The Setting. In the summer of 1781 the
Revolutionary War was in full swing, and British Col. Banastre
Tarleton and his band of 180 dragoons and 70 mounted infantrymen
were en route to Charlottesville. Thomas Jefferson and other
members of the legislature had regrouped there, having been
forced to flee Richmond.
The Ride. Young Jack Jouett, a 27-year old
6-foot-4-inch captain in the Virginia militia, was in Cuckoo
Tavern in the eastern part of the County. His father provided
supplies to the Continental Army from his Louisa County
farm, and Jack was in the area lending a hand.
Seeing Col. Tarleton's troops ride by on
the main Charlottesville road, he at once suspected the
objective. The late Virginia historian Virginius Dabney
wrote that "Captain Jouett leapt upon his thoroughbred,
resolved to dash for Monticello and Charlottesville and
to warn the Assembly." He covered the almost 40 miles without
stopping, arriving at about 4:30 a.m. several hours ahead
of Tarleton and his troops. Patrick Henry, Richard Henry
Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Edmund Randolph and
many others were able to escape.
Dabney eloquently concluded that "Jack Jouett's
ride from Cuckoo Tavern to Monticello cries out for a ballad
that will seize the fancy of the American people. The hoof
beats of his steed, toiling and sweating through the warm
June night across forty miles of Virginia countryside, come
echoing down the years. Jack Jouett gave some of America's
greatest patriots a timely warning in one of the Revolution's
dark(est) hours, but his valorous deed has been well-nigh
forgotten. He deserves a kinder fate."