Boarding a Man of War From Jack's Kit or Saturday Night
in the Forecastle
The Mariners' Museum Research Library and Archives
TAVERN AND BOARDING HOUSE KEEPERS
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women normally were not
considered capable of managing businesses. Yet records and account
books show that, in fact, many women were involved in business. Some
women helped their husbands run a tavern or inn and continued to run
the business once he left for sea or died. In many city directories,
there are listings of boarding houses run by women near the wharf.
Of course, marriage was still considered a woman's proper path. But
if a woman married, all of her property became legally her husband's.
A woman had more control if she maintained the property herself.
Alice Thomas: The First Female Tavern Keeper in America
In the 1670s widow Alice Thomas ran a tavern in
Boston, Massachusetts, and earned the distinction of becoming the
colonies' first female tavern keeper. Things soon took an unsavory
turn, however: after complaints against her establishment, she was
arrested and convicted of " . . . selling liquor without a license,
profaning the Sabbath, receiving stolen goods, and promoting frequent
secret and unseasonable entertainment in her house to Lewd Lascivious
and Notorious persons of both sexes, giving them the opportunity to
Commit Carnale Wickedness." Thomas was fined, whipped, and sent to
prison, but she apparently won the authorities over again through
a large financial contribution to the City of Boston.
Jack in a White Squall, Amongst the
Breakers--on the Lee Shore of St. Catherines 1811, Handcolored etching The Mariners' Museum
This satirical image shows two women, presumably tavern keepers or boarding house owners, chasing a sailor, "Jack Tar," to get him to pay his bill. Sailors were notorious in spending money when they returned from sea. Female tavern owners were often portrayed as overweight, unattractive, and without manners.