40 Miles, 3 Notches, and Countless Pints: A Tale of Charlottesville


Nestled in the Piedmont foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lying about 120 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., is the storied town of Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville was chartered in 1762 by the Virginia General Assembly at a spot central to Albemarle County’s boundaries, and lying along a key 71-mile trade route called Three Notch’d Road, which led westward from Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley. Charlottesville has a rich history, and is the home of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, and is still host to two of Jefferson’s greatest legacies, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Monticello and the University of Virginia.

More recently, though, Charlottesville has gained acclaim for its flourishing craft beverage production community. Drawing on the wealth of historic events in the area, many of these establishments are referencing its historic heritage and local agricultural goods in their products and practices. One notable brewery closely identifying with Charlottesville’s history is Three Notch’d Brewing Company. Three Notch’d draws its namesake from the aforementioned Three Notch’d Road, whose name comes from the three notches hacked into tree trunks alongside the route as trail markers. In addition to being a major colonial trade route, Three Notch’d Road (also called Three Chopt Road) served as the main thoroughfare for the “Paul Revere of the South,” Jack Jouett.

In late May of 1781, after Gen. Benedict Arnold defected to the British during the Revolutionary War, Virginia’s capital of Richmond fell under attack. Under Gov. Thomas Jefferson, the state government retreated from Richmond with an agreement to reconvene in Charlottesville. After learning of this movement through an intercepted dispatch, British Gen. Charles Cornwallis ordered Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton (one of the most hated British officers of the Revolution) to capture the members of Virginia Legislature. Shortly thereafter on June 3, Tarleton left camp on the North Anna River to march his force covertly towards Charlottesville to undertake a fast maneuver designed to catch the politicians completely unaware, with Tarleton planning to close the last 70 miles between his troops and Charlottesville in 24 hours.

Though details of the account vary by source, the story goes that on the night of June 3, Capt. John “Jack” Jouett, Jr., then 27 years old and serving in the 16th Regiment of the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War, planned to spend the night at Cuckoo Tavern (records indicate that his father, John Jouett, Sr. was an earlier owner of the tavern). Though taverns did serve alcohol and sustaining fare, they were not the drinking establishments we think of today. Instead, taverns and public houses served a more comprehensive role of acting as way stations, news centers, and overnight accommodations for travelers and, during the Revolutionary War, troops. The Cuckoo Tavern is rumored to have gotten its name from a Cuckoo Clock housed there, which was a novelty in pre-Revolutionary War America and a tourist attraction for the tavern proprietors.

Prior to the Revolution, taverns had a wide variety of drinks available to their patrons. The prices were not exorbitantly high, and most Virginians could indulge a taste for tavern food or drink. Local justices often set the price for tavern fare, and rates in the year 1768 included records for a large number of beverages, including: “French Brandy, Canary Brandy, Portugal or French wine, Madeira Wine, Western Island Wine, Rum, English or Spanish Brandy, Good Peach or Apple Brandy, London or Brested [sic] Strong Beer, Continental Rum, English Cyder [sic], Good Cyder well Bottled, Good Cask Cyder, Whisky, Virginia Strong Beer, Cask Beer, Pennsylvania Strong Beer, Lemonades with Wine therein, and Punch.”

While bedded down on the lawn of Cuckoo Tavern (… likely after imbibing a few of the above-mentioned drinks), Jouett recognized the sound of arriving cavalry. Rising to investigate further, he spotted Tarleton and his 180 dragoons and 70 cavalrymen, who had halted their expedition for a brief rest. Jouett’s understanding of current events, military strategy, and his military service led him to correctly predict that Tarleton and his men were marching to Charlottesville, where Jefferson and his legislators were staying, largely undefended.

Jouett mounted his horse and rode a furious 40 miles through the night to arrive in Charlottesville to warn Jefferson and the Virginia Legislature of the planned sneak attack by British troops. After riding through the night lit by a nearly full moon, Jouett forded the Rivanna River and arrived first at Monticello near daybreak to warn Jefferson. According to an account given by one of Jefferson’s Monticello keepers, Jefferson was already awake and tending his gardens. Upon receiving Jouett, Jefferson is said to have insisted on Jouett’s consumption of a glass of Madeira wine before he rode on to Court House Square in Charlottesville proper.

In the meantime, as Jefferson and Jouett imbibed the morning beverage, Tarleton’s troops arrived east of Charlottesville at the area known as Castle Hill just after dawn on June 4 (interestingly, Castle Hill is now home to a craft cidery and an adjoining tract of land to an award-winning, family-run vineyard). Local lore holds that Tarleton and his troops chose to settle in for breakfast before marching on to Charlottesville, thus delaying their arrival in Charlottesville and affording Jefferson and others time to escape. A more garrulous version of the story told by “civilians” credits the owner of Castle Hill, Dr. Thomas Walker, as having prepared an elaborate breakfast (including alcohol) for the white coats in order to afford as much time as possible to the escaping Legislature. Tarleton’s account, however, maintains that he paused at Castle Hill for a mere half-hour repast before pressing on.

As the British resumed their progress towards Charlottesville, Jouett arrived at Court House Square, where Swan Tavern (which housed the majority of legislators who fled) was located. With Jouett’s warning, the legislators were able to flee west over the mountains further along Three Notch’d Road. They agreed to reunite in Staunton three days later, leaving them each to cover an additional 45-mile journey over the Blue Ridge Mountains as they chose.

Jefferson apparently took Jouett’s warning somewhat less seriously than his contemporaries, given that he no longer considered himself to be the official governor of Virginia. As his term had expired two days prior on June 2, he took his time setting his affairs in order and does not appear to have coordinated with his colleagues on a unified course of action — a neglect he would later regret. He is said to have taken time to enjoy breakfast before sorting papers for packing or destruction, and also arranging to send his family to safety at a nearby plantation. After receiving another warning that the Brits were drawing near, Jefferson was then forced to flee hurriedly as Tarleton’s troops enveloped Monticello. He rode through the woods to avoid capture on the main roads, with some reports claiming that he had to hide in the hollow of a tree on nearby Carter’s Mountain to escape discovery. His lack of coordination with the rest of the Virginia Legislature led to claims that would haunt him for the rest of his career of shirking his duties and abandoning his fellow public servants.

Jouett’s heroic ride allowed Jefferson and all but seven of the legislators to escape (albeit barely), but still gave Tarleton the opportunity to destroy arms and munitions while successfully dispersing the assembly of lawmakers. The legislators, along with frontiersman Daniel Boone, were detained and paroled. Monticello was largely unharmed, though some wine is said to have disappeared. In reward for his courageous ride, Jouett was later recognized by the Virginia General Assembly, which awarded him a sword and a pair of pistols for his public service.

Over 230 years later, Three Notch’d Brewery set up shop only a quarter of a mile from Three Notch’d Road’s original route. Scott Roth, president of Three Notch’d, explained that all five of the brewery’s flagship brews were drawn from local history:

“40 Mile IPA and Jack’s Java were named after Jack Jouett and his historic 40 mile ride. No Veto Brown is in honor of Patrick Henry, a lawyer from Virginia that led the movement to not allow the king of England to veto our laws — a pivotal moment in the Revolution — and ‘The Ghost of 43rd’ is a nod to John Mosby, a Virginian and a Civil War battalion commander known for his unique-at-the-time guerrilla warfare and ambush attacks.”

The most current hat tip is Hydraulion Irish Red, which is named after the University of Virginia fire department’s first pump engine from 1828.

Three Notch’d Brewing Company has been welcomed into the Charlottesville community with open arms since its founding in 2013. Dave Warwick, award-winning head brewer at Three Notch’d, explained of the brewery’s fit with the community that,

“Charlottesville is such an incredible town with an amazing history that we felt it was a natural fit to incorporate its history in our branding, and is a way to always keep us rooted to our home city no matter how big we get. Our beer names and identities pay tribute to many great individuals who have found a way to leave their mark in Virginia’s history, and we are hoping to do the same in the craft beer world!”

Although only two years old, Three Notch’d has already (as their slogan encourages) left their mark by producing over 100 unique brews, and that kind of initiative and free thinking is something that Jouett and Jefferson would have surely gotten behind. While passing out on their lawn is discouraged, feel free to stop in and partake in their delicious beer. Like Jack Jouett’s famous ride, it’s worth covering a great distance for.


Whitney Grespin is a defense consultant, sometimes writer, and Charlottesville ‘Brew Betty’. Her interests include contingency contracting, travels far and wide, and local craft beverage tasting establishments. She would like to give a special thanks to the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society for their fact checking of conflicting accounts.


Photo credit: Whitney Grespin