Captain John “Jack” Jouett, Jr., (1754-1822) was the ‘Paul Revere’ of the south. After observing a troop of cavalry ride past Cuckoo Tavern, Jouett correctly suspected that the cavalry was marching to Charlottesville to capture Governor Thomas Jefferson and some of Virginia’s legislature, which was in session there. Jouett knew that the legislature was completely undefended. Very little fighting had taken place on Virginia soil from 1776 to 1780, so most of Virginia’s forces were deployed elsewhere. He began a 40-mile ride on horseback by the Old Mountain Road from the tavern in Louisa County to Monticello in Albemarle County between midnight and dawn on June 4, 1781. His quick thinking saved Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and some of the members of the Virginia General Assembly from capture by the British under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
Illustration courtesy AmericanRevolution.org
All but seven of the Assembly escaped to Staunton, including Thomas Jefferson. His family fled to Poplar Forest, their home in Lynchburg. Among the captured was Daniel Boone, who was visiting Monticello at the time.
Jack did not remain in the Charlottesville area very long after the Revolutionary War. Within a year of his famous ride, he moved to the western part of Virginia, which later became Kentucky. He married Sarah “Sally” Robards and raised his family of 12 children. With his love of racehorses, he is thought to have helped bring that sport to Kentucky. Jack and Sally’s son, Matthew Harris Jouett, may be Kentucky’s most distinguished painter. He is famous in his own right. He studied under Gilbert Stuart who called him “Kentucky”. Of him, Jack said, “I sent him to college to become a gentleman; he became a sign painter.” The silhouette of Jack, which is the only known depiction of him, was done by Matthew.
Matthew’s son, James Edward Jouett, was with Admiral Farragut in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. He was at the con when Admiral Farragut said, “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells. Captain Drayton, go ahead! Jouett, full speed!” James Edward rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Three ships in the United States Navy have been named USS Jouett for him.
Each year, Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, reenacts Jack’s famous ride on the first weekend in June. It is called The British Invasion of 1781. Featured above is the Jack Jouett House Museum, a historic attraction in Versailles, Kentucky.