Friday, July 4, 2014

John 'Jack' Jouett: The 'Paul Revere of the South'

In grade school history, we learn about the brave ride made by Paul Revere as he warned the colonies of the British approach during the Revolutionary War.  What most people never hear about is the other brave ride made one night to save the Virginia Legislators and Governor Thomas Jefferson from being captured by the British.  This is the story of the man who made that ride and his tie to Bath County.

 Behind the Bath County Courthouse, facing Vimont Street, is a bronze state historical marker that tells a brief glimpse of John 'Jack' Jouett.  If you have never heard of him, don't feel alone.  Many people have never heard of him or his act of heroism during the American Revolutionary War; how he rode forty miles through the thick woods to safeguard key law makers who would later lay the foundations of the United States.

John Jouett, Jr. was born on December 7, 1754 and raised in Albemarle County, Virginia.  He was a direct descendant of the noble Matthieu de Jouhet, Master of the Horse to France's  King Louis XIII,  Lord of Leveignac, and Lieutenant in the Marshalsea of Limousin, France.  When the American Revolution began, Jouett served as a captain in the 16th Regiment of the Virginia Militia.  His family supported the Revolution by providing rations to troops, and three brothers of Jouett served as well.  John Sr. and John Jr. had also signed the Albemarle Declaration, a document renouncing King George III, so the family commitment to the revolutionary cause was very strong.

Following Benedict Arnold's defection to the British Army and attack on Richmond, Virginia, the Virginia Legislature and Governor Thomas Jefferson fled to Charlottesville, Virginia.  Jefferson retreated to his home at Monticello while other members of the government found refuge in the nearby Swan Tavern, which was owned by John Jouett, Sr.  General Charles Cornwallis learned of the government relocation through a captured dispatch and ordered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarelton to march into Charlottesville and capture Jefferson and members of the government.  On June 3, 1781, Tarelton and a force of 180 cavalry and 70 mounted infantry moved out, planning to catch the Virgina Legislators by surprise.

On the night of June 3, 1781, Jack Jouett was asleep at the Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County and heard the British force approaching.  Suspecting that the group was heading to Charlottesville, Jouett mounted his horse at approximately 10 pm and sped toward the undefended city, some forty miles away.  While the British Army utilized the main roads, Jouett cut across country into the trails of the Old Mountain Road with only the light of the moon to guide him.  Tarelton rested his troops at the Louisa Courthouse at around 11 pm, resuming the march at 2 am.  While in transit, the British force encountered a wagon train of supplies bound for South Carolina at Boswell's Tavern and destroyed them before continuing forward.  Around dawn, the force arrived at the plantation of Dr. Thomas Walker at Castle Hill.  Part of the invaders broke away and arrived at the home of Continental Congressman John Walker's home in Belvoir soon afterward.  Several people were captured at both locations and Tarelton's force rested for a half hour before moving out again.  Meanwhile, Jack Jouett had kept riding throughout the night and arrived at Monticello around 4:30 am, delivering his urgent warning.  Jefferson rewarded Jouett with a bottle of fine wine, and Jouett soon left out for the two mile journey into Charlottesville.

Jefferson, however, didn't immediately leave Monticello;  instead, he had breakfast and took time to gather important papers.  When alerted to the imminent British approach by Captain Christopher Hudson, Jefferson sent his family to a friend's estate nearby and continued to prepare for his departure.  The British cavalry was upon Jefferson as he made his narrow escape into the woods.  Tarelton was presented with slaves hurriedly trying to hide valuables in Monticello, but no members of the Virginia government or Jefferson.

Jack Jouett continued onto Charlottesville, arriving at the Swan Tavern shortly after.  The legislators agreed to flee and reconvene in Staunton, Virginia on June 7th.  All but seven legislators escaped Charlottesville, with Jouett accompanying General  Edward Stevens who was nursing wounds from an earlier battle.  Stevens, who was not dressed in usual military attire, soon fell behind due to his injuries.  Jouett was dressed in a scarlet coat and wore a plumed hat and raced onward.  The British, thinking Jouett was a high ranking official by the way he was dressed, ignored the general and pursued Jouett before losing him.  The ride was a success, even though a few members of the legislature were captured.  Jack Jouett had effectively saved the Virginia governmental infrastructure and quite possibly turned the tide of the war in favor of the colonists on the night of June 3rd and following morning.  Jouett was recognized by the Virginia Legislature on June 15, 1781 and a resolution was passed to award him with two pistols and a sword.   He received the pistols in 1783, but wouldn't receive the sword for another twenty years.
A silhouette drawing of John 'Jack' Jouett, made by Matthew Jouett

Jouett moved to what is now Kentucky in 1782, settling in Mercer County, which was still part of Virginia.  He became a Virginia Legislator and when Kentucky became a state in 1792, he was a legislator in Mercer and, later, Woodford Counties.  Jouett befriended Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay and focused on breeding livestock imported from England.  He married Sallie Robard and they had twelve children, including painter Matthew Jouett.  His grandson, James Edward, served under Admiral David Farragut in the Civil War and was mentioned in Farragut's famous line "Damn the torpedoes!  Four bells! Captain Drayton go ahead! Jouett full speed!"

So how does all of this tie into Bath County, Kentucky?  John 'Jack' Jouett owned property in the Peeled Oak community, which is located along Kentucky Highway 1331 between Preston and Mount Sterling.  According to John Richards' An Illustrated History of Bath County, Kentucky, Jouett's farm was located off Tapp Lane that straddles Bath and Montgomery County and was known as the Woodford Farm.  On March 1, 1822, John 'Jack" Jouett passed away while at his daughter's home on the Peeled Oak farm.  He was buried nearby in an unmarked grave at what was known as the Tanyard Cemetery.  The exact location of the grave site has been forgotten in history, although one may search the archives at the Bath County Memorial Library for some insight.  It is quite astonishing that a man who would accomplish so much, and risk himself to insure freedom, lies unknown somewhere.  Although his contribution was overshadowed by Paul Revere's famous ride, it still helped lay the foundations for the independence of the United States of America. 

Sources of research:

An Illustrated History of Bath County, Kentucky; John Adair Richards, 1961, Southwest Printers

  "When Jouett Rode to Save Jefferson". Richmond Then and Now. (Original publisher: Richmond Times-Dispatch 12/02/1934)

 "Jack Jouett's Ride". American Heritage 13 Dabney, Virginius (December 1961)