March 29

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

Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (March 29, 1773).

“A LIST OF Blanks & Prizes in Faneuil-Hall Lottery.”

A notice in the March 29, 1773, edition of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy informed the public that “A LIST OF Blanks & Prizes in Faneuil-Hall Lottery, THE LAST, as they are Drawn from Day to Day, may be seen at the Printing-Office in Queen-street.”  A decorative border enclosed the advertisement, lending it greater visibility among the news and several advertisements on the same page.

Throughout the colonies, lotteries funded all sorts of public works projects, including roads, bridges, market houses, and iron works, in the eighteenth century.  Following the destruction of the original Faneuil Hall in 1761, residents of Boston set about rebuilding the marketplace and paid for the project with a series of lotteries that took place over a decade. Newspapers in Boston often carried advertisements that encouraged colonizers to purchase tickets for the current “class” or drawing.  One class featured “F” tickets, with subsequent drawings having tickets for the other letters in “Faneuil” for the drawing held from 1767 through 1771.  The “LIST OF Blanks & Prizes” for 1773 came from another drawing, “THE LAST” of the series of Faneuil Hall lotteries.

Sponsors and managers of other lotteries usually pledged that they would publish a roster of winning tickets and prizes in the public prints.  Doing so simultaneously kept participants informed and held the managers accountable.  Lengthy lists filled entire columns and sometimes entire pages of colonial newspapers.  For the Faneuil Hall Lottery, however, the sponsors opted to avoid the expense of inserting the winning tickets in the newspapers and instead posted the results at the printing office operated by John Green and Joseph Russell, the printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

That contributed to the printing office’s status as a hub for disseminating information, though not always in print.  Green and Russell, like other printers, served as brokers of all kinds of information that never made it into their newspapers.  They regularly published advertisements that advised the public to “Enquire of the Printers hereof” to learn more.  In the same issue that carried the announcement about the “LIST of Blanks & Prizes,” an employment advertisement placed by a young woman seeking “to go into a small Family” as a cook and housekeeper and another inserted by a colonizer in need of “A MAID … that can be recommended for her … Activity in Household Affairs” both directed readers to contact the printers rather than the advertisers.  Anonymous notices offering enslaved people for sale in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy and other newspapers published in the city also concluded with instructions to “enquire of the printers.”  The arrival of visitors and messages in response to such advertisements, as well as though interested in the results of the Faneuil Hall Lottery, made the printing office a bustling center of information exchange, in print, in handwritten notes, and in conversation.

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