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
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‘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 towho 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 —a favorite pastime of the gentry—in her tavern’s public room.
Campbell countedand among her clientele. (Her signed receipts to Washington indicate that Campbell was literate; many in were not.) It’s possible that Campbell’s business grew from the late 1760s to the early 1770s as 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.
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, a school for enslaved and children, where they were 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.
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.