On This Day in 1781, the Historic Ride to Save Thomas Jefferson

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Late in the evening, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, known as “Bloody Tarleton,”  and 250 mounted British soldiers reined up near Cuckoo Tavern. This was June 3, 1781, six years after Paul Revere’s ride and during the American Revolution.

A tavern patron and patriot, Captain John “Jack” Jouett, mingled with the troops and found out that the despised “Bloody Tarleton” was heading their way to capture Governor Thomas Jefferson and such other officials as Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, and General Thomas Nelson Jr.

Aware that the area was undefended, Jouett, 6’4″ and 220 lbs, rode at top speed for forty miles throughout the night to warn Thomas Jefferson. He arrived in the early hours of June 4. He then continued on to warn lawmakers in Charlottesville.

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.

Some criticized Jefferson for fleeing, but it was his last day on the job. He was absolved of wrongdoing and became the third president of the United States in 1801.

He is known as Virginia’s Paul Revere.

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.

He’s barely known except in Virginia, but he might have changed history.


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