When Jouett Rode to Save Jefferson
The 'Paul Revere' of the South Galloped With Same Old Message:
'The British Are Coming,' And He Won Too
Nearly all school children have heard the poem:
"Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five."
But very few children and even grown people have heard of Virginia's Paul Revere. The reason they haven't, is because Jack Jouett had no Longfellow, 85 years later, to write of his exploit.
In the spring of 1781, Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Legislature had to flee from the capital in Williamsburg to Richmond, and later still to Charlottesville. On the third flight, only 40 members of the Legislature went, including Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Nelson Jr., Benjamin Harrison and Patrick Henry.
Jefferson went to his home in Monticello
The traitor, Benedict Arnold, who had been at Portsmouth, had been reinforced by 2,000 men under General Philips. The latter died, and then Arnold took charge. Cornwallis then invaded Virginia. He and Arnold united their forces, but were unsuccessful in their attempt to take Richmond. There was, however, a devastation of homes and land. Cornwallis then turned his attention to the mountains. Lafayette, in January, as commander of the Continental troops, had been pursued by Rapidan and had to fall back, crossing the North Anna River at Ely's Ford. Baron Steuben, with 500 Continental troops, and been forced to retreat from his position of the Fluvanna River, 50 miles above Richmond.
Cornwallis then sent one detachment, under General Simcoe, to keep General Greene from receiving arms and stores, and dispatched another detachment, under Colonel Tarleton, to capture Governor Jefferson and the Legislature.
Tarleton was delighted with his mission. He had 180 trusted dragoons and 70 mounted infantry on fine horses.
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The people of Charlottesville were not expecting a raid. General Tarleton quickly reached Cuckoo Tavern, in Louisa County, about 50 miles from Charlottesville.
At this tavern was Jack Jouett Jr. of Albermarle. It is thought that this very jolly youth had been to his father's farm at the creek, six miles east of Louisa, before stopping at the tarvern to show himself in the uniform he had taken from a British dragoon he had captured.
As the British halted their march at Cuckoo Tavern, Mr. Jouett concealed himself in the shrubbery and watched.
At 11 o'clock, June 3, the British reached Louisa Courthouse, after a rest of three hours. There the troops burned 12 wagons with clothes for General Greene's army, and then began their march again.
Jack Jouett Jr. had a shrewd idea that Tarleton was going to Charlottesville to capture Governor Jefferson and the Legislature, so a little before midnight Jack Jouett Jr. got onto his horse, said to have been "the best bred and fleetest of foot of any nag in seven counties."
Young Jouett knew that he could not go to Charlottesville by the main road, but as he was familiar with the by-roads of Louisa and Albemarle, he was all right. He had 45 or 50 miles to go, on an unused road, that had been very likely an Indian trail. It was almost impassable, with trees and vines. There was no time to throw away, as Jack Jouett Jr. had to outride Tarleton, or his trip would be in vain. He narrowly escaped capture several times.
By breakfast time Tarleton had reached Dr. Walkers in Albemarle County. Here he decided to take breakfast. It is thought that Mrs. Walker had been informed by Jack Jouett Jr. that he was on his way to warn Governor Jefferson and the Legislature for the British general had to wait some time for his breakfast. His troops were given the first and second breakfasts prepared. General Tarleton became impatient, and made an investigation. He was told he would have to place the kitchen under guard, if he wanted breakfast, which he did. But he had been delayed for some time; time enough for Governor Jefferson and the Legislature to be warned.
On Jack Jouett Jr.'s way to Monicello he passed through the village of Milton at dawn, and shouted, "The British are coming." Some thought he was joking, as he was known to be a great joker. A few minutes later, the rider arrived at Monticello, and warned the Governor of Virginia, who quickly gave the rider a glass of madeira to brace him up, for his trip to warn the Legislature.
Mr. Jefferson sent his wife and children to Blenhelm, the home of Colonel Edward Carter. Ten minutes after the Governor departed, the British appeared.
After the Legislature was warned, the members decided very quickly that 40 should constitute a quorum, and adjourned to meet in Staunton three days later. While seven of the members were dallying, they were captured.
One of the delegates, General Stevens, was boarding at Swan Tavern, as he had received a severe wound at Guilford Courthouse, which had incapacitated him for service for some time. He would have made the eighth delegate captured, if it had not been for Jack Jouett Jr. The two started out after the fleeing Legislature, on the Staunton road, but were seen soon by the raiders. Jouett had on an officer's cap with a showy plume, while General Stevens, very shabbily dressed in a farmer's costume, was riding an old plug. The troopers thought that Jack Jouett Jr. was an officer of high rank and gave chase, but he was too swift for them and disappeared. Meanwhile General Stevens, who had not been disturbed, got away through the woods, in the dense undergrowth.
The Virginia militia at Rockfish Gap kept Tarleton from going to Staunton, but the raiding party under Colonel Simcoe destroyed the magazine at the mouth of the Rivanna River.
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Often the credit for the warning ride is given to John Jouett Sr., but it was the son and not the father. The latter kept Swan Tavern, now the site of Redland Club, Charlottesville, and he is buried in the backyard, but it is not known where.
Jack Jouett Jr.'s 45-mile ride on the dark night of June 3, 1781, has never been equaled in history. Paul Revere rode only 15 miles on the public road, on a moonlight night.
Time never erased the scars the hero received that night from the briars and bushes, as he rode to save from "capture and execution" by the British, the Governor of Virginia, the future President of the United States. The hero was presented with a sword for his heroism by the Legislature.
Jack Jouett Jr. went to Mercer County and married Miss Sallie Robard soon after his daring ride. They had 12 children. Mr. Jouett represented Mercer County in the Virginia Legislature, before Kentucky separated from Virginia; afterwards he represented this county in the Kentucky Legislature. When Mr. Jouett moved to Woodford County, he was a legislator from there. He was one of the leaders in importing stock from England in large numbers and thus helped Kentucky to its fame as a great stock-raising State.
In the Charlottesville Daily Progress, October 26,1909, occurred the following poem:
"Hearken good people: awhile abide
And hear of stout Jack Jouett's ride;
How he rushed his steed, nor stopped nor stayed
Till he warned the people of Tarleton's raid.
The moment his warning note was rehearsed
The State Assembly was quickly dispersed.
In their haste to escape, they did not stop
Until they had crossed the mountain top.
And upon the other side come down.
To resume their sessions in Staunton Town.
His parting steed he spurred,
In haste to carry the warning
To that greatest statesman of any age,
The Immortal Monticello Sage.
Here goes to thee, Jack Jouett!
Lord keep thy memory green;
You made the greatest ride, sir,
That ever yet was seen.