Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Virginia's Jack Jouett Rode Through the Night

His Warning Saved Jefferson and Virginia's Officials

This silhouette of Jack Jouett by his son Matthew is the only known image of the Revolutionary War hero.

On the night of June 3, 1781, Jack Jouett learned of an impending surprise attack on Charlottesville by British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton's "Whitecoat" Regiment. Jouett was at Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County, bedded down on the tavern's lawn according to some accounts. When he learned of the advancing Tarlton, he quickly mounted his horse and rapidly traveled along back roads and old trails to warn Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature at Monticello.

Legend has it that in his urgency to get to Charlottesville, Jouett was permenantly scarred by the branches he rode through. He rested briefly at Lousia Courthouse before proceeding on to Monticello. Arriving around four in the morning, he hastily awoke Jefferson and his guests, who enjoyed breakfast before they fled while Jefferson checked periodically with his telescope for signs of Tarlton, Monticello literally sitting on its own "little mountain."

The government of Virginia evacuated to Staunton, across the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the legislature reconvened and elected Thomas Nelson to be Virginia's next governor as Jefferson's term had officially expired. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized Paul Revere, but it wasn't until 1909 that a similar tribute was published by Charlottesville's newspaper:

"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."

--Charlottesville Daily Progress, October 26, 1909

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