About the author
Erick Berry (1892–1974) was a pseudonym used by Allena Chapman. She was born in Albany, New York and studied art at the Eric Pape School in Boston and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. After working as a commercial artist, she went to further her studies in Paris, and then travelled in West Africa. It was there that she met her second husband, Herbert Best, who worked for the British Government. She illustrated all of his children’s books, and most of her own.
Erick Berry wrote or illustrated over 100 books. Her most notable titles were Winged Girl of Knossos, which she wrote and illustrated, and which was the recipient of a 1934 Newbery Honor award, and Apprentice of Florence and Garram the Hunter, a Boy of the Hill Tribes, which she illustrated and which were Newbery Honor winners in 1934 and 1931 respectively.
Many of her books were non fiction, and amongst them is Sybil Ludington’s Ride, based on a true story. Berry first encountered the story when driving to a new house she had just bought with her husband in Connecticut. Along a small section of the road passing through Croton Falls, New York, was a series of blue and white markers, which pointed out a small section of Sybil Ludington’s ride. Berry had never heard of either Sybil or her ride, but she was intrigued. She investigated and found a poem, a short write-up and a map. She and her husband re-visited the area, and found an old mill, “a sturdy, rough little clapboard building along a noisy stream, painted buttermilk red.” Through its then owner they were able to trace a descendent of Sybil Ludington, and through her found a book about the family in the New York State Library – not a riveting read.
The book provided Berry with useful biographical information, but for the sake of her story, she took some major liberties with Sybil’s family background. Sybil was a member of a large family, but:
“For the story’s sake… I discarded all but her father and one younger obstreperous sister. Writers are allowed liberty with facts, and for story purposes a half-orphan is so much freer to move around. Really it’s the little horse that interested me almost as much as Sybil’s ride. I always see a book in pictures and these illustrations were great fun to do.”
Sybil Ludington was in fact one of twelve, whose father was Col Ludington, a mill owner who served as leader of the local militia when the locality was threatened by the British. On April 26, 1777, Col Ludington found out the British were attacking Danbury, Connecticut. He needed to muster his troops to defend the area, and also warn residents of the imminent threat. Sybil volunteered. She rode around 40 miles through Carmel, Mahopac and Stormville, through mud and storm in the middle of the night, calling out the militia. By the time she had finished, most of the militia were ready to march. Although they failed to save Danbury, the militia were able to stop the British advance, and in the Battle of Ridgefield, pushed the British back to their boats.
Finding the books
Not published in the UK, but reasonably easy to find in the US, as long as you don’t mind an ex-library copy.
Links and sources
Biographical information in de Grummond collection, accessed 21 February, 2014
Quotation – dustjacket of Sybil Ludington’s Ride, 1952
More on Sybil Ludington’s Ride, accessed 21 February, 2014
Bibliography (horse books only)
Sybil Ludington’s Ride
Viking Press, New York, 1952, 128 pp, illus the author
Set in 1777, and based on fact (though with some liberties taken with family details at least), Sybil and her sister live alone as their father is away at war. They have a 2-year-old colt called Star. Sybil, the worse rider of the two girls, has to make an overnight 40 mile ride on Star to warn neighbouring towns that the enemy (ie the British) were approaching.
Horses for the General
Macmillan, New York, 1956, 182 pp, illus the author
Lem is told he is too young to enlist in George Washington’s army. Not deterred, he gets a job driving a cart, and scouts out horses for the Army.