From Edmund Randolph
Williamsburg August 2. 1789
Sometime ago Mr Fitzhugh, of Chatham, gave me a list of tickets in Colo. Byrd’s lottery, in which yourself, several other gentlemen, as well as my father or uncle (I forget which) were jointly interested.1 He promised to procure, if possible, some more authentic grounds for proceeding in the recovery of the prize, and, if I do not mistake, he expected further information from you. I will thank you, sir, to let me know, and to instruct me, what ought to be done in this matter, and I will immediately execute it.
As I am convinced, that a knowledge of character is all, which you will require in the disposal of offices, I shall take the liberty of mentioning a gentleman, who was formerly, during the existence of the court of admiralty, marshal of that court. I mean Mr Benjamin Powell of this city.2 I can assure you, after the fullest experience of him, that he is a man of unblemished integrity, respected by all, who are acquainted with him, of a very responsible fortune, can give security to any sum, and has discharged his office to the satisfaction of every body, connected with its duties. He has requested me to say, what my own conscience can declare, and in what I have written, I am confident that I hazard nothing. His hope is to be continued in his old department.
With every wish for the happiness of your administration, and for the continuance of your lately-restored health, I am dear sir, Your affectionate friend & servant
1. In 1768 Col. William Byrd III raffled off much of his property in the hope of paying off his large debts. Besides Byrd’s heavy gambling losses, he was deeply involved in the settlement of the estate of the late speaker-treasurer of Virginia, John Robinson. Among other property, “the intire towns of Rocky Ridge and Shockoe, lying at the Falls of James River” were offered in the lottery (Virginia Gazette, [R; Williamsburg], 23 July 1767). By May 1769 GW had purchased at least a “tenth of 100 Tickets taken in Partnership with himself and others in Colo. Byrds Lottery” (Ledger A description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 1, 1750-72, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 290). After the Revolution GW’s recollections of his involvement in the Byrd lottery had dimmed, and on 10 July 1784 he wrote Edmund Randolph asking questions very similar to those now posed by Randolph: “In looking over some of my papers the other day, I found a Memom of a prize (half an acre) which I drew in Colo. Byrds lottery, in the Town of Richmond—the number of the ticket is 4965 & that of the Lott, or prize 265. this is all I got for twenty tickets on my own Accot—The same Memodm informs me, that in partnership with Peyton Randolph (your Uncle), John Wayles, George Wythe—Richard Randolph, Lewis Burwell, William Fitzhugh (Chatham), Thompson Mason, Nathl Harrison Jur & Richd Kidder Mead Esqrs. (ten in all) I have, or ought to have a joint interest in . . . the produce of an hundred Tickets which were purchased amongst us.” Requesting information from Randolph on the status of the property, GW noted that “I have never received an iota on account of these prizes.” According to GW’s recollection, Thomson Mason (1733–1785), a younger brother of George Mason, managed the group’s tickets “so effectually it seems as to monopolize the whole interest.” See GW’s reply to Randolph’s letter, 8 Sept. 1789. As late as 1796 the affair still rankled with GW. Writing his nephew Bushrod Washington on 29 June 1796, GW stated: “I drew a prize in Colo. Byrds lottery, of a half acre lot—no. 265—I believe in the Town of Manchester and I have a lot in some Town that was established on James River (below Richmd) . . . for which I have a deed . . . if these are to be found and worth your acceptance—I will give them to you.” He was also entitled to some additional property, he noted, but “as Thomson Mason (with or without authority) sold this property and never to me at least accounted, for an iota of the amount little I presume is to be expected from this concern.” In his will GW left the proceeds of the Byrd lottery to William Augustine Washington, “if he should conceive them to be objects worth prosecuting.”
2. Benjamin Powell was a storekeeper in Williamsburg who served on the Williamsburg city council in 1767 and as justice of the peace for York County in 1784.