Jack Jouett’s Ride

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Undiscouraged, Jouett settled down in Mercer County and entered politics. He helped Kentucky break off from Virginia and become a sovereign state, served four terms in the new legislature, pioneered livestock breeding in Woodford County—in the bluegrass where today great racing stables raise swift colts for the Derby—and in his later years was the friend of Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and the great families of his adopted slate. Among his numerous children was one of America’s most noted portrait painters, Matthew Harris Jouett (“I sent Matthew to college to make a gentleman of him,” said old Jack, “and he has turned out to be nothing but a damned sign painter”). And among Matthew’s children was James Edward “Fighting Jim” Jouett, a distinguished naval officer, who seems to have shared his grandfather’s fate in being forgotten by history. What Admiral Farragut reportedly said at the Battle of Mobile Bay was: “Damn the torpedoes! Four bells! Captain Drayton go ahead! Jouett full speed!” Alas, it is usually remembered by the average schoolboy as “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

By the time “Fighting Jim’s” hour of glory struck, his grandfather was of course long since dead. And by the world forgotten: he was buried in the family cemetery at his Bath County farm, Peeled Oak, but the grave was unmarked, and it took a twentieth-century researcher, the late Mrs. Joel M. Cochran of Charlottesville, Virginia, to find the spot where the old Revolutionary hero was laid to rest.

Yes, Jack Jouett’s ride from Cuckoo Tavern to Monticello cries out for a ballad that will seize the fancy of the American people. The hoofbeats of his steed, toiling and sweating through the warm June night across forty miles of Virginia countryside, come echoing down the years. Jack Jouett gave some of America’s greatest patriots a timely warning in one of the Revolution’s dark hours, but his valorous deed has been well-nigh forgotten. He deserves a kinder fate.