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.

September 12

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

Providence Gazette (September 12, 1772).

“This lottery being evidently designed to serve the Public … the Managers are persuaded it will meet with general Encouragement.”

Advertisements for lotteries that funded public works project accounted for a substantial amount of the content in the September 12, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  A notice for the “GLOUCESTER South Road Lottery” asserted that it was “evidently designed to serve the Public, as travelling from Providence to Connecticut will be thereby rendered very commodious.”  Another lottery held for the purpose of raising funds “to build a Town Wharff in Warwick” was similarly described as “being designed to serve the Public,” prompting the manager appointed by the General Assembly to expect “good Encouragement” from colonizers purchasing tickets.    A third lottery advertised in that issue would pay for “repairing the Meeting House in the Town of Barrington; and also for purchasing and opening some Highways in said Town.”  Each of those advertisements indicated that “a List of the Prizes, when drawn, will be published in the Providence Gazette.”

Many colonial newspapers regularly carried lottery results.  Those results usually appeared in elaborate tables that listed dozens or even hundreds of winning tickets and the prize associated with each ticket.  The advertisement for the Gloucester South Road Lottery, for instance, indicated that it consisted of 1400 tickets with prizes for 467 of those tickets.  Similarly, the lottery for the wharf in Warwick had 353 prizes for “CLASS I,” its first drawing, and another 248 prizes for “CLASS II.”  On September 12, the Providence Gazette published the “LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the MARKET-HOUSE LOTTERY, CLASS III.”  A table that contained ten columns each for the winning tickets and prizes listed approximately eight hundred of those “fortunate Numbers.”  It spread across two of the three columns on the second page, extending three-quarters of the page, seeming to displace news from Quebec and London inserted in what space remained below the table.

Considered collectively, the advertisements for lotteries in Rhode Island and the list of winners in the Market House Lottery filled an entire page in a weekly newspaper that consisted of only four pages.  Just as those lotteries raised funds for various projects, they also generated revenues for John Carter, the printer of the Providence Gazette.  He may or may not have considered the list of “fortunate Numbers” news that he printed gratis as a public service, especially since it appeared on a page that otherwise did not feature advertising, but the notices encouraging readers to purchase tickets did run alongside other paid advertisements … and they ran for multiple weeks.  Colonizers who bought lottery tickets took a chance on winning a payout, but printing advertisements for lottery tickets was a sure thing for Carter and other colonial printers.

September 11

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

New-London Gazette (September 11, 1772).

“SCHEME Of the Second and last CLASS of a LOTTERY.”

An advertisement in the September 11, 1772, edition of the New-London Gazette promoted a “LOTTERY For raising Six Hundred Pounds, to repair and add to the Great Bridge over the Cove at Chelsea” in Norwich, Connecticut.  That was one of several public works projects in New England funded by lotteries in the era of the American Revolution.  The General Assembly passed “an especial Act” and appointed managers to oversee the lottery.  Local agents in half a dozen towns sold tickets.

Rather than hold a single set of drawings, the managers opted to sponsor more than one “class” of tickets and prizes.  Doing so gave colonizers more opportunities to participate, likely making it easier for the managers to meet their fundraising goals.  Winners in one class could reinvest in another, those less fortunate could try again, and others could purchase tickets for the first time.  The notice published in September concerned “the Second and last CLASS” limited to “2000 TICKETS at Fifteen Shillings each; of which 592 are Prizes.”  Tickets sales amounted to £1500, with £1200 paid out in prizes and the remaining £300 for the bridge.

The managers encouraged colonizers to purchase their tickets quickly because “the Tickets in the former Class were sold in less than two Months,” leaving “many people disappointed.”  They aimed to sell all the tickets in time to hold the drawing by the middle of October.  The managers pledged that “Proper Notice will be given of the Time and Place of drawing,” just as a “a List of Prizes will be published in the New London Gazette.”  By the time they encountered the advertisement for the lottery on the final page of the September 11 issue, readers likely saw the “LIST of the NUMBERS which came up PRIZES in Chelsea Bridge LOTTERY, Class the First; drawn August 31, 1772” that dominated the first page.  The printer managed to squeeze one advertisement into the right margin, but otherwise the list of winning numbers and the prizes associated with them was the only content that appeared below the masthead.  Publishing that list served many purposes, including giving a boost to the advertisement for the second class of the lottery that appeared elsewhere in the newspaper.

June 27

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

Providence Gazette (June 27, 1772).


Two notices concerning lotteries appeared among the advertisements in the June 27, 1772, edition of the Providence Gazette.  Managers alerted the public to the “MARKET-HOUSE LOTTERY” and a lottery for “mending the Gloucester South Road, leading to Connecticut.”  The General Assembly approved both lotteries and appointed managers “who have given Bond for the faithful Performance of their Trust” to oversee them.  Readers of the Providence Gazette regularly encountered advertisements for lotteries, a popular means of funding public works projects in Rhode Island and other colonies in the eighteenth century.

Managers often sponsored several stages or classes for their lotteries, giving colonizers multiple opportunities to participate.  The managers of the Market-House Lottery opted not to elaborate on the various classes, feeling that the “Scheme” of the lottery “has been lately published at large.”  Instead, they focused on “the Class now in Hand,” but did remind colonizers that “each succeeding Class becomes more valuable than the former.”  Why not wait for later classes?  The managers sold a limited number of tickets for each class.  Colonizers who participated in the previous class had “the Preference given them, before any other Persons, of purchasing an equal Number of Tickets in the next Class.”  The “Scheme” of the lottery incentivized buying tickets in the first class and continuing to buy tickets for each class.

The managers of the lottery intended to raise funds for mending the Gloucester South Road also described the “SCHEME” of their lottery.  They planned a drawing for the “First Class” of tickets “in a very short Time,” as soon as they sold 1400 tickets for a dollar each.  To entice readers to purchase tickets, the managers promoted both the prizes and the purpose of the lottery.  They reminded readers that the lottery was “evidently designed to serve the Public, as Travelling from Providence to Connecticut will be thereby rendered very commodious.”  They hoped to incite public spiritedness as a means of encouraging colonizers not enticed solely by the prizes.

November 23

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

Providence Gazette (November 23, 1771).


Colonists in Rhode Island held lotteries to fund a variety of public works projects in the early 1770s.  After receiving approval from the colonial legislature, the sponsors kept readers informed about the progress on those projects and promoted the lotteries via newspaper advertisements.  The November 23, 1771, edition of the Providence Gazette, for instance, contained four advertisements about lotteries conducted to fund various projects, including “repairing and rebuilding the BRIDGE over Pawtucket River,” “reparing the ROAD … in I,” “purchasing a PARSONAGE, for the Use of the PRESBYTERIAN or CONGREGATIONAL SOCIETY, in the Town of Providence,” and “building a STEEPLE to the Church in Providence, and purchasing a CLOCK to be affixed therein, for the Use of the Public.”  A fifth notice indicated that the “Managers of the Warwick Bridge Lottery” would draw numbers on December 6.

In three of those advertisements, the sponsors explained the benefits of the projects to encourage colonists to participate.  The directors of the lottery for Whipple’s Bridge noted that “keeping of Bridges in Repair” served “the Good of the Public in general.”  Residents of Providence, they continued, “more especially” had an interest in maintaining this particular bridge because “the Road over said Bridge leads directly to several large Towns in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.”  Similarly, the directors of the lottery to fund repairs to the road in North Providence hoped to “meet with every Encouragement in the Sale of their Tickets” because “this Road leads directly through the Colony.”  In both instances, the sponsors asked colonists to do their part in supporting infrastructure that facilitated travel and the circulation of information and goods throughout the colony and beyond.

The General Assembly appointed John Smith, a merchant, to serve as manager of the lottery for building a steeple and adorning it with a clock.  In the advertisement outlining the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” to support those projects, Smith opined that it was “universally allowed, that Steeples are in a particular Manner ornamental to a Town,” but that was not the only reason colonists, even those not affiliated with that particular church, should support the lottery.  “Reasons of a more important Nature,” he declared, “induce him to believe, that the Public-spirited, of all Denominations, will afford it every Assistance” … because “the former Church Steeple … was serviceable to Navigation as a Landmark.”  All residents of Providence would benefit from a new steeple, just as they would benefit from a town clock.  “The Utility of a Town-Clock,” Smith declared, “must appear obvious to every one.”  That being the case, he decided not to “offend the public Understanding, by offering Arguments to evidence its Usefulness.”  Smith believed that colonists needed less convincing about that part of the project.

The sponsors of the lotteries encouraged readers to follow their progress, noting that “the Prizes will be Published in the Providence Gazette, and punctually paid off.”  They also cautioned that any prizes not claimed within a specified period, six months or one year depending on the lottery, “will be deemed generously given to the Public” for the further maintenance of the projects they funded.

January 10

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

Massachusetts Spy (January 10, 1771).

“AN exact List of Blanks and Prizes in Fanueil-Hall Lottery, to [be] seen at the Printing-Office.”

Printing offices were hubs for disseminating information in eighteenth-century America.  Many were sites of newspaper production, printing and reprinting news, letters, and editorials from near and far.  Many printers encouraged readers and others to submit “Articles of Intelligence” for publication in the colophons that appeared on the final pages of their newspapers.  Every newspaper printer participated in exchange networks, trading newspapers with counterparts in other towns and colonies and then selecting items already published elsewhere to insert in their newspapers.  Newspaper printers also disseminated a wide range of advertising, from legal notices to advertisements about runaway apprentices and indentured servants or enslaved people who liberated themselves to notices marketing consumer goods and services.  In many instances, newspaper advertisements did not include all of the relevant information but instead instructed interested parties to “enquire of the printer” to learn more.  Accordingly, not all of the information disseminated from printing offices did so in print.  Some printers also worked as postmasters.  Letters flowed through their printing offices.  Printers did job printing, producing broadsides, handbills, and pamphlets for customers, further disseminating information at the discretion of their patrons rather than through their own editorial discretion.  Many printers sold books, pamphlets, and almanacs posted subscription notices for proposed publications, and printed book catalogs and auction catalogs.

Yet that was not the extent of information available at early American printing offices.  Colonists could also visit them to learn more about the results of lotteries sponsored for public works projects.  An advertisement in the January 10, 1771, edition of the Massachusetts Spy, for instance, informed readers of “AN exact Lost of Blanks and Prizes in Fanueil-Hall Lottery, to [be] seen at the Printing-Office opposite to William Vassell’s, Esq; the head of Queen-street.”  Other newspapers published in Boston that same week carried the same notice but named “Green & Russell’s Printing-Office.”  The printers of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Post-Boy also played a role in disseminating information about a lottery that helped to fund a local building project.  Eighteenth-century newspapers sometimes included lottery results, the “Blanks” or ticket numbers and the corresponding prizes, but those could occupy a significant amount of space.  Rather than incur the expense of purchasing that space in newspapers, the sponsors of lotteries sometimes instead chose to deposit that information at printing offices, sites that collected and disseminated all sorts of information via a variety of means.  Printers served as information brokers, but they did not limit their efforts and activities to printed pages dispersed beyond their offices.  Sometimes colonists had to visit printing office or correspond with printers via the post in order to acquire information that did not appear in print.

December 29

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

Providence Gazette (December 29, 1770).

“A LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the First Class of CUMBERLAND BRIDGE Lottery.”

In order to raise funds for “the Purpose of repairing and rebuilding the Bridge over Pawtucket River, called Whipple’s Bridge,” a committee composed of residents of Cumberland received permission from the Rhode Island assembly to conduct a series of lotteries in 1770.  The committee began advertising in late November, advising the public that they would sponsor a series of four lotteries intended to yield one hundred dollars each.  They published the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” in the Providence Gazette, stating that they planned to “draw the First Class in a very short Time” and pledging to publish the winning tickets in the Providence Gazette.

That notice appeared in the December 29 edition.  A heading informed readers that it was “A LIST of the fortunate Numbers in the First Class of CUMBERLAND BRIDGE Lottery.”  The remainder of the advertisement consisted entirely of five pairs of columns that gave the winning ticket numbers and the dollar value of the corresponding prizes.  According to the original notice that recruited participants, the winners had six months to claim their prizes.  Any prize money not claimed in that interval “will be deemed generously given to the Public, for the future repairing of said Bridge.”  The committee did not, however, remind winners of that stipulation when publishing the winning numbers in the newspaper.  Still, the new notice apprised both participants and the general public that the enterprise moved forward.

It also buttressed another notice in the same edition.  In that one, the “Managers of the Cumberland Bridge Lottery hereby give Notice, That the Third Class of said Lottery will be drawn on the 11th of January, at the House of the Widow Martha Whipple, in Cumberland aforesaid.”  The announcement of prizes from the first class likely helped to advertise the later lotteries by demonstrating that some participants already enjoyed the benefits of their “fortunate Numbers” being drawn.  Considered together, the two notices indicated that the committee made good progress on raising the necessary funds to repair the bridge.

December 1

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

Providence Gazette (December 1, 1770).

“SCHEME of a LOTTERY … for the Purpose of repairing and rebuilding the Bridge.”

Colonists sometimes used lotteries to fund public works projects in eighteenth-century America.  When the “Bridge over Pawtucket River, called Whipple’s Bridge,” fell into disrepair in 1770, Rhode Island’s General Assembly authorized a lottery to raise the funds necessary to repair and build it.  The colonial legislature also appointed directors to oversee the lottery.  The directors then placed advertisements outlining the “SCHEME of a LOTTERY” in the Providence Gazette.  They described the prizes and odds, but they also explained the value of maintaining Whipple’s Bridge.  Doing so contributed to “Good of the Public in general,” but “more especially of the Town of Providence, as the Road over said Bridge leads to several large Towns in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.”  In other words, the bridge facilitated commerce and communication between Providence and other towns.

The directors needed to raise four hundred dollars for the project.  Rather than a single lottery, they planned to sponsor several, “Four Classes, or Divisions” that would yield one hundred dollars each.  The “SCHEME” for the “First Class” specified that the directors would sell “Six Hundred Tickets, at One Dollar each.”  Most of this revenue, however, would be paid out in prizes.  The lottery consisted of 178 prizes that amounted to five hundred dollars, leaving one hundred dollars to invest in repairing Whipple’s Bridge.  The grand prize was thirty dollars with two other prizes of twenty dollars and five prizes of ten dollars.  The lottery also included smaller prizes, twenty worth four dollars and 150 worth two dollars.  Although most of the prizes were not very large, participants enjoyed good odds for winning some sort of prize, “Near two Blanks to a Prize” or nearly one winning ticket for each two that did not win.

Still, winning was not guaranteed, prompting the directors to underscore the benefits to the general public as one of the reasons to participate in the lottery.  They also suggested that the lottery met with “Encouragement already given by the Public to promote this salutary Design,” leading them to believe that all six hundred tickets would soon be sold and then the winning tickets drawn and published in the Providence Gazette.  The directors had two purposes in noting the popularity of the lottery.  It could incite others to join a cause that others already endorsed while also prompting some colonists to purchase tickets quickly for fear of not having a chance to participate if they waited too long.

In addition to the directors, colonists could also purchase tickets from John Carter, printer of the Providence Gazette.  His printing office was not only a hub for disseminating information, but also a site for supporting the maintenance of important elements of the infrastructure that allowed for the movement of people and goods within the colony and beyond.  Eighteenth-century printers brokered information, but they also served their communities in other ways.

July 30

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

Jul 30 - 7:30:1768 Providence Gazette
Providence Gazette (July 30, 1768).

“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.

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).


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.