Most of what I've gleaned is this, American prostitution was rare and practiced casually rather than through organized set-ups. Taverns as well as the theater were often hubs of prostitution. Once in a while, tavern owners were prosecuted for operating disorderly houses and the penalty was a small fine or a few lashes. In the early 1700s, Cotton Mather, a Boston minister, tried to form a group to oppose brothels, but due to public indifference the attempt was abandoned.
Colonial brothels didn't openly promote their business, as this would have drawn the attention of puritans and religions organizations who would have tried to shut them down. Therefore, this practice doesn't leave much research behind for us to follow today. Many patrons learned about taverns from fellow shipmates and by word of mouth. Men were almost never prosecuted for soliciting prostitutes, and these women were rarely brought before a judge. Police officers often protected brothels in exchange for money, food, or other payments, which would sometimes result citizen riots and the burning down of brothels.
Prostitution was more typical in the larger seaport cities such as Charleston, Philadelphia and New York than small towns and villages like Williamsburg. For prostitution to flourish, a community needed a decent amount of people and would have possessed more women than men. When there are more men than women, the women tended to marry.
A few examples of Colonial prostitution include:
In 1707 Colonial Williamsburg, a local blacksmith was charged with keeping a whore in his house and absenting himself from the church. He was convicted and fined 5 shillings for missing church, but nothing about the woman was recorded.
In 1710, Susanna Allen opened a tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, and soon she started appearing court for various offenses. In July 1713, she was charged with keeping a married man in constant company and keeping a disorderly house. The disorderly house charge was dismissed, but she was fined 500 pounds of tobacco to the parish of Bruton for the use of the parish. The married man wasn't charged with anything. The court renewed Susanna Allen’s tavern license each year until her death in 1720.
In November of 1741 in York County, VA, Rachel Rodewell and Joan Clarke were presented by the county grand jury for keeping disorderly houses. Rodewell’s house stood on the main Street near the Capitol, but her case was dismissed since it was in Williamsburg. Joan Clarke was found guilty and required to give bond in the sum of £10 and her securities for £5 each for her good behavior for a year and day.
In 1753 Boston, Hannah Dilley pled guilty to permitting men to resort to her husband's house, and carnally to lie with whores. She was sentenced to stand on a 5-foot stool outside the courthouse and hold a sign describing her offense. Even Benjamin Franklin admitted to hiring his share of strumpets, but nothing more is known of his activities or where he hired them.
As General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, groups of women followed the army and were referred to as camp followers. They assisted the troops with wound care, cooking, laundry, and prostitution. Sexual diseases became so common among the soldiers that the army began deducting pay as punishment.
The Pink House
For one of the settings in my book I chose to use The Pink House, built in 1690 Charleston, SC. It was a colonial tavern, but is now used as an art gallery. It is located on Chalmer Street, where many of the taverns of bordellos and brothels existed. It is rumored that prostitution occurred at The Pink House and it fit perfectly in my story.