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Enslaved Lottery

Q: Were there any lotteries that included enslaved individuals? 

Lottery ad

A: While preparing for a virtual tour of the museum with a lottery organization, I found a 1768 newspaper clipping advertising an upcoming lottery to raffle off some debtor’s property in Williamsburg, Virginia. Among the “property” of land, horses, and cattle were several enslaved people and their assigned “value.” Several things stood out as I read the advertisement.  

First, the average age of the individuals to be raffled was about 25 (only counting the ones where age is listed) and there were a number of individuals sixteen and under.  

 Second, each prize lot had a small blurb describing the prize and the skills of the enslaved people. For example, we read about “a good planter,” “a very fine blacksmith,” and “a good carpenter.” 

 Third, the list included several family members that were to be separated. For instance:  “A Negro man, Robin, a good sawyer and Bella, his wife” were a raffle prize and the next prize lot was “A Negro girl named Sukey, about 12 years old, and another named Betty, about 7 years old; children of Robin and Bella.” Later in the article there was additional descriptions, “A Negro woman named Kate, and a young child, Judy” and the next prize lot was “A Negro girl, Aggy, and boy, Nat; children of Kate.” Here we see the barbarism of enslavement: fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers separated as prizes in a lottery. 

 Fourthly, one of the names listed as raffle managers was George Washington. According to the book  An imperfect god: George Washington, his slaves, and the creation of America, the George Washington listed was indeed the future first president of the United States.

 After we shared the article with the tour audience, Dr. Pilgrim reminded the audience that “In America, we like happy history. We do not like the ugly parts of our past. Americans have done wonderful things, incredible things, and helped people live and thrive, but Americans have also oppressed people by committing unspeakable atrocities. When we talk about the past, we must talk about all of it.” 

Franklin Hughes
Jim Crow Museum

Moore, B. (1768, November 24). A Scheme of a Lottery. Rind's Virginia Gazette. Retrieved from 

Wiencek, H. (2003). A Scheme in Williamsburg.  In An imperfect god: George Washington, his slaves, and the creation of America (pp. 134–189). essay, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Retrieved from