He's been called the Paul Revere of the South but many have never heard of this Revolutionary War hero. Yet his horseback dash in the middle of the night was a turning point in Virginia -- and American -- history.
Jack Jouett's ride to warn Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson that the British were coming saved many of the Commonwealth's leaders as war enveloped this part of America. The 27-year-old captain of the 16th Regiment in the Virginia militia observed 26-year-old British Col. Tarleton, known as a ruthless man, and his troops on horseback about 10:00 p.m. riding through the small Louisa County town of Cuckoo toward Charlottesville where some members of the Virginia legislature had taken refuge after fleeing Gen. Cornwallis in Richmond.
Jouett jumped on his horse and began a forty-mile dash from Cuckoo through fields, creeks, woods, along foot paths, and then followed the Old Mountain Road and Three Notch'd Road (now Rt. 250) to Monticello, staying away from the main roadway where he could be seen by enemy soldiers. With only the light of a full moon to illuminate his ride, Jouett rode through thick underbrush and was slashed by limbs and scratched by briars, some leaving scars that reportedly could be seen the rest of his life.
Today is the anniversary of that overnight dash on June 3, 1781 -- also on a Sunday just as it is this year -- in the midst of the Revolutionary War. When I was growing up, every school child in the Commonwealth learned of the daring ride during forth grade Virginia history.
Jouett was able to warn not only Jefferson but also Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson (whose great-great-great-great-grandson Tom Nelson used to live in Augusta County and now resides in Yorktown), Edmund Randolph, and others who took heed and escaped further west over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Staunton. They were being hunted down by the British because all had signed the Declaration of Independence against the King of England. Also there with the other legislators was Daniel Boone (one of my ancestors) who was Representative for the far western reaches of Virginia.
As I was growing up, my family would drive from our Bon Air home outside Richmond to Shenandoah National Park to camp and, at that time, we took Rt. 33 because I-64 had not been built. Driving through Cuckoo, we would always see the historic sign and my mom would always retell the story of Jack Jouett's ride. Perhaps that's why it is something I have never forgotten. They were men in history and seemed so old to me at the time but, in reality, they were young men in their 20s and 30s. They were our Founders.
Jack Jouett's Ride
(From Charlottesville Daily Press, 1909)
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.
Cross-posted at Bearing Drift