Seven times between 1805 and 1832 Georgia used a lottery system to distribute the land taken from the Cherokee or Creek Indians.
These lotteries were unique to the state; no other state used a lottery system to distribute land. Lot size varied widely, even in the individual lotteries. The largest lots distributed were 490 acres in the 1805 and the 1820 land lottery. The smallest lots were the 40-acre gold lots distributed during the Gold Lottery of 1832. See also Georgia Land Records.
Many people, including the state of Georgia, combine the Land Lottery of 1832 and the Gold Lottery of 1832 and represent it as a single lottery; however, both the enabling legislation and the drawings themselves were independent, hence there were seven lotteries, not six.
Prior to 1803 Georgia distributed land via a headright system. Designed to prohibit corruption, the system actually encouraged it. During early administrations the government abused this system and created what today is generally known as the Yazoo Land Fraud. These abuses led to the adoption of the lottery system in May, 1803 under governor John Milledge. The first lottery under the new system occurred in 1805.
Almost 3/4 of the land in present-day Georgia was distributed under this lottery system. During the 27 years that land was distributed under the system the rules and the methods of the lottery remained virtually unchanged.
Applicants could be white males over 18 (or 21 depending on the lottery), orphans, or widows. Fees depended on the lottery and the size of the lot won, but in general they only covered the cost of running the lottery. The state did not profit from allocating these lands.
Fractional lots were sold in each of the lotteries and some lands, especially those near major rivers, was exempt from the lottery. These were distributed by the state using alternate, frequently corrupt, methods
For each person subscribing to a lottery a ticket was placed in the barrel. Since each lottery was over-subscribed, blank tickets were added to compensate for the over-subscription. According to the state archives, no record remains of the people who drew the blank tickets after the 1805 lottery.
Eight times between 1805 and 1833 Georgia held lotteries to distribute land, the largest held in the United States. The lotteries followed a simple pattern:
- The General Assembly passed an act that authorized the lottery and spelled out who would be eligible to participate and the grant fees that would apply.
- Eligible citizens registered their names in their county of residence and paid a small fee. The names were sent to the governor’s office at the state capital. Beginning with the second lottery the names were copied onto slips of paper called “tickets” and placed in a large drum called a “wheel.”
- The land to be distributed was surveyed and laid out in districts and lots. The surveyors sent the district and lot numbers to the governor’s office. These were placed in a separate wheel. (At first, blank tickets were added to this wheel, so that the number of tickets would equal the number of persons drawing.)
- Commissioners appointed by the governor drew a name ticket from one wheel and a district/lot ticket from the other wheel. If the district/lot ticket was blank, the person received nothing. If the ticket contained a district/lot number, the person received a prize of that parcel of land. A ticket that contained a number was called a “Fortunate Draw.” With later lotteries (after 1820), when blank tickets were not added to the prize wheel, individuals whose names remained in the second wheel were considered to have drawn blanks.
- Anyone who received a Fortunate Draw could take out a grant for the lot he drew, after paying the grant fee. If he did not take out a grant, the lot reverted back to the state to be sold to the highest bidder.
- A participant’s registration information was not changed at any time during the land lottery process, and grants, even those issued ten years after the land lottery, include the fortunate drawer’s location during the registration period, not their residence on the date of the grant.” He was obviously speaking of the 1805 lottery but I imagine the same protocol was followed for all of them.