Vobe was born by 1733. Little is known about her early life; she might have grown up in or around Williamsburg. Extant records contain a few clues about her family members: it is possible that she learned how to operate a tavern from either Thomas Vobe, who operated an ordinary in Williamsburg and whom she might have married, or from members of the Moody family (of which York County court records suggest Vobe was a member), who welcomed customers at their Capital Landing establishment. York County court records show that Vobe was likely keeping her own tavern by early in 1751, when enslaved men broke into her home and stole candles and gallons of rum on two separate occasions.
Crime did not deter Vobe from continuing her business; in fact, between 1752 and 1769, when Williamsburg was the social, political, and economic center of Virginia, Vobe expanded her labor force from three to thirteen. She added five more workers in 1770. Vobe’s larger workforce allowed her to provide amenities that would attract genteel customers, such as the men who traveled to Williamsburg to serve on theor in the . In 1764, Vobe leased an unspecified number of acres near Williamsburg where her guests’ horses could graze. She also owned two riding chairs in case a guest needed to hire a horse while in town. Vobe knew the importance of a good location for her establishment: by 1765, she operated her business on two lots on the east side of the Capitol. Her efforts to run a tavern that appealed to the class were successful. A French traveler recorded in his diary in 1765 that he had a room at Mrs. Vobe’s, “where all the best people” stay. She counted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among her customers.
Vobe depended on her enslaved men, women, and children to work in her tavern, but she allowed them to receive religious instruction. In the 1760s, four of Vobe’s slaves were baptized at Bruton Parish Church. Vobe also sent two slave children to the, where enslaved and children could learn reading, writing, religion, and etiquette. It is possible that Vobe realized that religion was important to one of her slaves—a man named —and allowed him to spend time away from her tavern so that he could follow his calling to be a preacher.
Vobe faced a challenge from at least one of her enslaved women. In a Virginia Gazetteadvertisement placed on June 30, 1768, Vobe offered twenty shillings for the return of Nanny, a thirty-five-year-old enslaved woman who hadjust three days earlier. The fact that Vobe placed an advertisement so soon after the escape indicates that she depended on the work that Nanny did each day. There is no evidence that Vobe regained possession of Nanny.
Late in July 1771—perhaps motivated by increased political tension between Virginia and the Crown—Vobe announced that she would sell her household and kitchen furniture as well as an enslaved woman. Two months later, she advertised in the Virginia Gazette her intention to leave the colony, asking her customers to settle their accounts and pay their debts. By October 1771,had relocated her tavern to the house Vobe had vacated. Vobe did not leave the colony, however. Early in February 1772, Vobe informed colonists that she had opened a tavern “at the Sign of The King’s Arms” and began to look for a cook for “hire or purchase.” She operated the King’s Arms in the years leading up to and during the American Revolution, providing a room for the members of the Ohio Company to use in May 1778 and hosting several continental officers based in Williamsburg, including General Thomas Nelson and the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, in the weeks before the Siege of Yorktown.
After the Virginia government relocated to Richmond in 1780 and after the Revolution, the number of customers at Vobe’s tavern decreased. In November 1785, Vobe announced her intention to move to Manchester in Chesterfield County. David Miller, who assisted in the daily operation of the tavern and was the son of Vobe and Robert Miller, treasurer of the College of William and Mary, relocated with her. Vobe no doubt took the most skilled of her enslaved laborers with her—a decision that took her slaves away from their family members and friends—and put them to work in her new tavern in Manchester, which she managed until her death. The Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser carried her obituary in its December 8, 1786, edition.