December 22

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

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (December 22, 1768).

“A SCHEME of a LOTTERY.”

Bernard Moore did not specify why he set about “disposing of certain LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS” when he published “A SCHEME of a LOTTERY” in the December 22, 1768, edition of William Rind’s Virginia Gazette. Whether he planned to leave the colony or needed the funds to settle debts or some other reason, Moore aimed to raise a guaranteed £18,400 through the sale of lottery tickets rather individual sales of “LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS” or an auction that may not have raised the same revenue as the lottery. Of the 124 possible prizes, real estate and livestock comprised the majority, but a total of fifty-five enslaved men, women, and children accounted for the prizes for thirty-nine winning tickets.

Approximately half of Moore’s advertisement listed those men, women, and children held in bondage, describing their relationships and their skills. In some instances Moore intended to keep family members together as a single prize. Such was the case for a “Negro man named Billy, … an exceeding trusty good forgeman” and “his wife named Lucy, … who works exceeding well both in the house and field” as well as a “Negro woman named Rachel … and her children Daniel and Thompson.” Moore separated other families. One prize consisted of a “Negro man, Robin, a good sawyer, and Bella, his wife,” but not their children. “A negro girl named Sukey, about 12 years old, and another named Betty, about 7 years old; children of Robin and Bella” constituted a different prize. Barring some stroke of luck, parents and children would be separated on the day of the drawing.

As the descriptions of Billy, Lucy, and Robin indicate, Moore owned enslaved workers who possessed a variety of skills beyond agricultural labor. Many of them worked in the “forge and grist-mill” also offered as a prize. Moore included these descriptions of their abilities: “a very trusty good forgeman, as well at the finery as under the hammer, and understands putting up his fire,” “a fine chaferyman,” “an exceeding good hammerman and finer,” “an exceeding good forge carpenter, cooper, and clapboard carpenter,” “a very fine blacksmith,” and “a very fine master collier.” Moore also acknowledged gradations of skill level, describing other colliers as “very good” or “good.” Other workers possessed skills not necessarily related to operating the forge, including “a good miller,” “an exceeding trusty good waggoner,” “a good carter,” “a good sawyer,” and “the Skipper” of a flat-bottomed boat.

Moore described a community, though his “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” and his treatment of enslaved men, women, and children as prizes for the winners did not acknowledge it. Indeed, good fortune was not the lot for the twenty-eight men, fourteen women (including the pregnant Pat), and thirteen children. Other sorts of advertisements concerning slaves typically described only one or a few individuals, but the extensive list of names, ages, relationships, and skills in Moore’s notice about his lottery sketched an entire community. Moore intended to raise funds, but he unintentionally produced a document that aids subsequent generations in uncovering the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children who had far fewer opportunities than slaveholders to tell their own stories.

September 10

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

Sep 10 - 9:10:1767 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (September 10, 1767).

“LOTTERY, For DISPOSING of certain LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS.”

Advertisements offering slaves for sale regularly appeared among the multitude of commercial notices in colonial newspapers. Sometimes masters sought to sell a single slave via a private sale. Other times merchants advertised auctions for dozens of slaves recently arrived in the colonies as part of the transatlantic slave trade. Especially in the Chesapeake and the Lower South, executors frequently placed notices concerning estate sales that included multiple slaves.

Thomas Moore, however, devised a different method for “DISPOSING of certain LANDS, SLAVES, and STOCKS.” Instead of selling his slaves via auction or negotiation, he ran a lottery with a limited number of tickets. Moore and his agents sought to sell 335 tickets. Forty-one would win prizes, but the other 294 were “Blanks.” Participants could calculate that each ticket had roughly a one in eight chance of winning one of the prizes.

Moore carefully delineated the forty-one prizes, listing a short description and value for each. A total of thirty slaves accounted for twenty of the prizes. The remainder consisted of seven prizes for land (with various improvements), ten for cattle, and four for horses. The total value of all the prizes amounted to £6700. Once all 335 tickets were sold at £20 each, Moore was assured of achieving the full value of the slaves, land, and livestock, a much less risky venture than going to auction and possibly coming up significantly short of the assessed value of his property.

The list of prizes included seven men, ten women, and thirteen children of various ages. Moore described some of the children as “boy” or “girl” rather than “man” or “woman,” suggesting that at least some of them may have been youths. In several instances, prizes consisted of multiple slaves sold together as families. In such cases, Moore used the word “child” and sometimes included an age, usually one or two years. He placed more emphasis, however, on the skills possessed by their parents. Harry, for instance, was “a fine sawer and clapboard carpenter.” York was “a fine gang leader.” Sarah was “a fine house servant, and a very good mantuamaker.”

Participants who purchased a single ticket and won cattle or horses broke even, but those who won slaves or land had a windfall. One slave, a “Negro woman named Sue,” was valued at £25. Ten others were valued at £30, £40, or £50 each. Jemmy, “as good a sawer as any in the colony,” merited £100 on his own. Each of the eight families had been assessed from £75 to £180. Any prize involving land had an even higher value, from £250 to £2000 for a tract of 500 acres and a house that would have been considered the grand prize.

It would not be accurate to say that giving away enslaved men, women, and children as prizes in a lottery was any more or less cruel than other methods of selling them. Moore’s advertisement for his lottery, however, does demonstrate yet another way that slaves, regardless of their family relations or skills, were treated as property and dehumanized in the colonial era.