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Meet Jack Jouett, the Paul Revere of the South

Paul Revere gets all the glory but he wasn’t the only one to make a daring late-night ride to warn that the British were coming. In 1781, during the Revolutionary War (and six years after Revere’s ride), a 26-year-old Virginian, John “Jack” Jouett, made a dangerous, 40-mile dash on horseback to Monticello, the home of Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson, to sound the alarm that British forces were on the way to capture the Founding Father. Thanks to Jouett, later dubbed the Paul Revere of the South, Jefferson managed to escape and avoid being taken prisoner.

On the evening of June 3, 1781, Jouett was at a Virginia tavern when he spotted Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton nearby with 250 British troops. Jouett realized that Tarleton and his men were headed toward Charlottesville, where Virginia’s General Assembly was temporarily convening. The Assembly had moved there after the capital, Richmond, was attacked by British forces, led by recent defector Benedict Arnold. Tarleton planned to capture many leading Virginian politicians, including Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, whose estate was just outside of Charlottesville.

Warning American troops of a British advance.  (Credit: MPI/Getty Images)

Warning American troops of a British advance. (Credit: MPI/Getty Images)

Jouett, aware that the area was undefended, raced through the night to warn Jefferson, reaching Monticello in the early hours of June 4. He then continued on to Charlottesville to alert lawmakers about the approaching British soldiers. Later that same day, Jefferson rode to safety, narrowly missing the arrival of enemy troops at his home. A handful of legislators, however, were captured in Charlottesville.

Jefferson’s political opponents criticized him for fleeing and claimed he’d abandoned his duties as governor. In fact, he had planned to wrap up his term on June 2 and his successor was supposed to be elected that day; instead, a new governor wasn’t chosen until June 12. The General Assembly later absolved Jefferson of any wrongdoing, and in 1801 he became America’s third president. However, as he wrote, the charges from the events of 1781 “inflicted a wound on my spirit which will only be cured by the all-healing grave.”

As for Jouett, in 1782 he moved to present-day Kentucky, where he went on to have 12 children and serve in the legislature. Virginia lawmakers gave Jouett, who died in 1822, a sword and pistols to thank him for his heroic ride, but he never became a legendary figure like Paul Revere.

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