Campbell, Tunis G. (Tunis Gulic), 1812-1891

Titles by this author
Hotel keepers, head waiters, and housekeepers' guide

Tunis Gulic Campbell was one of ten children born to John Campbell, a blacksmith, and his wife (name unknown) in Middlebrook, New Jersey. In 1817, when Campbell was five, a white friend of the free black family helped place Campbell in an all-white Episcopal school in Babylon, New York on Long Island. Though he trained to be a missionary to Liberia under the auspices of the American Colonization Society, he grew to oppose the ACS, and at age eighteen became an anti-colonization and abolitionist lecturer. He converted to Methodism and began shuttling between New Jersey and New York preaching against slavery, colonization, alcohol, and prostitution. By his own account, the young moral reformer was often physically threatened, but he was unfazed, and, in time, joined Frederick Douglass on speaking tours.

During this period, from 1832 until1845, Campbell earned a living as a hotel steward in New York City, the last three years as the principal waiter at the Howard Hotel. It was here that Campbell perfected his drill for waiters: a method by which the staff in a large hotel dining room could perform its duties most efficiently and elegantly. In 1848, Campbell published his method and other hotel management tips in Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide, the first book of its kind published in America. His talent for organization is quite evident in the guide. He devised a system of signals to be used throughout the dinner meal to tell the waiters when to clear, when to bring the next course, when to line-up behind the diners' chairs, when to raise the covers on the dishes, how to march out of the room together, etc. Each server should be responsible for a designated number of diners, " . . . and when his part was done, all was done." The book includes thoughtful diagrams to illustrate the system. His method first met with derision; he writes: "At the commencement of this drill system, which was recommended by me to Mr. Foott, in Cortland Street, New York, in the latter part of August, 1837, in a small house, which would accommodate one hundred and thirty persons, I was laughed at." But by 1848, Campbell would append testimonial recommendations of his method to the end of his book. Daniel D. Howard of the Howard Hotel writes a telling line when he says Campbell is "an unusually intelligent, dignified, attentive, and obliging man. He is, withal, a man of unblemished moral character, with a disposition to elevate the condition and character of persons of his color." Campbell would go on, in fact, to carry out much more dangerous and trying tasks than those involved in hotel management. He would be instrumental in elevating the living conditions and hopes of freedmen in Georgia during the violent, turbulent era of reconstruction that followed the Civil War.

Campbell published his book while working at the Adams House in Boston. During his years in Boston, he married Harriet (maiden name unknown), had two children and adopted another. In 1861, the Campbell family moved back to New York City where Campbell managed a bakery. After the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Campbell received a commission to help resettle black refugees in South Carolina. By March 1865 he was an agent with the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, and was assigned to supervise the resettlement of approximately one thousand newly freed people on five Georgia islands. He encouraged blacks in southeastern Georgia to register and vote, and was elected to the state constitutional convention, the Georgia Senate and to the position of justice of the peace. During his years in office he tried to promote laws that the Civil Rights movement one hundred years later would still be fighting for: equal education, fair juror selection procedures, voter protection at polling places, and an end to discrimination on public conveyances. He personally appealed to President Grant and two key Senators for the need for the Fifteenth Amendment, which insured that voting rights shall not be denied on the basis of race or former servitude. As violence against blacks increased in the South in these years, he testified against the Ku Klux Klan to a congressional committee. He was stripped of his seat in 1868, reinstated in 1870 with the backing of Federal troops, and held political office until conservative white Georgians seized power in 1872. In the ensuing five years he would again be unjustly expelled from political office, barred from assuming a duly elected house seat, and indicted and jailed on dubious charges. He spent nine months in a Savannah jail and a year as a state convict. After his release in 1877, the sixty-five year-old Campbell left the state for Washington D.C., where he wrote a brief autobiography entitled Sufferings of the Rev. T. G. Campbell and his Family in Georgia. He returned briefly in 1882 to rally political opposition against an old rival in the state legislature, and was immediately jailed for a few days. He left again, never to return. Campbell died in Boston in 1891.

From the moment five-year old Tunis Campbell was chosen to receive an education far surpassing that of most blacks of his time, he was destined to stand out. As one biographer writes, "Campbell is important because his vision and efforts gave the just-freed blacks time to cope with the realities and terms of freedom and his actions gave them confidence to resist oppression." Like many black reformers such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, Tunis Campbell's varied career was a mixture of practical labor, political struggle, and idealism. His contribution to culinary service and hotel management, Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide, transformed table service from a mere occupation of low status into an organized, efficient system. Similar to the transformation Catherine Beecher and other reformers sought to bring to the work of women in the home, it was also a ready demonstration that African Americans could thrive and take up the managerial spirit of a free society.


  • Campbell, Tunis Gulic, Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide. Boston: Coolidge and Wiley, 1848.
  • ----Sufferings of the Rev. T. G. Campbell and Family in Georgia. Washington: Enterprise Publishing Co., 1877.
  • Duncan, Russell, American National Biography. Vol. 3. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford, 1999.
  • ----Freedom's Shore: Tunis Campbell and the Georgia Freedmen. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
  • Schlesinger Jr., Arthur M., The Almanac of American History. New York, New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1983.

Written by Anne-Marie Rachman