Land Lottery Process

On 16 June 1802, at Fort Wilkinson, the Creek Indians ceded two strips of land, one in central Georgia just west of the Oconee River and the other in the southeast corner of the state. Today, the first tract is part of Morgan, Putnam, Baldwin, Jones, Wilkinson, and Laurens Counties. The second tract, known as the Tallassee Strip, is located between the Altamaha River and St. Mary’s River, and is now part of Wayne, Brantley, and Charlton Counties.

The Act of 11 May 1803 established the general process by which the land lottery would operate. The law outlined the creation of three counties and thirteen districts: five districts in Baldwin County, three districts in Wayne County, and five districts in Wilkinson County. Each district was to be surveyed into lots, containing 202 ½ acres each in Baldwin and Wilkinson Counties and 490 acres each in Wayne County. In the end, 4,580 land lots were surveyed. All square (or whole) lots, as well as all islands containing more than 100 acres, were included in the land lottery drawing. All fractions were held out and sold at public auction in 1806.

One surveyor was hired to map each district. Each surveyor was paid $2.75 per mile surveyed, which was used to pay salaries; create maps, plats, and field note books; and defray other incidental costs. Upon completion, survey records were forwarded to the Georgia Surveyor General. District maps, field books (when extant), and plat books for this land lottery are available at the Georgia Archives. Because districts and land lots, as numbered by the surveyors, serve as the organizational foundation of the survey system in land lottery areas of Georgia, they can be used to compile each lot’s complete chain of title from the grant to the current day.

The task of registering eligible participants for the land lottery fell upon the justices of the inferior courts of the counties. They were charged with compiling a list of participants in their respective counties from May 1803 to 1 March 1804, along with the number of draws to which each person was entitled. Each list was sent to the Executive Department and a copy was deposited in the Superior Court of the county. Those entering the land lottery were required to pay 12.5 cents per draw to the justices for the privilege of being registered.

Of all the land lotteries, the eligibility requirements in 1805 were the most succinct. Every white male over 21 years of age who was a United States citizen was entitled to one draw if they had resided in the state for twelve months prior to the land lottery act. White males of the preceding description, but having a wife and legitimate children under age 21, were entitled to two draws. Widows, with legitimate children under age 21, were also entitled to two draws. Orphans whose parents were both deceased, or whose father was dead and mother remarried, were entitled to one draw.

The majority of eligible citizens registered for the land lottery. However, due to apathy, religious objections to gambling, or lack of knowledge about the process, many people did not participate. It is common to find established residents in county tax digests and deed records but not on the final list of land lottery participants.

When the lists of participants were received from the counties, the names were consolidated into one list spanning four books, known as the List of Persons Entitled to Draws. The books were compiled by George R. Clayton and James Bozeman and were completed 19 July 1805, three days before the drawing began. See “Fortunate Drawers” for more detailed information on how the books are arranged. According to the list, approximately 24,000 individuals participated in the land lottery and altogether were eligible for more than 40,000 draws. Each draw represented slightly less than a one in ten chance of winning a lot. For the land lottery, the number of each whole lot survey was placed on a ticket. A number of tickets labeled “blank” were then added to equal the total number of draws. The mass of tickets was placed in a large container (a “lottery wheel”) built by John Jacob Schley for $40.

Apparently, no accounts of the actual land lottery drawing were published, but it is possible to reconstruct the administrative events involved using knowledge of the legal process, the surviving land lottery books, and contemporary newspaper announcements. Beginning on 22 July 1805 and drawing approximately 1,250 tickets each day, six days a week, the process lasted more than five weeks, to 31 August 1805. Unlike later land lotteries with open-ended schedules, the 1805 Land Lottery was planned with precision. The draw schedule was published one month in advance of the land lottery and was followed exactly as planned.

At the land lottery, the room was most likely arranged with a long table against one wall for the commissioners and their record books. The land lottery commissioners were Jared Irwin (President), William Barnett, George R. Clayton, Edwin Mounger, and George Watkins. The container full of prizes and blanks stood in front of the table where a young boy, Burke Chisholm, was charged with drawing the tickets. At the table, a volume of the List of Persons Entitled to Draws was open. The commissioners read the names from the list in order, calling out the name and number of draws. Each ticket was drawn and passed to the commissioners, who marked a “B” (Blank) or “P” (Prize) beside the participant’s name for each draw. If a prize was drawn, the fortunate drawer’s information and the lot description were written into a book known as the List of Fortunate Drawers. See “Fortunate Drawers” for more information.

The land lottery ended on a Saturday and all the books and tickets were deposited at the office of the Executive Department. The first payments for grants were accepted September 3, the following Tuesday, and the first grants were issued that Wednesday and Thursday. In order to obtain their grant, fortunate drawers were required to pay four dollars per hundred acres, or $8.10 in Baldwin and Wilkinson Counties and $19.60 in Wayne County. A steady stream of fortunate drawers made their way to Louisville to claim their prizes until early 1807. By law, fortunate drawers were allowed one year following the land lottery’s conclusion to claim their grant, but in a pattern that continued during all subsequent land lotteries, the time limit was extended by the state legislature on an annual basis for almost ten years.

Fractional lots were held out of the land lottery and sold at public auction in Louisville during October and November 1806. Grants for fractions were filled out early in 1806, except the name of the grantee, which was filled in upon payment of a grant fee following the auction. Many small lots received no bids and were not granted until many years later. The original grants for all fractional lots are dated 1 February 1806 and are recorded in Fractional Lots Grant Book A. Grants issued for those fractions that did not receive bids at the auction and were issued in later years are recorded in Fractional Lots Grant Book N. The record book from the commissioner’s sale of fractional lots survived and is available at the Georgia Archives.

Because of the low cost of registration and the undemanding nature of the oral oath, some people determined that it was worth lying about their status for a chance to win free land. If a lie was found out, the knowledgeable party, or informant, could bring charges against the fortunate drawer. If a jury found the defendant guilty of fraud, the lot was condemned and the informant received one half of the land. Georgia retained the other half and sold it at auction. Six land lots were condemned as fraudulently drawn or granted in the 1805 Land Lottery process. Other people probably registered fraudulently, but they either did not win land or received land with such little value that no informant was willing to go to the expense of a jury trial.

The Georgia land lotteries were complex processes. Numerous records were created that fall outside the scope of this project, and many have not been microfilmed. For anyone interested in learning more, Georgia Land Surveying History and Law, by Farris Cadle, contains a wealth of information on each of the land lotteries and Georgia’s land system as a whole.