Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Paul Revere of the South (1781)

Jack Jouett

 In 1781 the British stepped up operations in the Southern theater of war.  Benedict Arnold and a British fleet ravaged the Tidewater of Virginia, burning cities, seizing crops, and destroying everything that they could find.  Later in the year Lord Cornwallis swept northward into Virginia and began to lay the country waste.  His only opposition was a small American force under the Frenchman Lafayette.

The Virginia General Assembly abandoned Williamsburg, Richmond and Petersburg, fleeing to Charlottesville.  The Virginians decided to assemble in mid-June.  The British hatched a plan to capture or kill the entire Virginia Assembly and Governor Thomas Jefferson in one lightning raid that would crush all opposition.  Lord Cornwallis chose the savage Banastre Tarleton and his battle hardened cavalry to do the job.

Banastre Tarleton

On the night of June 3, 1781, twenty-seven year old John “Jack” Jouett spotted Tarleton’s cavalry near Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County.  Suspecting that the British were marching on Charlottesville, Jouett mounted his horse at 10 PM and began the forty mile ride to Charlottesville. Traveling only with the light of the moon, Jouett took rough backwoods trails, riding hard to out distance the British.

At 11:30 PM, Tarleton paused for a three-hour rest at Louisa Courthouse. The British resumed their march at about 2 AM, and soon encountered a train of thirteen Patriot supply wagons at Boswell's Tavern bound for South Carolina.  Tarleton burned the wagons and continued toward Charlottesville.

 At 4:30 AM, Jack Jouett ascended the mountain on which Jefferson's home Monticello sits.  An early riser, Thomas Jefferson was in the gardens at Monticello when Jouett arrived.  Jefferson fortified Jouett with a glass of Madeira and sent him on the two additional miles to warn the town of Charlottesville.

Jefferson did not rush to make an escape.  He had breakfast and spent two hours gathering up important papers, all the while checking the path up the mountain with his telescope for signs of the British.  When Jefferson finally spotted the British he mounted a horse and headed into the woods, successfully eluding capture.

Thanks to Jouett’s timely warning most of the Virginia legislators in Charlottesville also escaped capture.

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