With a new state lottery about to begin, we decided to have a look at Alan D. Watson’s article, “The Lottery in Early North Carolina” (North Carolina Historical Review, October 1992) to see how it worked a few centuries ago.
Watson pointed us to the early laws of North Carolina, which contained a provision for a lottery as early as 1760. The act allowed four Managers to organize a lottery to raise money to finish the construction of churches in Wilmington and Brunswick. It was noted that an earlier lottery had been tried but failed due to “the Scarcity of Proclamation Money in this part of the Province.” The new act allowed players in the lottery (referred to as “adventurers”) to buy tickets with only a written promise of payment. The price for the ticket was pretty steep for a somewhat meager payment, at least by PowerBall standards. For three pounds, you could purchase a ticket giving you a chance at a grand prize of four hundred pounds. In order to supplement the money raised by the lottery, the state would also allow the churches to use money obtained from the sale of slaves captured from a wrecked Spanish privateer.