Colonial Lottery: Massachusetts 1744/45 Description
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    Massachusetts Lottery

    A Description of the First Colonial Government Lottery

    The first authorized lottery in Colonial America took place in Boston Massachusetts in 1745. In the previous year Massachusetts (which also included what is now Maine) was compeled to expend a great deal of money defending the frontier and seacoast as well as being required to protect the royal province of Nova Scotia. The colonists had already been subjected to unusually high poll and estate taxes, but part of the military debt was still outstanding. On January 9, 1744/5 the General Court passed an act that provided for the payment of the debt, "in a manner the least burdensome to the inhabitants," that is, by a lottery.

    The act was very specific giving several details of the administration of the lottery. The directors of the lottery were Samuel Watts, John Quincy, James Bowdoin, Robert Hale and Thomas Hutchinson. It was their job to oversee the process and insure the laws were followed.

    Sheets were printed with tickets in three columns. The left column and the center column were identical ticket stubs, while the right column contained an oblong ticket with the words "Massachusetts Government Lottery." The three sections were attached to each other by a design, much like indented currency was attached to a stub (to see our example of an undetached stub with the full design intact, from the Maryland currency emission of 1733 click here. ). In all 25,000 tickets were printed on sheets that were held in binders as notebooks. The tickets were numbered consecutively 1-25,000 with the two stubs given the same number as the attached ticket. When an individual purchased a ticket, which cost 30 shillings O.T., one of the directors signed the ticket and cut it out along the design area with a curved cut called an indent and handed it to the purchaser. The idea was that only the unique curve of the original indented ticket would perfectly join the indent on the stub. This was meant to stop counterfeiters who might try to either make false tickets or alter the number of a loosing ticket. Click here to view actual tickets.

    When the tickets had been sold, the directors of the lottery, in the presence of any ticket holders who wished to attend, would detach the center stub by making an indent cut along the border design area connecting it to the innermost stub. The detached center stub was then rolled up and sewn with thread or silk and placed into a box marked with the letter A. The box was then put into a strong box which was secured with five different locks, each of the directors having a key to one of the locks, and then the box was secured with each of the director's wax seals. The stubs on the inner margin were kept in the book as a record to be used to detect any mistakes or uncover fraud.

    The directors also had additional sheets printed in two columns consisting of two tickets joined by a design. As with the other sheets 25,000 of these double tickets were printed. Of the 25,000 outer tickets 5,422 were designated as "benefit" or winning tickets with the winning amount written in words and numbers, the others were left blank. The prizes were as follows (in Masssachusetts Second New Tenor):

    2 tickets£1,250for a total of£2,500
    4 tickets£600for a total of£2,500
    6 tickets£375for a total of£2,250
    8 tickets£250for a total of£2,000
    16 tickets£125for a total of£2,000
    36 tickets £62 10sfor a total of£2,250
    150 tickets £30for a total of£ 4,500
    5,250 tickets£3 15sfor a total of£19,500

    In all 5,422 tickets out of 25,000 would be winners, so the odds of winning something were better that one out of five (21.68% of the tickets were winners)! The total value of the prizes amounted to £37,500.

    At least six days before the drawing the outer "benefit" and blank tickets were cut off using a curved indent cut at the design and then were individually rolled up and sewn with thread. They were then placed into a box marked with the letter B which was then secured in another strong box with five locks and seals. The law is silent on the use of the inner ticket stub but presumably they were kept as a record with the "benefit stubs" duly recorded so the benefit ticket and stub could be matched at the indent.

    According to the act of January 9th, notification of the drawing was to be given fourteen days in advance and was to take place on or before April 9, 1745. The two strong boxes were to be "brought to Faneuil Hall, or some other convenient place in the town of Boston, as shall be agreed upon by the major part of the directors, by nine of the clock in the forenoon of the same day, and placed on a table." The boxes would then be opened. One ticket would be drawn from box A containing the numbered ticket stubs and one ticket would be drawn from box B containing the 5,422 benefit tickets and the 19,578 blanks. The two tickets, which had been rolled and sewn were then opened and the contents announced. If a benefit ticket was drawn the lottery ticket number was recorded along with the amount of the benefit. The process was to continue all day. If the lottery could not be completed in one day the boxes were resealed and the drawings would continue on the succeeding days (except Sunday) until all the tickets had been announced. No illustrations of colonial American lotteries survive but there are a few illustrations from England. To see illustrations of contemporary English lottery drawings click here.

    Once the winners had presented their tickets, they were to be paid within 40 days. Interestingly, the total amount of the prizes equalled £37,500 and the total ticket sales of all 25,000 tickets at 30s (i.e. one and a half pounds, £1 10s) equalled £37,500. However, 20% of the winnings was collected as a tax "for the use and service of this government." Thus, the winners were only were given 80% of their winnings. Of the £37,500 total income, 80% or £30,000 was paid out as winnings and 20% or £7,500 went to the provincial treasury.

    According to The Boston Weekly Post Boy of Monday April 8, 1745, the lottery had to be postponed until June 4th because there were still unsold tickets. As ticket sales slowed down some people feared the lottery would actually drain government funds, since the advertized cash prizes would amount to more than was taken in on ticket sales! A letter from as late as May 1745, now in the Colonial Documents Collection at the University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections, discusses proposed instructions to the newly elected Boston representatives in the Massachusettes General Court requesting them to stop the lottery for this very reason. For details on this document click here. Eventually the tickets were sold and the lottery drawing was started. The Boston Evening Post of Monday June 10, 1745 mentioned the lottery drawing had started on the previous Friday at Faneuil Hall, while The Boston Weekly Post Boy of the same day stated it had begun late Thursday and continued all day Friday and until about 8:00 or 9:00 PM on Saturday, with no higher prize awarded than £125. The Boston Gazette of Tuesday June 11th stated that the lottery drawing was still underway. However, news of the Cape Breton military Expedition arrived later that week and took top billing in all the papers, as several Massachusetts colonists took part in that campaign against the French outpost at Lewisburg. Little more was reported about the lottery. No paper published a list of the winning numbers but The Boston Gazette of June 18, 1745 mentioned the lottery office in Faneuil Hall had a record of all winning ticket numbers and one could go there to check their tickets. For those "adventurers" (as lottery ticket holders were called) who had not been successful The Boston Evening Post of June 17th mentioned there would be a lottery in Providence, Rhode Island in July for which tickets could be acquired locally at £3 old tenor per ticket.

    One final note on this first colonial lottery. The cost of each ticket was 30s Second N.T. At least 20% or 6s Second N.T. of the purchase price had to be paid in Massachusetts currency. The remaining 24s could be paid in like bills or in currency of "other governments of New England" that had not been prohibited by law (this meant NH and CT notes were acceptable but not RI currency). One could also use older devalued (Old Tenor or Middle Tenor, also called First New Tenor) Massachusetts currency in lieu of the New Tenor money. The law is silent on other methods of payment but presumable the lottery commission also gladly accepted hard currency such as Massachusetts and Spanish American silver coins or any of the various gold or silver coins then in circulation, should someone be willing to part with them.     [In 1744 Massachusetts was using second new tenor notes, they had briefly use first new tenor (also called three fold tenor and later referred to as middle tenor notes) but most individuals calculated prices in Old Tenor (a lottery ticket cost £6 O.T.). For further details click here.]

    This lottery was a success. As mentioned above, Rhode Island soon conducted a lottery and obtained £3,000 to build a bride across the Weybosset River in Providence. Many other lotteries followed. In 1960 John Ezell listed 164 authorized colonial lotteries up to the outbreak of the Revolutionary War (RI had 82, MA 22, CT 19, NY 15, NH 8, NJ 7, PA 5, NC 2, DE 1, MD 1, VA 1 and West FL 1) and others have been uncovered since that time. The trend continued throughout the war and the Confederation period (RI 24, MA 23 of which one was only in the Maine district, VA 13, CT 12, NH 7, VT 6, NC 5, PA 5, NY 3, NJ 3, GA 2, DE 1 and SC 1) as well as with the four national lotteries organized by the Continental Congress. (tickets from some of these lotteries are displayed and discussed in the following pages). Lotteries continued into the middle of the Ninteenth century. See Ezell's informative charts pp. 55-59, 64, 65, and 71- 72.

    Bibliographical references: John Samuel Ezell, Fortune's Merry Wheel: The Lottery in America, Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1960; and The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston: for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by Albert Wright, 1878, vol. 3 (of 5), pp. 195-199, Province Laws 1744-1745, 4th session, Chapter 20, "An act for raising by a lottery the sum of seven thousand five hundred pounds, for the services of this province in the present year."