What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“The Delaware Lottery, For raising … 15,000 Dollars for the Use of the COLLEGE OF NEW-JERSEY.”
Advertisements for lotteries to fund a variety of projects, including roads, bridges, and buildings, regularly appeared in colonial newspapers. Usually they promoted local projects, but that was not the case in an advertisement for the Delaware Lottery that ran in the September 14, 1773, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. Sponsored by the “Presbyterian Congregation at Prince-Town, AND THE United Presbyterian Congregations OF NEWCASTLE and CHRISTIANA-BRIDGE,” this lottery benefited the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).
This was not the first time that a college in colony to the north looked to benefactors from the south. Three years earlier, Hezekiah Smith visited Georgia and South Carolina to raise funds on behalf of Rhode Island College (now Brown University). Rather than a lottery, he advertised a subscription list. In recognition of their donations, benefactors would have their names listed alongside others who supported that worthy enterprise. Smith also left instructions for stragglers to submit donations (and receive recognition for their benevolence) after his departure from the towns he visited.
The sponsors of the Delaware Lottery asserted that the “growing Importance of the College of NEW-JERSEY … is now generally known through every Province in America,” making it a worthwhile endeavor for colonizers near and far to support. Located “[i]n the Centre of North-America” (by which the sponsors meant midway along the string of settlements along the Atlantic coast), the College of New Jersey “is well fitted for the most extensive Usefulness” to all of the colonies. The school provided “a complete and finished Education, to all who are sent to it.” The sponsors also declared that the college “has hitherto subsisted, and been raised to its present Situation, entirely by the Favour of the Public.” In other words, no prominent benefactor or institution funded the college; instead, it depended on the generosity of individuals who chose to make donations … or purchase lottery tickets.
According to the “SCHEME” of the lottery, the sponsors sought to sell twenty-thousand tickets for five dollars each. They planned to pay out most of what they collected, reserving “15,000 Dollars” or “Fifteen per Cent” of each prize for the college. The sponsors reported that “a Number of Tickets are already engaged, and many Gentlemen of extensive Acquaintance have interested themselves in this Measure,” so anyone interested in participating needed to purchase their tickets soon to get them while they lasted. Local agents in several towns in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia sold tickets. A note at the end of the lengthy advertisement advised colonizers in South Carolina to submit letters to Charles Crouch, the printer of the newspaper that carried the notice, to forward to William Bradford and Thomas Bradford in Philadelphia. Such letters “will be safely forwarded and answered by the first Opportunity that offers after the Receipt of them.”
With the drawing fast approaching in the first week of October, readers had little time remaining to indicate their desire to enter the lottery, win prizes, and support the College of New Jersey. That support, the “Favour of the Public,” may have provided a lot less motivation than the prospects of significant payouts for many of those who purchased tickets, but none of them had to admit that was the case. By holding a lottery rather than circulating a subscription list, the sponsors encouraged benefactors with the prospects of reaping benefits for themselves as an incentive for their philanthropy.