Christiana Campbell (ca. 1723–1792)


Christiana Campbell was a tavern-keeper in Williamsburg from 1755 until the late 1770s. Campbell, who was raised in Williamsburg, opened her tavern to support herself and her two daughters after her husband died in 1752. For more than twenty years she ran one of Williamsburg’s most successful businesses. On the eve of the American Revolution (1775–1783), the colony’s leaders periodically met at Campbell’s tavern to discuss their connections with England and whether they should seek independence. Campbell evidently closed her tavern in the late 1770s, and, at some point after October 8, 1787, relocated to Fredericksburg, where she died in 1792.

Early Life

Campbell was born Christiana Burdett in or about 1723. She spent her childhood in Williamsburg. Her father, John Burdett, ran a tavern near the Capitol by 1734 and it is likely that her mother, Mary Burdett, taught Christiana the skills needed to work in an ordinary or boarding house: cooking, laundering sheets, ordering food supplies and beverages, and keeping accounts. John Burdett died by August 18, 1746; Christiana Burdett administered her father’s will and inherited a share of his estate worth at least 300 pounds sterling, including three slaves.

Sometime after September 21, 1747, Christiana Burdett married Ebenezer Campbell. The couple likely moved to Blandford, a town on the Appomattox River, where he worked as an apothecary. They had two daughters, one possibly born after Ebenezer Campbell’s death; his estate was advertised for sale in the Virginia Gazette on August 14, 1752.

Return to Williamsburg

Bruton Parish Church

The widow Campbell had returned to Williamsburg by October 7, 1753, when records show that she had a slave baptized at Bruton Parish Church. At that time she also returned to the tavern-keeping business, possibly using the proceeds from the sale of her husband’s medical equipment to rent a building for her business and to purchase the supplies and equipment needed to run a tavern: tables, chairs, tablecloths, mirrors, candles, kitchen equipment, dining utensils, and china. Campbell’s establishment was no doubt in operation by 1755, when she purchased twenty-five bushels of wheat (from Carter Burwell of Carter’s Grove) and 111 pounds of beef.

Campbell moved her business several times between 1755 and 1787, when her tavern occupied at least three different locations in Williamsburg, each a short distance from the Capitol building. She had moved her tavern to its final location by October 3, 1771, when she announced in the Virginia Gazette that her tavern was now located in two lots just east of the Capitol, the former site of Jane Vobe‘s tavern. By January 5, 1774, Campbell owned the two lots outright.

As a licensed tavern-keeper, Campbell was required to provide food, drinks, and lodging at a price set by the local county court. The set price made it possible for a middling colonist to afford a meal or room at a tavern. But, like other Williamsburg tavern-keepers, Campbell wanted to appeal to elite colonists who would spend higher sums for specialized services. She did so by promising, as one of her advertisements put it, “genteel Accommodations, and the very best Entertainment.” One way in which she catered to elite customers was by allowing members of the Williamsburg Masonic Lodge to hold balls—a favorite pastime of the gentry—in her tavern’s public room.

Campbell counted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among her clientele. (Her signed receipts to Washington indicate that Campbell was literate; many women in colonial Virginia were not.) It’s possible that Campbell’s business grew from the late 1760s to the early 1770s as burgesses gathered there to discuss the Townshend Acts, the Tea Act, and the Intolerable Acts, and then to debate whether to declare independence from England and create a new government.

Dudley Digges House

Campbell depended on her enslaved men, women, and children to tend to the needs of her customers. She had a cook, likely an enslaved woman, who prepared meals served by enslaved boys. Enslaved men looked after customers’ horses and delivered food to Williamsburg from the surrounding countryside. Women and girls cleaned the tavern, washed dishes, and laundered sheets and tablecloths. In the 1760s, Campbell sent several of her slave children to the Bray school, a school for enslaved and free black children, where they were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, and etiquette. Perhaps Campbell believed that this training would better prepare her enslaved boys to wait on her customers and the enslaved girls to do their work in a timely and proper fashion.

By late in the 1770s, when Campbell’s business began to decline, she evidently decided to close her tavern. She may have reached this decision because of high prices for provisions and food shortages in the Williamsburg area during the American Revolution. Williamsburg went into an economic decline after April 1780, when Virginia’s government was moved to Richmond. On February 25, 1783, the merchant Alexander Macaulay and his wife stopped at Campbell’s home and inquired about the availability of a room. Campbell informed the Macaulays that she no longer operated her tavern and had not done so for several years. She did not, however, tell them that she now took in students of the College of William and Mary as boarders.

Later Years

Early in 1787, Campbell decided to auction off her boarding house, sell her property, and move to Fredericksburg, where her daughter Ebenezer Day lived. Because the Williamsburg house and lots did not sell, the widow Campbell—along with her personal slave, Betty, and a few other slaves—remained in the house near the old Capitol building until sometime after October 8, 1787. Campbell finally relocated to Fredericksburg, where she died on March 25, 1792. Campbell was buried in Fredericksburg’s Masonic Cemetery.

ca. 1723
Christiana Burdett is born to John Burdett and Mary Burdett.
November 18, 1734
By this date, John Burdett has opened a tavern in Williamsburg.
August 18, 1746
Christiana Burdett administers the estate of her father John Burdett after his death. She inherits a share of his estate worth at least 300 pounds sterling, including four slaves—a man named Shropshire, a woman named Belle, and Belle's two children.
September 21, 1747
Sometime after this date, Christiana Burdett marries Ebenezer Campbell. They will have two daughters.
August 14, 1752
Christiana Campbell, widow of Ebenezer Campbell of Blandford, announces the sale of his medicines, surgical instruments, and medical books.
October 7, 1753
By this date, Christiana Campbell has moved to Williamsburg with her two daughters, as indicated by the baptismal record for one of her slaves at Bruton Parish Church.
Christiana Campbell purchases twenty-five bushels of wheat from Carter Burwell of nearby Carter's Grove plantation and 111 pounds of beef from William Lightfoot, a Yorktown merchant. The large quantities suggest that she is buying provisions for her Williamsburg tavern.
April 13, 1761
George Washington records that he paid the widow Campbell two pounds and five shillings on this day. At this time Christiana Campbell is the tenant of Lot 18 on Duke of Gloucester Street.
September 30, 1762
Christiana Campbell sends three slaves—London, age seven; Aggy, age six; and Shropshire, age six—to the Bray school in Williamsburg.
November 1765
Christiana Campbell enrolls two slaves—Young and Mary—in the Bray school in Williamsburg.
February 16, 1769
Mary, Sally, and Sukey—three enslaved girls owned by Christiana Campbell—attend the Bray school in Williamsburg.
April 27, 1769
An advertisement in the Virginia Gazette indicates that Christiana Campbell has moved her business from Lot 18 on Duke of Gloucester Street to Lot 58E, the property previously occupied by Richard Charlton and adjoining the building on Lot 58W that her father, John Burdett, had used for his tavern.
June 15, 1771
Thomas Jefferson is a patron of Christiana Campbell's tavern. He notes expenses for coffee, dinner, entertainment, and clubbing (when men gather in a private room to discuss politics and current events over drinks) between this date and December 1777.
October 3, 1771
Christiana Campbell announces that she has opened her tavern in the house in which Jane Vobe recently had her business.
January 5, 1774
Christiana Campbell finalizes her purchase of the two lots on which her tavern stands.
Christiana Campbell lists an enslaved man, three slave women, five slave boys, and four enslaved girls as part of her personal property.
February 25, 1783
Merchant Alexander Macaulay records an encounter with Christiana Campbell. After he and his wife had stopped at Campbell's home to inquire about the availability of a room, Campbell informed the Macaulays that she did not "keep a house of entertainment, nor have not for some years."
Christiana Campbell states that she has four adult women, three enslaved boys, and three slave girls in her Williamsburg household.
Christiana Campbell reports that she has one adult male slave, three enslaved women, and two slave boys on her property.
March 8, 1787
Christiana Campbell places an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette and Weekly Advertiser to announce the sale of her house and lots in Williamsburg. The house and property do not sell.
September 27, 1787
Former tavern-keeper Christiana Campbell informs readers of the Virginia Gazette that she plans to sell some of her household items on October 8, 1787. Sometime after this sale, she moves to Fredericksburg, where her daughter Ebenezer Day lives.
March 25, 1792
Christiana Campbell dies in Fredericksburg.
April 16, 1956
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation opens a reconstructed version of Christiana Campbell's tavern as a working restaurant.
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  • Meacham, Sarah Hand. “‘Anne Howard … Will Take in Gentlemen’: White Middling Women and the Tavernkeeping Trade in Colonial Virginia.” In Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.
  • Sturtz, Linda L. “The ‘Ordinary Women’: Business Owners and the Local Courts.” In Within Her Power: Propertied Women in Colonial Virginia. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.
APA Citation:
Richter, Julie. Christiana Campbell (ca. 1723–1792). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/campbell-christiana-ca-1723-1792.
MLA Citation:
Richter, Julie. "Christiana Campbell (ca. 1723–1792)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 22 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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