CARMEL, N.Y. - Vince Dacquino is a seeker of truths. The author and retired teacher has a new book out, several decades in the making, that he believes finally sets the record straight on the life and celebrated late-night ride of Putnam County heroine Sybil Ludington.
The longtime Mahopac resident will release “Patriot Hero of the Hudson Valley: The Life and Ride of Sybil Ludington” (Arcadia Publishing) on April 1—his second book on Ludington—and it contains letters, correspondence and documents that he says will put to rest once and for all any doubts about what the fabled teen accomplished on the dark and rainy night of April 26, 1777.
When researching his first book on Ludington back in the ’90s, he uncovered information that Ludington had married her childhood sweetheart, a lawyer, and moved to Catskill, N.Y., and became the mother of six children and her son went on to became a hero in Kansas.
Unfortunately, none of that was true. But Dacquino was able to find documentation to counter that misinformation and he put it in that first book.
“I found papers in Washington, D.C., that helped tell the story,” he said. “By the end of the three years, I finally got it all straightened out. I published what I found.”
But then, last year, Dacquino’s publisher said they were not going to continue to print the book and the rights reverted to him.
Curious, Dacquino began checking the internet and discovered that those old stories about Ludington moving to the Catskills and her son becoming a hero had emerged once again. And to make matters worse, even more inaccuracies about Sybil’s life and ride had emerged online, such as, 1) Sybil Ludington never existed; she was a folktale; 2) her father, Col. Henry Ludington, was never involved in engaging the British troops in Connecticut; 3) the ride never took place; and 4) even if it did, the battle that preceded it was insignificant.
“As soon as I saw those four things I was back behind the wheel and had to put it right,” Dacquino said. “My new book has documentation and it will blow readers minds with my discovery, which includes family letters and documents that have never been seen before, including a letter from her nephew in 1854 discussing the ride and how she saved her father’s life.”
Dacquino laid out the story:
“[Sybil] had just turned 16,” Dacquino said. “She was at home with her father on a Sunday night and it was pouring rain. None of his troops [resided] near his house. A messenger came around 9 p.m. and said, ‘We need your men; 2,000 British soldiers have invaded Danbury.’ The only one available who knew where the farmers lived was this 16-year-old girl. She probably went to the officers and told them to gather their men and get to the parade grounds because they need to head to Danbury.”
Dacquino said her nephew’s 1854 letter does slightly alter the route that historians originally believed Sybil had taken.
“She went about 40 miles round trip on a rainy night through the woods,” he said. “Paul Revere went 12 miles on a nice evening in Boston. Paul Revere was caught and detained; Sybil was not.”
Col. Ludington’s men set off at daybreak, expecting to go to Danbury, but the British had moved on to Ridgefield and the colonel’s forces engaged them there.
“It was a significant battle, we lost an important general,” Dacquino said. “Homes were burned; farms were burned. Benedict Arnold fought in that battle (before he turned traitor) and had his horse shot out from under him. The British burned all kinds of supplies—blankets and flour and molasses—and it weakened the patriot army.”
The Ludington family has donated the letter written by her nephew to the New York State Historical Society.
“We now have an account of the ride from a direct descendent,” Dacquino said. “All these naysayers will now have a much harder time to say she didn’t make the ride.”
Dacquino, who has dedicated his life to teaching and writing, came to Mahopac in 1986. He’s had a 35-year career as an English and writing teacher, including stints in the Ardsley and Pelham school districts. He retired in 2007 but a writing workshop he started in 1997 continues to run at the Mahopac Public Library.
“I work with area authors,” he said. “I also worked with the BOCES Young Authors Conference with select students from 20 different schools. I had a master class to help students edit their work, showing them how to improve it. I also had something called the Peanut Butter & Jelly Writing Academy at Pelham. I taught younger students; we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cookies and milk, and we wrote.”
He recently received the Paul Harris Fellowship Award for community service. Dacquino has written books for children, young adults and adults, including, “Kiss the Candy Days Good-bye,” “Return of the Cicada,” “Emails to a Paranormal,” “Flowers by the Roadside” and “Mary Loved Daisies.”
Dacquino hosted a cable-access show called “Let’s Talk Writing” on Comcast channel 8 and completed 100 shows over five years. After that show’s run, he launched a new program called “One on One With Vince Dacquino” where guests talk about their passions.
Dacquino said his Sybil Ludington tome was inspired by other historical events in Putnam County, such as the hanging of George Denny.
“George Denny was the only person to be hanged in Putnam County; he was 18,” he said. “It caught my eye. It’s questionable whether that boy should have been hanged at all.”
It’s said that Denny’s ghost is the one responsible for the alleged hauntings at Smalley’s Tavern, which is right across from the courthouse where the hanging took place.
“I listen to the stories and investigate them carefully and determine what is correct and what is not correct,” he said. “That’s what brought me to Sybil, and I’ve been tracing her story for more than 20 years,” he said.
Sybil Ludington lived to be 77.
“She was an outstanding daughter, wife and businesswoman,” Dacquino said. “She was an amazing woman and deserves to be recognized. In every way she was a hero. She was what Americans are made of.”
Dacquino will be on a book tour this spring. Dates include:• April 5 - Antipodean Books, 6:30 p.m., 29 Garrison Landing, Garrison• April 6 - Putnam County History Museum, 5 p.m., 63 Chestnut St., Cold Spring• April 7 - Keeler Tavern Garden House, 2 p.m., 132 Main St., Ridgefield, Conn.• April 10 - “Locally Sourced” TV interview with Armanda Famiglietti, Comcast Channel 21, available on www.vtdacquino.com• April 20 - Split Rock Books, 6 p.m., 97 Main St., Cold Spring• April 24 - Kent Historical Society monthly meeting, 6:30 p.m., Kent Cliffs firehouse, Rt. 301, Kent Cliffs• April 28 - Tompkins Corners Cultural Center, 2 p.m., Peekskill Hollow Road, Putnam Valley