November 23

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

Providence Gazette (November 23, 1771).

“SCHEME of a LOTTERY.”

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).

“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.

August 8

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

Aug 8 - 8:8:1766 Rind's Virginia Gazette
Rind’s Virginia Gazette (August 8, 1766).

“The MARYLAND LOTTERY. … A few Tickets still remain unsold.”

The Maryland Lottery offered “Land (lying in Kent County)” among its profits. Those operating the lottery described the terrain, assuring readers that “the Whole of this Estate is capable of producing very g[ood] Profit to Persons who give the least Attention to the Improvem[ent] of Land.” They also outlined the “Scheme” of the lottery, detailing the price and how many total tickets were to be sold so “Adventurers” could assess the risk and odds. The drawing was slated to take place in Annapolis, but the Maryland Lottery had attracted attention beyond the Chesapeake colonies. Tickets had already been sold Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Given the popularity of this lottery and the quality of the land offered as prizes (“the Garden of the Continent, nay, there is no[t a] County in the Dominion of Great-Britain superior to it”), why did any tickets remain at all? Why hadn’t they been sold out for some time.

Well, most had been sold, but “A few Tickets still remain,” the promoters explained, due to “the late total Stop to Business, and other Discouragements too obvious to be [re]lated.” Indeed, in 1766 the “Stop to Business, and other Discouragements” were indeed well known. The Stamp Act interfered with the operation of lotteries in addition to infringing on the printing of newspapers and hampering the ability of lawyers and merchants to draw up the legal documents necessary to conduct business.

Several months had passed since the colonies received word that the hated Stamp Act had been repealed, but many colonists continued to revel in its demise. Even newspaper advertisements expressed their jubilation: “now, the whole Empire is rejoicing on the Triumph [of] a most righteous Administration over the Enemies of America.” Items published elsewhere in newspapers, either written or selected by printers, often expressed political sentiments, but advertisements gave colonists another venue for sharing their views.

February 6

GUEST CURATOR:  Maia Campbell

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Feb 6 - 2:3:1766 Boston Post-Boy
Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766)

“Tickets in the Faneuil-Hall Lottery, Sold by Green & Russell.”

It seems that the interest modern Americans have in the lottery is not a new interest, as the lottery in America has its roots in colonial times. I have never seen a colonial lottery advertisement before, so it intrigued me. The advertisement itself is so simplistic and short that one could miss it by reading through the paper too quickly. The lottery advertisement also shocked me because of the religious devotion in the American colonies.

To compare the advertisement to those of the lottery in today’s day and age: this advertisement is not flashy and designed to entice you. It received the same printing treatment as other advertisements. Today, lottery commercials and billboards are covered in enticing colors and images, and of course the added temptation arrives with the amount of money at stake. This advertisement simply gives the location of the tickets to be sold and who the tickets are being sold by.

I question if an advertisement such as this one was effective, and yet I do not think it would be included in this paper if the lottery did not have a target audience in the colonial period.

**********

I have long argued that many marketing practices that we assume originated in the twentieth century actually had precursors in the eighteenth century. As modern Americans, we sometimes imagine the past as being too different from the present, not realizing some of the similarities. Perhaps we sometimes focus too much on change over time and make assumptions about the extent to which life in the twenty-first century must be significantly different than life in the colonial era.

The same sentiment applies to lotteries, as Maia discovered when she selected her final advertisement for this week as guest curator. I’d like to offer two recent examinations of lotteries in early America: Matthew Wittmann’s “Lottery Mania in Colonial America” and Diana Williams’ “Lottery Fever: A Brief History of American Lotteries.”

Maia notes that nothing in particular distinguishes this advertisement. In fact, it is at the bottom of the final column of the last page of the newspaper, suggesting that it may have been inserted simply to fill the space. I echo Maia’s question: was this advertisement effective?!

Feb 6 - Final Page of Boston Post Boy 2:3:1766
Final Page of Boston Post-Boy (February 3, 1766).

Having examined a greater number of colonial American newspapers I can offer a bit more context about advertisements for lotteries (another category that I have previously chosen not to feature). While some are this short, others are much more extensive (see the example below, published less than a month earlier in the Pennsylvania Gazette). Many comment on the civic and public works projects that will be accomplished with the proceeds. Others include extensive charts that detail how many tickets will be sold, how many drawn, and the varying amounts of money to be awarded to winners. Just as advertisements for consumer goods and services could be as short as a couple of lines or extend over and entire column, advertisements for lotteries did not all loo the same.

Feb 6 - Lottery Advert - Pennsylvania Gazette 1:9:1766
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 9, 1766).