“Now listen my children and you will hear”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This isn’t about the midnight ride of Paul Revere or even about the ride of Jack Jouett. To learn about the ride of another unsung hero of the Revolution, read on!
On that spring night in 1781, it was dark and stormy. The occasional flashes of lightning illuminated the horse and rider as they raced through the darkness. A few hours before, the rider, Jesse Thomas, had been resting at his home, Royal Oaks, in Cumberland County. He was recuperating from a wound received at the Battle of Cowpens. Suddenly, an unexpected visitor arrived. The man was an escaped prisoner of war and he told Jesse that Cornwallis had dispatched two regiments of redcoats. One, under the command of Colonel Tarleton, was heading to Charlottesville to capture Thomas Jefferson and other members of the Legislature whose members had fled Williamsburg thinking they’d be safe in Charlottesville. The other, under the command of Colonel Simcoe, was headed to Point of Fork to capture the arsenal there.
Point of Fork, situated at the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers, was under command of Baron von Steuben and housed a storehouse of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies vital to the war effort.
The rider crouched low over the brown mane of Fearnaught, his gallant steed, as they made their way towards the James River. The large chestnut stood 16 hands high and was as swift as an antelope. Reaching the river, they found it in flood. There were no bridges and the ferry was out. Leaning low over the horse’s neck, he ordered “cross over.” Without hesitation – and living up to his name – the horse plunged into the raging water and, with powerful strokes, carried his rider to the other shore. They then raced to von Steuben’s camp and warned him of the approaching danger.
Von Steuben and his troops were able to transport their stores across the James River. They also dropped artillery pieces into the river to recover later.
Jesse Thomas and Fearnaught helped to foil Simcoe’s plans and helped to hasten victory for the emerging nation that would become known as the United States of America.
(This information came from an article in the Kansas City Times December 9, 1948)
Bill Jones – Fluvanna County Historical Society