A Hero Hymned

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Likewise, when an historical generalization is made in our pages, it is likely to be challenged. In our December, 1961, issue Virginius Dabney described “Jack Jouett’s Ride,” the heroic all-night gallop in 1781 whereby a devoted Virginia patriot saved Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of the rebel cause from capture by the British. The flip subhead we supplied under Mr. Dabney’s title read: “His feat was more daring than Paul Revere’s, but Virginia’s hero had, alas, no Longfellow.”

To Mr. Dabney’s office at the Richmond Times-Dispatch came the following letter:

“In your search for a poem, did you ever come across one by Mrs. Julia Johnson Davis, late of Norfolk? It was published about ten or twelve years ago in a collection of hers called The Garnet Ring. It begins like this:

The blue Virginia hills were dark, The good folk all were sleeping , For with the British far away What watch should they be keeping?

The poem ends:

And Tarlton galloping down the road With his troopers swinging after , Heard, clearer than a thrush’s note , A burst of mocking laughter .

There are some twenty stanzas in between. It sticks very close to the facts as you gave them … We heard that Mrs. Davis died this past December. …

At least four other readers—Major R. A. Lambie, U.S.A.F., of Scott Air Force Base in Illinois; Hugh R. Rogers of Trenton, New Jersey; Mrs. C. D. Bruce of Santa Anna, Texas; and Barbara Wade, age fifteen, of Pensacola, Florida—were inspired by the challenge to compose Jouett odes of their own, and Maurice E. Peloubet of New York City sent along a Jouett ballad he had written and distributed to friends as a Christmas greeting in 1951. From Mrs. Julia Brett Rouzee of Manhassett, Long Island, came an excellent poem, too long for our space, by her father, Homer Brett, formerly a consul-general in the U.S. Foreign Service. Entitled “Jack Jouett’s Ride,” it was published in a private edition of Mr. Brett’s poems in 1953. Finally, Charles W. Starcher of Charleston, West Virginia, recalled reading a poem about Jouett’s exploit in the seventh grade. Further research on his part unearthed “A Hawk from Cuckoo Tavern,” by Lawrence Lee, which appeared in a 1933 Lippincott anthology entitled Great Americans, As Seen by the Poets , edited by Burton Stevenson. It even has a Longfellow-like ring to it:

Listen, Americans! Never forget The glorious deed of Jack Jouett! From Cuckoo Tavern a perilous ride Across the Virginia countryside . … Safe are Jefjerson, Henry and Lee , Safe is Jouett, racing free . Saved the Assembly at Charlottesville By the noble horse and Jouett’s will . …