Jefferson also traveled to Charlottesville and was at Monticello when his term as governor concluded on June 2. The assembly had not yet elected a new governor, and the dispersed members of the Council of State could not quickly assemble to authorize its senior member to serve as acting governor during the interim. As a consequence, the executive branch of the state government ceased to function.
At exactly that same time, the British sent a cavalry regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in pursuit of the governor and assembly. Tarleton's force reached the courthouse of Louisa County shortly before midnight on June 3 and prepared to attack Charlottesville the next day.
Jouett's warning had saved Jefferson and most of the members of the General Assembly from capture. The men who got away included such famous Virginians as former governor Patrick Henry, Speaker of the House of Delegates Benjamin Harrison (a signer of the Declaration of Independence), Speaker of the Senate Archibald Cary, and Richard Henry Lee (also a signer of the Declaration of Independence). A few members did not leave town soon enough, and Tarleton's men captured and briefly detained Daniel Boone and two or three other legislators.
Jouett also assisted General Edward Stevens to escape capture. Stevens was a member of the state senate and on that day was dressed in plain clothes and riding an unimpressive horse. Jouett wore a scarlet coat and flamboyant hat, and he had a fine, fast horse. When Tarleton's men saw him and Stevens, they incorrectly presumed that Jouett was a high-ranking officer and Stevens an unimportant underling. They chased Jouett, whose fast horse easily outran them, leaving Stevens alone to get away safely.
In Staunton on June 12, the legislators elected General Thomas Nelson governor, and the same day they directed the executive "to present to Captain John Jouett, an elegant sword and pair of pistols, as a memorial of the high sense which the General Assembly entertain of his activity and enterprise in watching the motions of the enemy's Cavalry on their late incursion to Charlottesville, and conveying to the Assembly timely information of their approach, whereby the designs of the enemy were frustrated and many valuable stores preserved."
Aftermath and Legacy
That was the first published reference to Jouett's ride. Details did not appear in print until 1816, thirty-five years later. The state government did not proceed in the meantime with "activity and enterprise" equal to Jouett's. Two years later, in July 1783, a quartermaster reported to the governor that he had found in Richmond "a small sword & a brace of Pistoles very highly finished" and suitable for presentation to Jouett. The quartermaster purchased two pistols from Thomas Mann Randolph for £8 10s "for Mr. John Jouette agreeable to Order of Council" but reported nothing further about the sword.
Jouett moved to the Kentucky district in western Virginia soon after the end of the war and represented Lincoln County in the session of the General Assembly that convened on October 16, 1786. His presence may have reminded some legislator that the state still owed him a sword, or perhaps Jouett mentioned the fact. In December the assembly ordered the executive to provide Jouett with the sword promised in the June 1781 resolution. Jouett returned to Richmond for the 1787–1788 session of the assembly and again for the session that met from mid-October to late in December 1790 as a representative from Mercer County.
Probably as a result of another reminder, in November 1790 the Council of State issued an order to procure a sword for presentation to him. But nothing of record happened until the autumn of 1801, when the Council of State authorized spending $300 to purchase presentation swords for Jouett and for the descendants of General William Campbell, the hero of the Battle of King's Mountain (1780). Governor James Monroe requested the U.S. minister to France to procure the swords. The state eventually obtained "a sword belt &c. for John Jouett esq. of the State of Kentucky" in December 1804, but surviving records do not disclose when Jouett finally received it. By the twentieth century family members did not know its whereabouts.
Jack Jouett had not been forgotten in Virginia. Louis Hue Girardin published the first full account of Jouett's ride in 1816 in volume four of the History of Virginia, which he and Skelton Jones completed after the death of John Burk, who wrote the first three volumes. Girardin had access to Jefferson's papers, including extracts from a diary Jefferson kept during the last six months of his administration and recollections he compiled a few years later. Girardin discussed the events of Jefferson's governorship with him and may have interviewed residents of Charlottesville. Jefferson also read his draft before it was published and offered suggestions and corrections. The narrative Girardin published formed the basis of the longer account of Tarleton's raid on Charlottesville that Jefferson's biographer Henry S. Randall published in 1858. Their narratives of Jouett's ride remain the most reliable and include none of the imaginative, misleading embellishments that appear in many later accounts.
In the Twentieth Century
During the first half of the twentieth century journalists, antiquarians, historians, and others published numerous articles and essays celebrating Jouett's ride. Some maintained that the owner of the Swan Tavern was the rider, others that his namesake son was, and still others argued about whether Jouett or Hudson first warned Jefferson. During a span of almost forty years the Richmond Times-Dispatch editor Virginius Dabney published at least three articles on Jouett's ride (reprinting one of them in the Magazine of Albemarle County History in 1972), and he included a one-paragraph narrative in his 1971 history, Virginia, The New Dominion.
By then, as the title of the collection of verse indicates, people who knew about Jack Jouett rated him a great American. In 1912 Thomas Edison's film company had released the last in a series of nine silent movies about the American Revolution. That film, Close of the American Revolution, featured Jouett's ride. Frederick W. Twyman, a resident of Charlottesville, either assisted with that production or made or financed another film about the ride a few years later. In 1954 the Cavalcade of America educational film series produced a 16 mm. black-and-white film of the ride entitled The Absent Host.
January 5, 1781 - A British force commanded by Benedict Arnold arrives in Richmond, plundering much of the city, freeing enslaved African Americans, and blowing up a powder magazine and arms foundry at nearby Westham.
Mid-May 1781 - The British general Charles Cornwallis arrives from North Carolina and meets William Phillips and Benedict Arnold in Petersburg.
May 24, 1781 - After the British occupy Richmond, the General Assembly convenes in Charlottesville.
June 4, 1781 - Jack Jouett, riding forty hard miles from Louisa County, arrives in Charlottesville, warning Thomas Jefferson and the General Assembly of a British raid on the city.
June 4–12, 1781 - In Thomas Jefferson's absence, William Fleming, as senior member present of the Council of State, serves as acting governor.
June 12, 1781 - The General Assembly, meeting in Staunton, elects Thomas Nelson Jr. governor. A committee is established to investigate the actions of Thomas Jefferson at the end of his term.
July 1783 - A quartermaster reports to the governor that he has found in Richmond a small sword and pistols suitable as a gift to Jack Jouett in honor of his famous ride.
October 16, 1786 - Jack Jouett represents Lincoln County when the General Assembly convenes.
1787–1788 - Jack Jouett represents Lincoln County in the General Assembly.
October–December 1790 - Jack Jouett represents Mercer County in the General Assembly.
November 1790 - The Council of State issues an order to procure a sword to honor Jack Jouett for his famous ride.
Autumn 1801 - The Council of State authorizes spending $300 to purchase presentation swords to honor Jack Jouett and the descendants of General William Campbell for their service in the Revolutionary War.
December 1804 - The state procures a sword for Jack Jouett in honor of his famous ride but it is not clear whether he ever receives it.
March 1, 1822 - Jack Jouett dies in Bath County, Kentucky.
1910 - The Monticello Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities mounts a commemorative plaque on the site of Swan Tavern in Charlottesville in honor of Jack Jouett's ride. Jouett's father, not Jouett himself, owned the tavern.
1912 - The film Close of the American Revolution, released by Thomas Edison's film company, features Jack Jouett's ride.
1940 - The General Assembly designates June 4 as Jack Jouett Day.
1954 - The Cavalcade of American educational film series produces The Absent Host, a film about Jack Jouett's ride.
2001 - The General Assembly designates June 3 as Jack Jouett Day.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B. Jack Jouett's Ride (1781). (2016, July 21). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Jack_Jouett_s_Ride_1781.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "Jack Jouett's Ride (1781)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 21 Jul. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: May 2, 2016 | Last modified: July 21, 2016
Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.