Lottery For Horatio Knight In 1827


Vermont Lottery, February 1827.jpg

Vermont Lottery For The Benefit Of Horatio Knight, Esq.


Some time either in 1826 or 1827 a lottery office was opened here, chartered by the state. The office was directly opposite the old Brattleboro house, a famous hostelry at that time, and for many years thereafter. A large sign hung over the door with a painting representing a woman holding in her hand a cornucopia from which was flowing a perfect avalanche of dollars.


In those days the most reputable people of the town as well as all others, patronized the lottery office and without the least suspicion that it was anything like gambling, or at all reprehensible to "try your luck." People thought no more of walking up to the counter to buy a lottery ticket than of going to the grocer's for a pound of tea and if tradition can be believed the lottery had the call two to one.


The townspeople evidently thought they stood a little better chance of getting rich by laying out $2 or $3 for a ticket than in any other way, but it seems to have taken but four or five public drawings to change their minds, and after all had a few chances at "fortune's wheel" even the promise of a 20 per cent dividend in the "Brattleboro typographical company" did not seem to lure shy capitalists.


One of the old-time spectators thus describes the drawing:


"When the day arrived for revolving the glass cylinder to decide who was to get $3,000 or $5,000, a stage was built just in front of the hotel, on which stood the city fathers looking as wise and solemn as the bird of wisdom. They surrounded the cylinder with the exception of the side to the crowd."


The prize numbers and blanks were inclosed in little tin boxes, something like a pill-box, when they were thrown promiscuously into the cylinder, which was hung with a crank, like a grindstone or Chinese praying-machine.


When the word was given the awful cylinder, loaded with so many different fates, was revolved a few times and then stopped, when James Elliott, then clerk of the county, would proceed to take out one of the little boxes, open it and proclaim its contents at the same time holding before the gaze of a multitude that filled the streets, and whose haggard looks and almost breathless anxiety told of the great interest, the "prize winner."


Many a Micawber and wife stood there at every drawing, waiting for something to "turn up," having spent their last available dollar, in expectation of drawing an everlasting fortune, when any one of them were 10 times more likely to have been struck by lightning than to get back the amount paid for their ticket.


Finally when the scene was over, people seemed to breathe easier, and those who did not find themselves rich at the conclusion of the performance had only to step up to the bar, and with an old-fashioned fourpence, if he was so fortunate as to have saved even that amount, get what would make them realize the truth of at least one scriptural assertion,


"As a man thinketh so is he."


It was certainly a relief when the thing was settled, but whether it took more old rum to support a disagreeable reality than to brace up the crowd during the frightful suspense is not clear. Any how, it required but few repetitions of the scene, but a few more turns of the old crank to effect a radical cure of the lottery craze, following which religion and temperance grew apace.


Brattleboro Reformer, February 10, 1893.


Maj. Frederick W. Childs, "An Old-Time Brattleboro Lottery". Frederick Childs was Special Correspondent to the Springfield Republican. This article was also reprinted in the Vermont Phoenix for January 30, 1920.


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The Brattleboro' Messenger newspaper for June 23, 1826, October 27, 1826, and December 22, 1826 all describe the condition of the Horatio Knight, Esq., the son of Hon. Samuel Knight, Chief Justice of Vermont. James Elliot set out the conditions for this lottery in the Messenger for May 5, 1827, the lottery to be held during June or July instant.


Horatio Knight was born in Brattleboro in 1775, most likely at his father Samuel's house, which stood just north from the Old Brooks Library, on the site occupied by Dr. Charles S. Pratt in 1905. Horatio lost a leg while still a young man. James Elliot penned his letter of resignation from the Vermont Lottery for Horatio Knight on April 9, 1831. "One Thousand Dollars" had been raised for Horatio, with $915 already paid out to him.


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A Lottery Office.


Opposite the old stage house, with a large mythological painting for a sign, occupied the attention of the people from 1826 to '29. Ceres, goddess of the harvest, smilingly and willingly, through summer's heat and winter's cold, looked down upon the public while scattering from a cornucopia a large quantity of Mexican dollars.


This lottery was chartered by the State for the benefit of Horatio Knight, and Messrs. Chase and Smith, managers. The people, though charmed for a while and paying a sufficient tax on ignorance to learn this to be no improvement on the old ways of money-making, turned their backs on this temple of mammon, and beautiful Ceres smiled on us no more.


The most appropriate use ever made of the unsold tickets was by Messrs. Hooper and Hughes, in the construction of rarified air-balloons, which were started upon their important mission near the old meeting-house on the village common.


Henry Burnham, "Brattleboro, Windham County, Vermont; Early History, with Biographical Sketches of some of its Citizens. (Brattleboro: Published by D. Leonard, 1880). Page 36.


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Ceres was the goddess that was commonly seen holding a sheaf of wheat and representing Vermont. Since coinage was rare in Brattleboro during lottery years, except for coppers, most of the lottery tickets were purchased with wheat, if they were purchased at all, and the prizes were also awarded in this grain.


Brattleboro's Larkin G. Mead, Jr. designed the Ceres for the Vermont State House. Could this statue echo the painting seen on Main Street, without the Mexican coins, recollected from the artist's youth?


Ceres, Goddess Of Agriculture, Larkin G. Mead, Vermont State House.jpg


Messrs. Hooper and Hughes were probably childhood playmates of Henry Burnham, and the author himself, apparently quite modestly, is not recording that he was among the urchins launching paper sacks containing lit candles to provide the necessary "rarefied air", from a place near "the old meeting-house on the village common".


The first meeting house in the East Village was built in 1806, and it also served as a district school, long after the Church on the Common was built nearby in 1816. When the old meeting house was finally removed to Chase Street---where it still stands---it became known as "the Chase Street school".


A photograph taken in 1894 showing the Chase Street school, a flagpole, the Retreat Tower, and an immobile catalpa tree, was converted to a colorized postal card some years later---


Congregational Meeting House On The Common 1806, District School 1833, Chase Street School 1857.jpg

Chase Street School


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The Phoenix Lottery


The rival to the Vermont Lottery in Brattleboro was the Phoenix Lottery. The performance was given opposite Uriel Sikes' hotel, the ringmaster being the prominent merchant John Birge, with the slogan, "When fortune calls---Obey."


The name of the Phoenix Lottery came from the notion that if you hit the jackpot, then your splendid new life would rise from the ashes of your old life---just like the fabled phoenix that arises anew every five hundred years from its own nested pyre, fretted with rue and cinnabar.


When the Phoenix Lottery offices were finally sold, the new tenant was a newspaper so new that it was still looking for its own name. Perhaps, to save itself the expense of re-painting the large street sign, the paper decided to call itself the Vermont Phoenix---rising in 1834 from the ashes of former newspapers.


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