Jack Jouett, Jefferson’s Paul Revere, after the War

Jack Jouett House

Jack Jouett was Thomas Jefferson’s Paul Revere, most famous for riding pell mell through the night to warn Virginia’s governor in 1781 that Banastre Tarleton and his men were on their way to Charlottesville to capture the governor and Virginia’s General Assembly.  Given Tarleton’s reputation for speed, surprise, and route, Jouett had to ride down back roads and country lanes with low hanging-trees, cattle paths, and foot paths to get ahead of the British officer with enough time to warn Virginia’s government-in-exile.  https://emergingrevolutionarywar.org/2016/08/02/jack-jouett-midnight-rider-of-the-south/  Unlike Revere, whom the British famously captured, Jouett arrived in Charlottesville with enough time for Jefferson and most legislators to escape.

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Jack Jouett House with earlier stone kitchen visible at the rear

            It’s a great story and Jouett makes it into standard biographies of Jefferson, histories of the war in Virginia, or campaign studies of Cornwallis and Tarleton.  But, Jouett’s story doesn’t end there.  Like many veterans—Jouett served in the Virginia militia—he headed west, over the Appalachians, in search of land and new opportunities.   The next year found Jouett in Kentucky County, Virginia.  Despite the bloodletting that went on in Kentucky during the Revolution, families continued to flock there.  Shortly after his arrival, he married, eventually fathering twelve children.  Given Kentucky’s exploding growth, the Virginia legislature divided Kentucky County into Lincoln, Jefferson, and Mercer counties and the people of Lincoln county elected Jouett as their representative in the Virginia General Assembly.  But, at heart, he remained a Virginia farmer, raising crops and livestock.  Sadly, he continued the practice of slavery, eventually owning twenty-five people.

Historical Marker at Jack Jouett House in Versailles, Kentucky

            In 1797, Jouett and his family bought a 530-acre farm in Woodford County and built one of Kentucky’s earliest brick homes, a step up from the log and stone buildings many settling the frontier built on their arrival.  Reflecting the period, it adopted design features from Virginia with a central hall and parlor and bedrooms in a half-floor attic.  The building included an earlier stone-walled kitchen built in the 1780s.  Jouett eventually moved away to Bath County in 1809 and died in 1822.  The house 1797 house, however, remains and was restored between 1972-1978 and opened for public tours in 1978.  Many of the interior contents are from the period and a small museum telling Jouett’s story in Virginia and Kentucky is in a separate building nearby.  It is not far from Lexington or some of Kentucky’s other Revolutionary War sites like Harrodsburg or Boonesborough.  It can be visited at:

Jack Jouett House Historic Site
255 Craig’s Creek Road
Versailles, Kentucky 40383
(859) 873-7902

It is best to visit the location’s website (http://jouetthouse.org) or call ahead for operating hours.

Tippecanoe Battlefield

During a recent trip following VA Militia Colonel George Rogers Clark and his Illinois Campaign, my brother and I stopped off at the Tippecanoe Battlefield Interpretive Center in the appropriately-named Battlefield, Indiana, not far from Lafayette.  The battlefield park encompasses the site of a clash between American soldiers and a multinational coalition of Native Americans led by Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, more widely known as “The Prophet.”  It is a gem of a battlefield from America’s founding era.  The Treaty of Paris ceded British “authority” over the Northwest Territory to the new United States.  Of course, it did so without consulting the Native Americans who actually lived there.  That imposition of a European concept naturally led to resistance and involved the United States in some of its earliest wars as a country, notably the War for the Northwest Territory during the Washington Administration and then Tecumseh’s resistance movement and the War of 1812, in which Native Americans in the area primarily sided with the British.  Like St. Clair’s Defeat (1791), the Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), and the Battle on the Thames (1813), Tippecanoe (1811) became a milestone among those conflicts.  

Harrison Monument at Tippecanoe in Battlefield, IN. The hilltop stretches into the distance. Some of the trees visible were present during the battle, but are dying from the afflictions that affect aging trees.

Concerned by growing nativist sentiment and alliances among the Indians from several different tribes, Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison led nearly 1,000 infantry, militia, and cavalry north from Vincennes to a growing Indian Settlement known as Prophetstown established by the Shawnee leaders Tecumseh and the Prophet.  Expecting a parlay with Tenskwatawa on November 7, Harrison made camp on a hill near Tippecanoe creek the night of November 6, 1811.  Tecumseh, an experienced war captain and diplomat, was away from Prophetstown at the time, leaving his brother nominally in charge, although various war captains and chiefs from tribes interested in The Prophet’s message were at Prophetstown as well.  

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Catherine the Great Takes Notice of the American Revolution

Catherine the Great By Ivan Argunov (Wikimedia Commons)

Catherine II, aka Catherine the Great, was one of the most dynamic and substantive monarchs of the eighteenth century.  A wealth of contradictions characterized her reign.   A reformer who corresponded regularly with the likes of Voltaire and Diderot, she was also a dedicated imperialist who divvyed up Poland in league with her neighbors and waged offensive wars to the south while colonizing as much of Siberia and Central Asia as she could.  She seized power in a de facto coup, watched her rivals conveniently die, and embraced a Russian tradition of banishing unreliable or undesirable subjects, defined as those did not serve her interests, to Siberia.  At the same time, she explicitly located the sovereignty of the nation among its people, sought to expand the number and classes of subjects with a role in administrative decision-making, and sincerely desired be seen as a what might be called a “democratic autocrat.”[1]  So, one might expect Catherine’s Russia to have a mixed view of the American Revolution.  As always, she was sure not to disappoint.

The years prior to Lexington and Concord were exhausting for Russia.  In 1772, it completed the first partition of Poland in cooperation with Prussia and Austria.   In 1774, it finally brought a six-year war with the Ottoman Empire to a successful resolution in the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, which expanded Russian territory in the south, giving it greater access to the Black Sea.[2]  Throughout the period, Catherine dealt with a number of internal rebellions and uprisings built around phony claimants to her throne.   By far the most dangerous was a Cossack uprising led by Emil Pugachev, who claimed to be Catherine’s deposed husband Peter III.  He was caught at the end of 1774 and executed in 1775.  When Britain’s North American colonies rebelled, it rated notice, but little attention in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg.  Before too long Britain came calling, requesting 20,000 troops to suppress the rebellion.   Catherine declined, but wrote a correspondent that she expected America to become independent in her lifetime.[3]  Then her government turned toward its latest round of internal reform meant to improve the administration of its vast and growing territory.  That might have been the end of it, but European politics intervened.

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Review: Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution by Eric Jay Dolin, (New York: Liveright, 2022)

Compared to the rest of the literature on the American Revolution, the war at sea gets relatively little attention.  Eric Jay Dolin has joined a small cadre of writers and historians trying to rectify that shortfall.  In his latest book, Dolin takes on the privateering war, activities by privately financed vessels to wage war on British trade at the nominal behest of various states and the Continental Congress.  Granting letters of marque, essentially a license to take foreign ships as prizes on the high seas, gave states a way of quickly tapping private capital to create sea power and attack an enemy on the ocean.  It was an important innovation, one Britain and its colonies had used widely before the Revolution, and was often preferable to the expense of maintaining a large navy.  The rebelling colonies first issues such letters, followed by Congress itself.  

            The status of privateers was controversial.  Because the ships were privately financed, their owners and crews cashed in on prizes taken.  Entire fortunes could be made at the same time the war impoverished others.  For shipowners, the risks were manageable to secure such payoffs.   Officers and crewmen could also expect a healthy payday from a successful cruise.  Their risks, however, were substantial.  

Britain, of course, did not recognize its colonies as independent states, which invalidated any letters of marque and made the privateersmen crewing the ships pirates subject to summary hanging.  In practice, however, captured privateersmen were simply sent to prison, often the ship hulks floating in New York’s harbor.  It could be the same as a death sentence.  In America, some viewed them as a distraction from the main war effort created by greedy men lacking in public spirit.  

Dolin thoroughly reviews all of these issues and comes to the conclusion that, on the whole, privateers and their crews materially hindered the British war effort while preventing coastal economies from collapsing in the face of Britain’s superior fleet and control of the seas.  He backs the argument up by citing previous studies of economic losses.  For example, the first Secretary of Lloyd’s of London, and dominant insurer, concluded that 3,386 British vessels were captured during the war, of which 1,002 were either recaptured or “ransomed.” (That figure includes captures made by naval vessels and America’s allies.) Dolin estimates the value of captures made by American vessels at between $1.4 and $1.6 billion today.  In other words, the impact of privateering was substantial.

Dolin livens the story with narratives of ship encounters and individuals caught up in the war.  Much like the privateering war itself, they are too episodic to hang together as an integrated narrative.  But, he uses them effectively to underscore his broader points while helping the reader relate to the war at sea.  Dozens of illustrations enrich the read.  

            Eric Jay Dolin is an excellent writer, straightforward with a style that keeps the book moving while thoroughly engaging the reader.  Rebels at Sea is destined to become the starting place to understand the privateer war during the American Revolution. 

John Paul Jones Endangers Dutch Neutrality

John Paul Jones (Wikimedia Commons)

On the morning of September 25, 1779 from the deck of his new prize, the British frigate Serapis, John Paul Jones watched his former ship, Bonhomme Richard slide beneath the waves off Flamborough Head on Britain’s east coast.  It had been a brutal fight before the Americans prevailed over a well-handled, better-armed British vessel and became one of the most famous sea-duels in American history.  A floating wreck, Serapis’ condition made it unfit to continue with Jones’ original plan of taking the war to England by cruising for prizes.  Moreover, he was due in the Texel, a roadstead near Amsterdam where ships gathered for safer transit over waters regularly patrolled by the British fleet.   The French had a convoy gathering there and wanted an armed escort.  After spending days repairing Serapis, Jones, his small naval squadron (AlliancePallasVengeance), and his prizes (Serapis, Countess of Scarborough), reached Dutch shores on October 3.  

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Down the Rabbit Hole with Three Captains Johnny

On the afternoon of June 4, 1782 in the grasslands of western Ohio, a Pennsylvania volunteer named Francis Dunlavy spent a portion of his time trying to shoot a Native American he later called “Big Captain Johnny.”  For his part, the Indian attempted with equal passion to kill Dunlavy.  At some point, they worked themselves into a position on opposite sides of a recently fallen tree at the edge of a wood that adorned a modest, but noticeable rise that could pass for a hill in the surrounding plain.  Even dropped on its side, the tree still held a full canopy of leaves, and the two combatants stalked each other around it.    Eventually, “Big Captain Johnny” saw his opening.  He was close enough to rise and hurl tomahawks at Dunlavy.   Fortunately, he missed and Dunlavy survived to relate the tale to his friends and family.  In 1872, more than 30 years after Dunlavy passed, his family related the tale to C.W. Butterfield, who wrote the first history of the Crawford Campaign.  Before telling the story again, I wanted to confirm it.  That meant searching for Francis Dunlavy and Captain Johnny anywhere, and everywhere, they might have left footprints in history. 

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Henry Clinton and “A Miracle on Sullivan’s Island”

By the Red Sea the Hebrew host detained

Through aid divine the distant shore soon gained;

The waters fled, the deep passage a grave;

But thus God wrought a chosen race to save.

Though Clinton’s troops have shared a different fate

‘Gainst them, poor men! Not chosed sure of heaven,

The miracle reversed is still as great—

From two feet deep the water rose to seven.[6]

–St. James Chronicle

While delegates to the Second Continental Congress debated the matter of Independence in 1776, the British brought the war to Charleston, South Carolina.  Defense of the city focused on Fort Sullivan, on Sullivan’s Island at the northern mouth of Charleston Harbor.  Major General Henry Clinton, commanding an Army expedition against the Americans, was determined to exploit the fort’s vulnerabilities.  He ultimately failed, but his effort, or lack thereof, prompted a British newspaper to craft a little ditty taunting the poor general.

Fort Sullivan
The Attack on Fort Sullivan, June 28, 1776 from Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775-1780
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Review: Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution by Don Hagist

Don Hagist is one of our foremost American authorities on the common British soldier during the American Revolution. His latest book, Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution, is an institutional portrait of the British army that fought the American Revolution. Hagist has walked this ground before, most notably in British Soldiers, American War, which dedicated a chapter to a specific individual as a way of illustrating the experience of the common soldier. Noble Volunteers extrapolates on that, using soldier accounts, regimental paybooks, muster rolls, pension applications, and any other available material to give us an integrated picture of the entire army and how it functioned. It’s an extraordinarily valuable book.

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Bicentennial Minutes

Almost fifty years ago, the United States celebrated its Bicentennial, treating July 4, 1976 as the 200th anniversary of its founding. (The next “major” milestone will be the semi-quincentennial, which doesn’t quite roll of the tongue). For just over two years, from July 4, 1974 through October 1976, every night CBS Television broadcast a very short monologue by some public personality, ranging from actors and directors to writers and politicians. (Oddly, I don’t recall any historians, but one hopes with more than 750 episodes at least one made it on camera.) They were a minute long, give or take a few seconds, and served as miniature history lessons (or a long commercial), each timed to an anniversary of some specific event on that day. In some ways, they were “on-this-day-in-history” lessons. So, for example, on May 7, 1976 movie director Otto Preminger described Thomas Jefferson’s May 7, 1776 departure from Monticello to return to the Continental Congress. Similarly, on June 4, 1976 Senator Fritz Hollings very briefly described the first arrival of British ships near Charleston as a prelude to their attack on June 28, 1776. Each began with a musical flourish that told you what was coming and was integrated with some still images, a set, or a location that looked “historical” in the background. The series turned out to be relatively popular and was even nominated for two Emmys in 1975 and 1977.

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Historians from the Past: C.W. Butterfield (1824-1899)

Butterfield from his book on George Rogers Clark

Early histories of the American Revolution in the west relied on oral tradition, local lore, legend, and even a bit of inventive myth-making as a young United States spread beyond the Appalachians and sought to develop its own, new identity.  Considerable effort, but not always the most rigorous methodology, often went into combining these sources into a narrative and telling an integrated story of how events in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston or London eventually affected communities “over the mountains.”   The first historians overlapped with the Revolutionary generation.   Often, the writers were children in the early 1800s and heard stories from veterans and settlers themselves (or their relations, descendants, and neighbors) in their old age.   

            A second generation came along in the mid-19th century.   The most notable was Lyman Draper.   He set out to write the definitive history of the war on the frontier, but ended up amassing the definitive archive.  While working on his never-published history, Draper crossed paths with Consul Wilshire Butterfield, who had moved to Madison, Wisconsin in part because of Draper’s success building libraries in the city and state.   Like many of his contemporaries, including Draper, Butterfield did not start as a professional historian.  Born in Oswego, NY, he moved with his family as a boy to Seneca County, Ohio in 1834, briefly attended school in Albany, and then took a brief tour of Europe in 1846.  The following year, he wrote a history of Seneca County, which was published in 1848, the same year he was elected the county’s Superintendent of Schools.  The job didn’t last long as he set out for California during the Gold Rush.  Rather than becoming a “Forty-Niner” he ran for Superintendent of State Schools, but narrowly lost.   Then it was back to Ohio, where he studied law, served briefly as Secretary of a Railway Company, and eventually opened a legal practice in Bucyrus, Ohio.   Along the way, Butterfield, who lacked much in the way of formal education but was clearly adept at learning, took the time to publish a book on punctuation.  Then, in 1873, the Cincinnati publisher Robert Clarke & Company issued Butterfield’s An Historical Account of the Expedition Against Sandusky Under Col. William Crawford, in 1872.   (The campaign’s climatic battle took place about 20 miles from Butterfield’s law practice.)  The book was a hit and the transplanted Ohio lawyer changed careers. 

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