A quick-thinking 26-year-old, Jack Jouett saved Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Thomas Nelson Jr., and other members of the Virginia General Assembly in a single night.
In 1781, Jouett was a captain in the 16th Regiment of the Virginia Militia. Late on the evening of June 3, 1781, Jouett was asleep on the lawn in front of the “Cuckoo Tavern” when he was awoken by the sound of a large number of British horsemen passing by. The soldiers were from Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s cavalry regiment. Jouett overheard their conversations and learned that they were on their way to Charlottesville to capture the Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson. The soldiers also hoped to capture members of the Virginia Legislature who were with Jefferson.
The local militia unit was ill-equipped and too few in numbers to stop Tarleton’s calvary. Jouett knew nobody else would be able to help Jefferson and the Virginia lawmakers before Tarleton’s forces arrived at Monticello. He knew the task to warn Jefferson was his to carry out. Mounting his best horse, he began the 40-mile ride across the backroads of Virginia in an attempt to make it there under the cover of the night ahead of Tarleton’s cavalry. At about 4:30 am on June 4, he reached the foot of the mountain on which Monticello sits. At Monticello, Jouett woke Jefferson and his guests including Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, and Thomas Nelson. Jouett then remounted to ride two miles further to warn the town of Charlottesville.
As Jefferson left Monticello, he could see British soldiers on his property. It was a a narrow escape.
Imagine how our nation’s history would have been different if Jefferson and Henry had been captured and hanged as traitors in June 1781.
To learn more about Jack Jouett and see possible discussion questions, download the Patriots of the Round Table Jack Jouett Fact Sheet.