What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“SCHEME of a LOTTERY … for amending the Great North Road.”
As the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” advertised in the Providence Gazette during the summer of 1768 indicates, colonists sometimes resorted to lotteries to fund public works. In this case the lottery supported plans for “amending the Great North Road leading from Providence to Plainfield.” At a meeting in June, Rhode Island’s legislature approved the lottery and appointed directors to oversee it. In turn, the directors published an advertisement outlining the purpose and the “scheme” of the lottery.
That scheme called for the sale of two thousand tickets at two dollars each. With 630 “fortunate tickets” and 1370 “Blank,” the “cheerful Adventurers” who purchased tickets had nearly a one-in-three chance of winning a prize. Fifteen prizes were substantial: five each at one hundred, fifty, and twenty-five dollars. The 615 remaining prizes doubled the investment of the original price, paying out four dollars. This meant that the directors sought to collect $4000 and disburse $3335 in prizes, leaving $665 for “amending said Road, and defraying the extraordinary Charge of said Lottery.”
In addition to the prospects of winning one of the prizes, the directors also emphasized the “Good of the Public” derived from the project. They explained that “putting said Road in good Repair, will not only benefit the Inhabitants living on the Borders, but perhaps the greatest Number of Travellers that may have the Occasion to travel from any of the Northern to the Southern Colonies.” The repairs apparently included adjusting the route of the road, shortening the trip between Providence and New London by fourteen miles and between Boston and Hartford by ten miles. The directors believed that they did not need to provide further explanation of the benefits of making travel within and among the colonies easier. They anticipated that “the Advantages resulting from good Roads, will contribute towards a speedy Sale of the Tickets.”
Repairs would begin before the lottery took place, but only when “such a Number [of tickets] are sold as will give the Directors Assurance that the Lottery will be likely to fill.” The Providence Gazette would continue to play a role in informing both “Adventurers” and the general public about the lottery. The directors pledged to publish a notice once they scheduled the drawing so those with tickets “may have an Opportunity of being present.” In addition, the numbers of the winning tickets would be published in the Providence Gazette following the drawing.
The Great North Road served the public good. To keep it in good repair, the colonial legislature devised a lottery and appointed directors. Those directors then placed advertisements promoting both the lottery and the benefits of maintenance to the road. The public prints served the common good not only through the news and editorial items they disseminated but also through the information delivered through advertisements. This advertisement for a lottery, for instance, informed the public and presented them with an opportunity to participate in improving an important road that ran through the colony.