7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Truth About Colonial Bordellos & Brothels

For my upcoming series entitled, The MacGregor Quest, I needed to research colonial bordellos and brothels for the first book in the series. You may be wondering how that topic would work for an historical Christian fiction novel, but think along the lines of Redeeming love by Francine Rivers and Revealed by Tamera Alexander. While both of these novels were set much later in the 1800's, The Forbidden Conquest will be set in 1760, a century earlier. (Note: This title could change.) As a result, I struggled finding detailed sources for this time period.

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.

By the mid-1700s, the American colonies began to grow along with maritime trade, bringing increasing numbers of trading ships loaded with sailors and seamen. Once they received their pay and a few free hours, their first priority was to explore the port cities and have some fun in an effort to relieve their stress. Of all the colonial cities with brothels such as the port cities of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Newport, the city of Charleston had more of a reputation for being wicked. It contains a long history of streets lined with bordellos and brothels, the most famous was Chalmer St. In contrast, Charleston was also known as the Holy City for it's religious tolerance of varying faiths and a growing number of churches.

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.



  1. interesting subject. thanks for all the details, Jennifer!

  2. You're welcome, Debra. It's not a widely discussed topic, but still necessary for those of us writers. Have blessed day!

  3. What a fascinating history! Ben Franklin?!?! Wow, would not have thought that! When is your book released?


  4. What a fascinating history! Ben Franklin?!?! Wow, would not have thought that! When is your book released?


  5. Stacie, I know, isn't that something about Benjamin Franklin? This books is scheduled to be released Sept 2013. It's the first in The MacGregor Quest series.

  6. Ol' Ben had quite the reputation with the ladies! Interesting stuff you've dug up. Looking forward to your new series. :)

  7. Interesting the change in a century. In 17th Century Rhode Island an adulterous woman was fined and then whipped. One account a woman received 15 stripes in Portsmouth then a week later 15 stripes in Newport and then imprisoned. I researched this for my Rhode Island manuscript.

  8. Thanks, Pegg. I hope you enjoy it when it releases.

  9. Lynn,

    It's amazing how some received strict punishments and others went completely free without any repercussions at all.

  10. Wonderful research. Much of the detail we need for our novels is shrouded in the mists of the unrecorded. You have great perseverance. Will be looking forward to the Pink House. Isn't it marvelous how some things fall into place?

  11. Yes, Judith, it is marvelous. So much was unrecorded and we have to fill in the pieces by the clues left behind as best we can.

  12. Jennifer.. question... do you knoe of an abandoned old brothel in mass that had burned down? I have heard there are great archways for phooto shoots possibly there... but i have no idea where it is...




Thanks for commenting, please check back for our replies!