One of the images that I have chosen for my final project is a painting by British painter John S.C. Schaak from 1762. While the scene is quite possible set in England it is important to remember the similarities in many aspects between Colonial America and England. The central and sole woman in this painting has been described as a waitress by several individuals and I think many would immediately agree. However, would this analysis change if it was considered to be set in Colonial America alongside primary and secondary sources?
My project is focusing on “working women”, primarily business owners, in Colonial Williamsburg. In regards to the tavern keepers, the two women of focus (Christiana Campbell and Jane Vobe) both owned slaves who were used to help with aspects of the tavern – cooking, laundering sheets, etc. While entertaining locals, they strived to have a business that was considered elite, knowing that their customers included figures like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. In fact there are signed receipts from Christiana Campbell to George Washington showing that she could not only read, write, do arithmetic and probably keep her account books, but paid attention to what people were buying and eating at her establishment. Furthermore, when compared to other illustrations from the same time period and secondary works like Taverns and Drinking in Early America by Sharon Salinger, wome were not often found in taverns. Those that were often viewed as prostitutes, escorted by a man (presumably a family member, or at times searching for her husband.
The combination of how little women were in a tavern, the efforts that these two women in particular took to run their business and the large presence of slave labor during this time, I think this painting would force people to reconsider the role in which this woman had. It is very possible that she is a maid or waitress, and maybe even one in indentured servitude, but the interpretation is up to the viewer.