At night, alone, riding hard...
When the Revolution ended, Capt. Jack Jouett was one of many Virginians who decided to move west. He and his wife, Sallie Robards, settled near Harrodsburg, Ky., in 1784. Matthew Harris Jouett was the third of their 12 children and the one chosen by the family to go to college. In 1816, he became an apprentice to the portrait painter Gilbert Stuart in Boston. Matthew Jouett returned to the young state of Kentucky to continue the cultural tradition of portrait painting among the early settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains. This self-portrait is from a 1980 exhibition of his work held at Transylvania University in Lexington. PICTURE A HORSEMAN galloping through the night to warn the Colonial patriots that the Redcoats are coming, his daring ride destined to change the course of the American Revolution.Skip to next paragraph
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Paul Revere, of course? No - Capt. John Jouett Jr.; Lexington and Concord, the minutemen? On the contrary - Charlottesville, the Virginia legislature, Thomas Jefferson.
When Paul Revere watched for the signal lantern in the North Church and rode off to warn the Middlesex farmers, he was 40 years old and hardly a dashing fellow, as we know from the Copley portrait with the silver teapot. Captain Jack, on the other hand, was a young man, an impressive 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, and he wore an elegant scarlet coat and plumed hat when he took his famous ride.
One warm night in June, at a place called Cuckoo Tavern, he spotted British cavalry pounding along the highway, or what passed for a highway in rural Virginia in 1781.
He guessed correctly that they were after Governor Jefferson at Monticello and the legislature at Charlottesville. He took off across country, over 40 miles of rough and hilly ground, through woods and underbrush that whipped his face in the dark, and saved Jefferson, Patrick Henry, three other signers of the Declaration of Independence, and most of the Virginia General Assembly.
General Cornwallis had sent Colonel Tarleton, with 250 mounted troops, to capture these eminent Virginians, a valuable prize. It was after 10 o'clock when Jouett saw them and set out to beat them to Charlottesville.
Tarleton had moved rapidly through Louisa County in the last 24 hours, stopping only once in the midday heat to rest his men and horses. He stopped again for three hours in the middle of the night, and then paused briefly to destroy a wagon train loaded with supplies for the Continental Army.
At 4:30, before the sun was up, Jouett arrived at Monticello and warned Jefferson and some legislators staying with him. Then he rode on two miles to the town to alert the others.
Jefferson, apparently not overanxious, had a leisurely breakfast with his guests. He told his wife and children to get ready to leave, and then spent almost two hours making sure his important papers were safe. Fortunately, Tarleton stopped for a sumptuous breakfast at a plantation a few miles away.
When a neighbor galloped up to say the British troops were climbing the mountain, Jefferson sent his family off in a carriage but still attended to his papers. Then, telescope in hand and properly dressed, even to his light ``walking sword,'' he walked a short distance up nearby Carter's Mountain. No sign of the enemy. Heading back home to attend to a few more details (the slaves were hiding the silver under the portico by this time), he noticed his sword was missing. Back he walked to his lookout, found the sword, took another look through his telescope. Cavalry in the streets of Charlottesville! He quickly mounted his horse, which had been brought to meet him, and (finally!) rode into the woods toward safety.
In spite of Jack Jouett's brave ride, only a fortunate coincidence assured Jefferson's escape, for the British had arrived at Monticello while he was looking the other way. If he hadn't gone back for his sword, he would have walked into their hands.
Tarleton, though eager to capture the author of the Declaration of Independence, ordered that his property was not to be damaged. Later Jefferson gave Tarleton credit for behaving ``genteelly.''
Meanwhile, at Charlottesville, Captain Jack was spreading the alarm, but the legislators took time to convene briefly before decamping, giving the British time to capture seven of them, including the delegate from Kentucky County, Daniel Boone.
A few days later the legislature, safe in Staunton, voted to present Jouett a sword and a pair of pistols for his exploit. It was two years before he received the pistols, and 22 before he got the sword.
A year after his midnight ride, Jouett moved to Mercer County, in what later became Kentucky. He was elected to several terms in the legislatures of first Virginia and then Kentucky. His importing of fine livestock helped launch Kentucky's renown for horse- and cattle-breeding.
In 1940, Virginia made June 4 Jack Jouett Day, but in recent years the day seems to have been marked chiefly by the Jack Jouett Chapter, DAR, of Charlottesville. His perilous ride has been reen-acted twice, but it is Paul Revere's that gets all the glory. Revere, after all, had that great PR man who wrote, ``Listen, my children, and you shall hear ....''