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Lottery Village and the Rhode Island Colonial Lottery

Written by: Kyra McCormick


Over Memorial Day weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Virtu Art Festival and purchased a reprint of a vintage map of Westerly, RI from 1870. The more I examined the map, the more interested I became. One of the villages emphasized was “Lottery Village.” I’ve never heard of that village, which got me intrigued. My curiosity led me to the story of Joseph Pendleton, Lottery Village, and the Colonial Rhode Island Lottery System.



Joseph Pendleton was an early resident of Westerly, RI, owning land along the Pawcatuck River, today known as Avondale. In 1749, Pendleton’s brand-new ship, the Brigantine and its captain Joseph Pendleton Jr disappeared. The ship itself was worth 18-20 thousand pounds and included a cargo of uninsured rum and molasses.[1] With permission from the Rhode Island General Assembly, Pendleton held a lottery, selling 124 quarter-acre house lots in order to recover his losses. Hence the name Lottery Village.[2] Many of the early residents were sailors and shipmasters. In fact, shipbuilding became the principal activity along the Pawcatuck River, “between 1769 and 1889 over 240 commercial sailing vessels were built.”[3] In the 1800s, Lottery Village saw rapid growth, with the construction of a school, church and several dozen residences. The village changed its name to Avondale in 1893 when a local post office was established. By the 1890’s gambling was generally seen as improper and led to the changing of the village’s name.[4]



This story is not uncommon in the narrative of Colonial America. The first lottery in America was in 1612 when the Virginia Company of London received a charter from parliament for a lottery for the benefit of the Jamestown settlement.[5] By the mid- 18th century lotteries were used in all 13 American colonies.[6] In Rhode Island, lotteries were against the law until 1744. Following the reversal of the law, “Rhode Island general assembly authorized almost as many lotteries as all of the other 12 English Colonies combined.” This equated to 250 lotteries by the year 1842[7]. The lotteries were mainly used to raise funds for civic and religious projects. But, like in the case of Joseph Pendleton, lotteries were also used for a variety of “innovative purposes including payment of personal debts of the citizenry.”[8]

Gambling came to an end in the late 1800s, when lotteries became more corrupt. Multiple scandals, caused the pubic to distrust most forms of gambling.[9] With the public generally frowning upon gambling, any reference to it was generally erased from the record, like in the case of Lottery Village. In the 1890’s postal workers renamed Lottery Village to Avondale, effectively erasing the story of Joseph Pendleton and Lottery Village from the collective memory of Westerly.








[1] Pettys, Gregory. “History of the Avondale Farm Preserve.” Westerly Life, July 27, 2018. https://westerlylife.com/seaside-dog-walks-avondale-farm-preserve/.


[2] Dunn, Christine. “Avondale: A Quiet Slice of History on the Pawcatuck.” providencejournal.com. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20140824/Business/308249954.


[3] Pettys, Gregory. “History of the Avondale Farm Preserve.” Westerly Life, July 27, 2018. https://westerlylife.com/seaside-dog-walks-avondale-farm-preserve/.


[4] Pettys, Gregory. “History of the Avondale Farm Preserve.” Westerly Life, July 27, 2018. https://westerlylife.com/seaside-dog-walks-avondale-farm-preserve/.


[5]“Historic Jamestowne: The Virginia Company of London.” National Park Service. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/the-virginia-company-of-london.htm.


[6]Bartlett, John Russell, "History of Lotteries and the Lottery System in Rhode Island" (2003). Technical Services Department Faculty Publications. Paper 7.


[7] Bartlett, John Russell, "History of Lotteries and the Lottery System in Rhode Island" (2003). Technical Services Department Faculty Publications. Paper 7.


[8] Bartlett, John Russell, "History of Lotteries and the Lottery System in Rhode Island" (2003). Technical Services Department Faculty Publications. Paper 7.


[9] Times-Picayune, The. “1888: The Louisiana Lottery Was a Controversial Private Venture.” nola.com, September 23, 2011. https://www.nola.com/175years/2011/09/1888_the_louisiana_lottery_was.html

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