February 20

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (February 20, 1773).

“SCHEME Of the Third and last Class of GREENE’s IRON-WORKS LOTTERY.”

Colonizers in Rhode Island frequently resorted to lotteries to fund public works and other projects in the eighteenth century.  The press, especially the Providence Gazette, served as a vital resource for that funding mechanism.  Lottery sponsors promoted their projects in the newspaper, explaining the purpose of the project the lottery supported and encouraging readers to purchase tickets.  Notices in the Providence Gazette also facilitated accountability.  Sponsors published the terms of lotteries in advance and then notified the public of which numbers won prizes after the drawings occurred.

On occasion, the portions of the Providence Gazette devoted to advertising seemed to carry more news about lotteries than any other sort of paid notice.  Consider the February 20, 1773, edition.  Three advertisements, one after another, promoted lotteries.  In the first, the “Managers of the Wenscot Road Lottery” advised that they would hold “the First Class” or round of the lottery “at the House of Elisha Brown, Innholder, in North Providence” on February 25.  In the second, the “Managers of the Barrington Lottery” also set February 25 as the date of their first drawing, that one to be held “at the House of Colonel Nathaniel Martin, in Barrington.”  The third have the “SCHEME” or list of prizes and number of tickets for “the Third and last Class of GREENE’s IRON-WORKS LOTTERY.”  The sponsors previously held two other drawings.  The final one consisted of “3600 Tickets, at 4 Dollars each.”  The managers would draw 1385 “Benefit Tickets” for prizes that totaled $12,000.  That left $2400 “For the Iron-Works.”  Whether they participated or not, the public could review the accounting “SCHEME” for the lottery.

Such was the case for another lottery advertised elsewhere in the same issue of the Providence Gazette, that one “Granted by the Honourable General Assembly … for compleating the Repairs of King’s Church, in Providence.”  That lottery had “Four Classes” or a series of four drawings.  Purchasing tickets for one or more classes did not obligate colonizers to participate in all four.  The advertisement included the “SCHEME” and listed the managers who oversaw the lottery and sold tickets.  In addition, readers could purchase tickets “at the Printing-Office.”

In the previous issue, the “LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the Market-House Lottery, Class V,” filled two of three columns on the first pages, while a notice “To the PUBLIC” promoting “the Scheme for erecting and building a Bridge across Seaconk River, between the Towns of Providence and Rehoboth” filled an entire column and overflowed into another on the final page.  Many readers might have considered it an editorial rather than an advertisement.  Three other notices giving “schemes” of lotteries also ran on that page.  In total, advertisements concerning lotteries comprised five of the twelve columns in that edition of the Providence Gazette.  As they purchased so much advertising space, the managers appointed to oversee lotteries depended on the early American press in promoting their ventures and reporting on the outcomes.

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