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A Hero Hymned

July 2024
1min read

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 . …

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