Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period

By David A. Copeland | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Massachusetts Legalizes Lotteries, 1744

These names or similar ones are familiar to almost everyone: Lotto, Power Ball, bingo, Publishers' Clearing House Sweepstakes, church raffle. No matter the name, these games of chance, contests, or lotteries offer participants the opportunity to invest a small amount in hopes of a large return. Lotteries usually offer the greatest return on the investment, but they also have the greatest odds against being a winner.

Lotteries were not a creation of the twentieth century. In fact, lotteries have been a part of America since the first settlement in Jamestown. In 1612 the Virginia Company, which backed financially the New World settlement, held a lottery in England to give away prizes--presumably land in Virginia--and to raise money for more colonization. In fact, lottery funds were seen as vital to Jamestown's success, and in 1620 and 1621 the Virginia Company estimated that about 45 percent of the operating expenses of £17,800 for the settlement would come from lotteries.1

In 1744 Massachusetts held its first government-sanctioned lottery to raise money to protect the colony's large coastline, which included the present states of Massachusetts and Maine.2 England and France were engaged in the third war the two European powers had fought that involved their New World settlements. Known as King George's War, the majority of the fighting in North America took place in New England and nearby French-controlled Cape Breton or in the waters off both.

The lottery was the first of twenty-two government-sponsored ones held by Massachusetts through 1765. Even though most of the colony's inhabitants no doubt saw the protection of trade and shipping as vital to

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