Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Meeting Notes: January 16, 2008

"Tarleton's Charlottesville Raid and the British Invasion of Virginia," John Maass

The January 16, 2008 meeting of the American Revolution Roundtable of Richmond, Virginia was held at 6:30 p.m. in the Westhampton Room at the University of Richmond. The speaker was John Maass, a graduate of that great institution in Lexington, Virginia known as Washington & Lee University. He was introduced to the 54 member gathering by Lynn Simms, the first Vice President for programs.

Dr. Maass, who earned his PhD from Ohio State University in history, is with the U.S. Army Center for Military History and his topic was Tarleton’s Charlottesville Raid and the British Invasion of Virginia.

The action took place beginning around April of 1781. General Cornwalis had been in the Carolinas and decided for many reasons to try to invade Virginia. Lt. Col. Tarleton was 26 years old at the time, a redhead, and even though he had quite a reputation in the Carolinas for brutality, he behaved himself relatively well in Virginia, all things considered. He had been from a wealthy merchant family and had purchased his way into the service. He rapidly rose through the ranks and led the daring raid to try to capture Virginia’s General Assembly which had moved to Charlottesville.

Opposing Tarleton was Lafayette who was 23 at the time and who was serving under General Nathaniel Greene.

Of course a famous incident took place relating to this raid when Tarleton stopped in Cuckoo, Virginia at a tavern. There it was reported that Jack Jouett overheard some of Tarleton’s men or officers talking about their plans to go after the General Assembly in Charlottesville. Jack Jouett thus got on his horse and rode the approximately six miles to Charlottesville and thus “saved the day.”

As part of this incident, Jouett rode up and awakened Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, and there had a little wine before heading into Charlottesville itself.

The British did capture Daniel Boone in this raid, and even though he and others were kept in a “coalhouse,” Tarleton had boasted that he had treated everyone pretty well.

As part of this affair, Jefferson was portrayed as somewhat cowardly because he fled just minutes before the British got there. Instead of following the General Assembly to Staunton, he went first to Blenham, another plantation in Albemarle County, and then onto Poplar Forest just outside of Lynchburg. Dr. Maass reported that there really wasn’t much that Jefferson could do but it just didn’t “look right” for Jefferson to be heading to Poplar Forest instead of to Staunton. Jefferson’s term as governor of Virginia was over on June 1, but the thinking was, particularly with Patrick Henry and his supporters, that Jefferson was really just “invisible” and a “coward.” A number of the delegates tried to censure Jefferson for his actions in this matter, although the General Assembly cleared him.

So in the end the raid failed because Tarleton was unable to capture Jefferson and of course was unable to capture the General Assembly because thanks to Jouett, Jefferson got away and the General Assembly escaped to Staunton. Tarlteton decided, due to his supply lines, not to venture over the Blue Ridge to Staunton.

However, the raid into Virginia did cause quite a bit of consternation and concern among the residents. In any event, it was the quick thinking and heroic efforts of Jack Jouett which caused the British to fail. As a result the General Assembly awarded Jouett French-made pistols for his efforts although he didn’t really get to receive them until 1803!

Dr. Maass’ presentation was very well-received, and he certainly spiced up the event with pictures of a number of the players in the story as well as some handouts. Unfortunately, we only have one likeness of Jack Jouett - a silhouette.