Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jack Jouett, Paul Revere of the South

A midnight ride on horseback. A warning of imminent British attack. The capture of political leaders prevented. The Revolution saved.

Paul Revere? No. Meet Jack Jouett.

John "Jack" Jouett, Jr. was born December 7, 1754 in Virginia. He quickly grew into a six-foot-four, two-hundred-pound giant of a man. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Jouett served as a Captain in the 16th regiment of the Virginia militia.

On the night of June 3, 1781, British General Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, along with 250 soldiers, to make a surprise march to Charlottesville, Virginia (where the legislature was meeting after having fled Richmond), in hopes of capturing Thomas Jefferson and other prominent patriots. Sometime after nine o'clock, the British reached Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County. It was here that Jouett, possibly hiding in the bushes, spotted them and guessed their plan. He mounted his thoroughbred horse and dashed towards Monticello, knowing he faced 40 miles of tough wilderness terrain.

Jouett arrived at about four-thirty the next morning to wake and warn Jefferson and others staying at Monticello. Jefferson sent his wife and children away to a country estate, but personally remained for several more hours, securing his possessions. Jouett rode two more miles into Charlottesville to warn members of the Assembly.

Despite the fact that he was forced to take back roads through woods and undergrowth, Jouett beat the British by several hours. Tarleton was only able to capture seven assemblymen. Jefferson, despite lingering, was able to make a narrow escape into the woods.

Many historians agree that had Jefferson and other leaders been captured, it might well have meant the end of the Revolution. The General Assembly of Virginia recognized their debt to Jouett, and on June 15, just a few days after having fled Charlottesville, they voted to award him a sword and pair of pistols for his bravery. Unfortunately, it took two years before Jouett received the pistols, and twenty years before he received the sword!

So if Jack Jouett's ride was so critical, arguably more important than Paul Revere's, why is he virtually unknown? The answer is that Revere was immortalized in the now famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, while Jouett died in relative obscurity and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Still, Jouett left behind another kind of legacy. He helped form the state of Kentucky. His son, Matthew Harris Jouett, fought in the War of 1812 and became a respected artist, painting the portraits of the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Jouett's grandson, the naval officer James Edward Jouett, is memorialized in the famous quote by Admiral David Farragut, "Damn the torpedoes! ... Jouett full speed!"

The Jack Jouett House, near Versailles, KY, features a frontier stone cabin and a Federal-style brick cottage adorned with period furnishings.

Perhaps someday, if his ride becomes more widely known, Jack Jouett will take his rightful place in American History. And Paul Revere? He'll be known as the "Jack Jouett of the North."

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