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.

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.