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Penny Ely portrays Christiana Campbell.

Penny Ely portrays Christiana Campbell.

Christiana Campbell

  • Widow of apothecary Ebenezer Campbell
  • Successful Williamsburg tavern keeper
  • Hosted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
  • Slave owner
  • Died 1792 in Fredericksburg, Va.

Operated successful tavern

Christiana Campbell was owner and proprietress of one of Williamsburg’s most successful taverns. The business that bore her name still stands today to welcome guests and travelers.

Long-term town resident and tavern operator Christiana Campbell was the daughter of John and Mary Burdett. They were a tavern-keeping family, and Christiana lived with her parents at Burdett's Ordinary under the Sign of Edinburgh Castle at the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street for many years. At the time of her father's death in 1746, she inherited £300 and three slaves: Shropshire, Bell, and Bell's child. Although Christiana was a 26-year-old single woman, she qualified as the executrix of her father's estate.

Widowed and returned to Williamsburg

Sometime after September 1746, Christiana married Ebenezer Campbell, an apothecary in Blandford, Virginia. They had two daughters. Mary, called "Molly,” was born about 1750. Ebenezer, called "Ebe," born about 1752, was born after her father’s death, and received his name. On August 14, 1752, following Dr. Campbell's death, the administrators of his estate advertised the auction of the medical equipment, books, and personal property at his shop in Blandford, near Petersburg. By October 1753, Mrs. Campbell and her two young daughters had returned to Williamsburg. The approximate date of her return is based on the Bruton Parish Register entry for the baptism of her slave, named London.

Christiana Campbell's Tavern as it stands today.

Christiana Campbell's Tavern as it stands today.

Within a few years, Mrs. Campbell embarked on her 29-year career as a tavern keeper in Williamsburg. The experience of growing up in a tavern keeping family gave her the experience and knowledge she needed to be successful. In 1760, Mrs. Campbell rented the James Anderson House and probably operated a tavern at that location. Briefly in 1771 Mrs. Campbell rented the space formerly occupied by R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse. In the fall of 1771, she moved to the tavern behind the Capitol that now bears her name.

Served important clientele

With a legacy of £200 left her by Nathaniel Walthoe, Campbell purchased the property she had rented since the fall of 1771. She provided rooms and food for people who traveled to Williamsburg to conduct business with government officials or who attended the regular meetings of the colony's merchants. When the General Assembly was in session, Campbell hosted members of the House of Burgesses, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Washington recorded in his diary that he dined there 10 times in two months.

Eventually, Christiana’s daughter Ebe married Benjamin Day of Fredericksburg, and they had three daughters. In December 1785, Mary, or “Molly,” married local widower William Russell when she was the somewhat advanced matrimonial age of 35. The Russells had at least two children.

Owned adult and young slaves

In order to operate a full-service tavern, Mrs. Campbell likely owned several adult slaves, both male and female, in addition to young children. The total number in her establishment is not known, but a busy tavern would have required quite a few hands skilled in such work as cooking, laundry, waiting tables, and taking care of horses.

By September 30, 1762, three of Christiana Campbell's young slaves - London, Aggy, and Shropshire - were attending the Bray School, Williamsburg's first school for black children. Three years later, two others went to the Bray School: Mary and another whose name is not clear in the records-it may be "Young." In early 1769, Mary, Sally, and Sukey were students there.

Christiana Campbell probably discontinued tavern keeping soon after Virginia's capital moved to Richmond. In 1782, the City Land Tax list charged Campbell £5 for her two town lots; according to the 1791 list, she had only one lot, but a later advertisement for the sale of her Williamsburg property says "houses and lots."

Shortly thereafter Campbell removed to Fredericksburg to live with her daughter Ebe Day and her family. She died there on 25 March 1792, as we know from the inscription on a memorial plaque in the Masonic Cemetery in Fredericksburg.


Honored by 2012 Virginia Women in History Program

 


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