Meet Mrs. Jane Vobe: A Nation Builder in Her Own Right

Meet Mrs. Jane Vobe: A Nation Builder in Her Own Right

Feb 16, 2024

What is a Nation Builder?

I capitalized it purposely.

Here in Colonial Williamsburg (CW), the largest living history museum in the world today, it's one of a team of historians that have a talent for acting.

In a nutshell, it's someone passionate about early American history who has devoted countless hours in bringing someone who spent time in 18th century Williamsburg.... to life. And offering us all one of the best ways I've found to learn history.

Being a Nation Builder isn't just a role.

And typically, it's the only portrayal these amazing historians are doing. They have done the research and keep doing it.

Example: Richard Schumann who portrays Patrick Henry, told me about a Dandridge family bible found in 2023 that literally changed the known birth year of his second wife, Dorothea Spotswood Dandrige.

The Nation Builders inspire me to learn more and to dive deeper. And to continue with this blog, which is my journal and my outlet for the history nerd in me.

RELATED: Be inspired by an interview on the CW website, where Kurt Smith shares his understanding and interpretation of "Thomas." Click here.

Necessary disclaimer: As a blogger, I use affiliate links sometimes! I may receive commission from purchases I share; it does not change your price but sometimes you might get a discount.

Daniel Cross and Katharine Pittman portraying Col. and Mrs. Washington at the St George Tucker House.

Meeting Jane Vobe.

Being part of the donor family here in CW, we've been fortunate to meet so many of them at the St. George Tucker House. This donor reception center is an original building (read more here) and a place where our Nation Builders "remove the wig" so to speak.

We meet the actor historians behind the man or woman portrayed.

Yesterday, the Tucker House held a special event, essentially launching Sharon Hollands in her Nation Builder role as Jane Vobe.

Sharon Hollands as Jane Vobe, St. George Tucker House

Facts that give context to Jane Vobe as a human.

I always say history is made up of humans.

Humans, all of us, experience emotions, make decisions, eat meals, create objects, and so much more. We have relationships. We live life.

There's a whole file on Jane at CW's Rockefeller Library, where files on residents of the area are stashed. She also shows up here in their Special Collections - Humphrey Harwood's account books (the well-known mason mentioned in my earlier "brick" post).

I'm for SURE going to be hitting all of it at some point. What I do know from Sharon's presentation (and she is a master researcher) is that the amount of primary source material on Jane Vobe is limited. Very limited.

Historians are like detectives. Finding clues and putting a puzzle together. Where Sharon landed with a possible (and likely) backstory to Jane Vobe is both plausible and fascinating.

For now, I'm sharing a few facts we do know, just to introduce her to you and give a peek into the life of one woman who lived in 18th century America.

Facts about Mrs. Jane Vobe of Williamsburg:

  • Jane had a son named David that was her only heir.
  • It's uncertain if she was a widow or her husband simply disappeared, but she did refer to herself as a widow after a certain amount of time passed.
  • She owned the King's Arms Tavern from 1772 to her death which according to Encyclopedia Virginia, was 1786. (At resident files in the Rockefeller Library, I saw the date as 1788. Another question!)
  • Many names you've heard, from George Washington to Patrick Henry, patronized the King's Arms while Mrs. Vobe owned it. They'd likely use it for their "club rooms," which were private rooms rented to 2 or more men for a private meal, drinks, cards, and so forth.
  • Taverns had to offer food, lodging, and stabling for horses in order to operate- all pricing regulated by the county. Jane rented a pasture for her lodgers' horses to utilize.
  • Jane's barkeeper was a hired Scotsman named Duncan.
  • She had enslaved as well as hired help. Jane sent two of the enslaved children to the Bray School.
  • Jane freed Gowan Pamphlet, who became the first black ordained Baptist minister.

Both the Bray School and Reverend Pamphlet are referenced here, in a previous blog post. Very likely, more to come on both.

RELATED: Buy a book sharing the stories of 13 women of Colonial America by clicking here!

James Ingram portraying Gowan Pamphlet

Perspective: using primary sources.

We have a lot of documentation for some of the more famous names in history (and that helps them be remembered!). But don't set aside the reality that millions of people lived throughout our American history.

Having a Nation Builder like Jane Vobe be interpreted is vital in my humble opinion. It allows us to see into the lives of others who may not have as much written down about them.

Historians like Sharon, who dug deep and will continue digging deeper-- for a long time to come, are a blessing as they find primary sources and piece together our history.

King's Arms Tavern sign, Colonial Williamsburg

Who should we meet?

Do you know someone that portrays Jane Vobe? Nation builders in other places? Historians diving deep into one person who lived in 17th, 18th, or 19th century America?

Please share in the comments or send me a message using my Free At 50 Instagram account!

Closing words from history.

Thank goodness for the Rockefeller Library (online and open to the public!), where I found this gem sharing Jane's venture as the new owner of the King's Arms Tavern.

Location: in a Virginia Gazette; specifically Rind's Gazette, February 6, 1772, Number 300. See the original here online (I had to go look in person to get the exact wording).

For context, she previously ran a tavern on the property that is Christiana Campbell's Tavern, near the Capitol Building. And the ad following hers in the Gazette: Sussex Dave describing Vobe's "lately occupied" house "convenient to the Capitol" being "open to lodgers."

Mrs. Jane Vobe's entry:

"I beg leave to acquaint my former customers, and the public in general, that I have juft opened TAVERN opposite the Raleigh, at the fign of the KING's ARMS, being the houfe lately occupied by Mr. John Carter, and shall be much obliged to the Gentlemen who favour me with their company.


*I am in want of a good COOK, and would be glad to hire or purchase one."

Printing style, such as the use of "f" for some "s" markings needs to be a whole other post! Maybe even the type of ads you see in an historical newspaper. Food for thought!

The John D. Rockefeller Library, Colonial Williamsburg

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There is a huge practical disclaimer to the content on this blog, which is my way of sharing my excitement and basically journaling online.

1) I am not a historian nor an expert. I will let you know I’m relaying the information as I understand and interpret it. The employees of Colonial Williamsburg base their presentations, work, and responses on historical documents and mainly primary sources.

2) I will update for accuracy as history is constant learning. If you have a question about accuracy, please ask me! I will get the answer from the best source I can find.

3) Photo credit to me, Daphne Reznik, for all photos in this post, unless otherwise credited! All photos are personal photos taken in public access locations or with specific permission.