil Ludington

Sybil Ludington is remembered for having been forgotten, an unsung heroine from the Revolutionary War eclipsed by a lesser contemporary. Known by many as the female Paul Revere, Ludington legendarily rode 40 miles alone in the rain over difficult terrain to warn Connecticut Yankees that the British were coming for more than crumpets. At just 16 years old, she braved the dangers of tea-swilling troops and lurking lawbreakers, sounding the alarm in Putnam County, Mahopac, and Stormville. And it was 1777, so there was no 7-Eleven to save her from a snack attack.

According to that account, history should laud Ludington more than it reveres Revere because she traveled double the distance he did under dismal conditions. But tell that to history and it might call you a filthy liar due to lack of reliable sources. As per Smithsonian Magazine, the first mention of Ludington’s ride didn’t appear until 1880, more than a century after it supposedly happened. Not one previous account of women in the Revolutionary War or record from a place Ludington reportedly warned references her heroics. That’s no small oversight, considering that women of the age (understandably) wanted to vaunt their own contributions to American independence.

Nowadays Ludington’s face features on stamps and in coloring books. She has become a mascot for feminists and anti-Communists as well as a bogey-woman for certain political factions. She’s as real or fake as people need her to be to make a point, much like history itself.