Charlottesville History Tour Virginia's Midnight Rider for Victory: Jack Jouett

A Charlottesville History Tour would not be complete without a trip down memory lane with Mr. Jack Jouett. Through the rolling hills of the Piedmont to the cradling valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains are monuments, statues, and battlefields; all testify to a will to be free that could not be contained. A place where the price of liberty never became too steep, and where the character of this brave nation was formed by grit, longsuffering, valor, loyalty, and dedication in order to seek out sovereignty. The Old Dominion has been a battleground in nearly every war fought in the United States. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, battlefields are scattered along scenic routes from the Chesapeake Bay to the rugged terrain of the Shenandoah Valley. Virginia is where eight former U.S. Presidents called home. The state earned the nickname “Mother of Presidents” for consistently producing leaders of our nation. Each of the eight U.S. Presidents formed an everlasting legacy and an impression on the great state of Virginia. Taking a Charlottesville History Tour is a great way to see the landmarks that remind us of this storied past. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello represents common architectural features similar to the University of Virginia and other timeless structures in Charlottesville. Winding down Constitution Highway to visit James Madison’s Montpelier, or a stroll in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest, the history of the United States is firmly stamped throughout the countryside of Virginia, waiting to be discovered.

A Central Virginia History Tour is also a great place to hear fascinating stories about both well-known American figures and our nation's unsung heroes. One story rarely told but extremely important is that of Captain Jack Jouett and his midnight ride on June 3rd 1781.

No known likeness of Jouett exists, all the better for filling in that part of the story yourself! 

No known likeness of Jouett exists, all the better for filling in that part of the story yourself! 

Captain Jack Jouett, an Albemarle County native, served in the 16th Regiment of the Virginia militia. Captain Jouett was one of four brothers who all found their duty to serve during the Revolutionary War. One of Jack Jouett’s brother died fighting in the Battle of Brandywine. The Jouetts were very involved in the revolutionary cause. John Jouett Sr., Jack’s father, supplied the militia with meat rations, forming a family line to where Captain Jack Jouett found his zeal to serve.

He stood tall in stature, towering over many with broad shoulders and the muscular cut of a sportsman. Serving as a cavalry rider in the militia, Captain Jouett was known for being an excellent horseman and a marksman of prestige. Jack shared a caring nature for his cavalry horse. It was on his family farm where a young colt reminded him of his own tall thoroughbred. Like every good cavalryman, Jouett treated his horse as more than just a weapon used in wartime tactics, they shared a bond.

While on a short leave from the Virginia militia he made use of himself on the farm tending to chores. The captain knew he would not have many trips back ahead of him, yet a lot of work was still left to complete. By suppertime, Captain Jouett threw the leather saddle on his horse and rode a steady trot down to the Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa, Virginia. Dinner was served with wartime conversations. Recent news out of southeastern Virginia that Lord Charles Cornwallis led the main British army rummaging and burning houses and stores. Fields were being stripped bare, with nothing but a trail of destruction left behind.  The men whose lives were spared recounted the horrific scene that was now being littered through the Virginia countryside by the British army. Captain Jouett was angered and disturbed by the merciless path Lord Cornwallis had decided to trek. They spoke of the British chasing the Virginia legislature out of Richmond and about Lord Charles Cornwallis intentions to arrest traitors, which included Governor Thomas Jefferson. Once plates were cleared and talk began to fill itself with gaps of silence, the captain headed for a final check on his horse before turning in for the night.

The night melody of crickets chirping and the bellow of frogs echoing through the swamps soothed the ear of Captain Jack Jouett. He found himself bathing in the sounds that brought a peaceful calm over the night. After listening to the wretched stories of cruel suffering being inflicted on the citizens of Virginia he needed time to unwind before bed. He listened deep to the hypnotic orchestra of the night. Emerging from the tranquil melancholy noises came a rhythmic tremble to earth. Captain Jouett’s peace became cladded with an attentive ear transfixed on that which brought a cold stillness to night. The sound became familiar as he heard the horse hooves galloping towards his direction. The captain questioned what army was set to march in that part of Virginia; even if they were allies, why march at night?

Captain Jouett sought to steal away in the dark shadows of the hedges as the sound came closer. Clear in the abundant moonlight, he saw the brass buttons glimmering against the color of their tunics. Led by Banastre Tarleton, over two hundred British cavalry were passing through Louisa on their way to Charlottesville. Captain Jouett, realizing that he’d heard earlier that Governor Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature sought refuge in Charlottesville, quickly spurred into action. With Jefferson were dignitaries that would also come to have significant roles in forming this great country, but at that particular moment, the threat that they were on the brink of being captured once more was standing before them.

Captain Jack Jouett mounted his horse in order to attempt to beat “Tarleton’s Raiders” to Charlottesville to warn Governor Thomas Jefferson that Lord Cornwallis sent his special force out to capture him and members of the Virginia legislature. The British army had the only road into Charlottesville blocked. Known as the best foxhunter in Central Virginia, Captain Jouett was familiar with countless trails throughout the county. He knew that the darkness made it dangerous to ride in the compressed undergrowth. The captain carefully devised out a course through the dense backwoods of Piedmont plantations without intersecting with Tarleton’s men and a route that would quicken the pace. His tall frame fought through the thick brush and vines as he sat low in the saddle. He ignored low hanging branches carving deep slashes across his face as he rode with abandon.  His horse ran with purpose, leaping over fallen trees, and maneuvering through mountain streams. The closer Captain Jouett came to Monticello at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the more rugged and steep the landscape became. Meanwhile on the main road, the British cavalry commander, Banastre Tarleton, who was known for moving his men with swiftness and without forgiveness, out witted himself. In his arrogance, Tarleton called for his men to rest and have breakfast before entering the city of Charlottesville. Tarleton never had a target elude him, which comforted his assurance for taking the break. Little known to Jack, he was well ahead of the Raiders.

Captain Jouett- tired, battered, and bruised, made it to Monticello. It was near dawn and the sun began to reflect off of the peaks of the mountains. The morning saw its silence disturbed as the captain pounded on Jefferson door. A servant, still bleary with sleep, answered the door. The captain urged him to awaken the governor. Jefferson was startled by what he heard from Captain Jouett and invited him in for food and rest from the exhausting ride. The captain knew his goal was not complete. He fetched some water for him and his mount and rode off to warn the others. While Jouett left to spread the news, Jefferson sent word by courier to the other members of the Virginia legislature to reconvene in Staunton, forty miles west of Charlottesville. Jefferson sent his family to a friend’s home fourteen miles away. He gathered important valuable papers and documents before mounting his horse to ride out to Staunton. Jefferson and the legislature thanked the Virginia native for his valiant efforts.

Without Captain Jouett the great orator of that time, Patrick Henry, may have not survived. Three signatures that lay scribed on the Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, and Thomas Nelson Jr. were all in harm’s way. Jefferson, the author of that great document and the third President of the United States of America stood at the threat of being captured by the British army and placed on trial before the court, or worse hung for high treason. Captain Jack Jouett may not be a household name draped across Revolutionary War stories, but he sits among the hero’s that contributed no small part to the history of this great State.

This story and many others ignite the imagination and allow on to dream of the patriotism that rang throughout the city and countryside, but Virginia is much too rich to satisfy the history through imaginations when one has the choice of experiencing it in person. The option of navigating through the path our forefathers took in order to recapture the true essence of what is involved in creating a new government is one encounter that is sure to leave a lasting impression. Come and relive the making of the great nation on a Charlottesville history tour with us today!