JACK JOUETT’S RIDE
The year was 1781. On the night of June 3, Jack Jouett was sitting outside the Cuckoo Tavern in the town of Louisa, VA when he heard the sounds of riding cavalry. He crept softly to the roadside where he saw Col. Banastre Tarleton with a detatchment of troops, known as the Green Dragoons, riding toward Charlottesville, VA. Jack knew at once whom they meant to capture there. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Harrison, and Thomas Nelson, who had all signed the Declaration of Independence and were all members of the Virginia legislature, were together at Monticello having fled from Richmond on the approach of Gen. Charles Cornwallis. Jack knew he had to warn them, and there was no one else to do it.
He saddled and bridled his bay mare, Sallie, and rode the forty miles from the Cuckoo to Charlottesville. He could not take the only road, for fear of being caught. Instead, he rode across meadows, through thickets, woods and footpaths. There was only the moon to light his way. Branches tore his skin and clothing but his determination kept him going. The troops did not know he had seen them and stopped three times along the way: once to rest their horses, next to burn an American wagon train, and the third time at Castle Hill where two legislators were sleeping. Here, they arrested them in their nightshirts.
Jouett rode through the night and arrived at Monticello just before dawn. He pounded on the door and warned those inside that Tarleton’s men were on the way to capture them. At Monticello that night were Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Nelson Jr., Richard Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Patrick Henry and Edmund Randolph. Before they fled, Jefferson was able to hide the state papers that the British had hoped to find. Tarleton reached Charlottesville two hours later and found his “quarry” gone.
Jack rode on to his father’s inn, the Swan, where other assemblymen were staying. He warned them also, and a few militia rushed to hold the British at the river.
The legislature, reconvening in Staunton, promptly voted Jouett “an elegant sword and a pair of pistols” in appreciation of his activity and enterprise.
Jouett moved the following year to Kentucky, married Sallie Robards, was close to President Andrew Jackson, helped Kentucky achieve statehood, served four terms in the state legislature, and prospered as a planter and horse breeder. The horse, Sallie, that carried Jack Jouett on his ride, became the ancestor of a long line of thoroughbred race horses.
The William Harris Homestead Foundation is a charitable 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to provide heritage, agricultural and environmental scholarship.