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Richmond's Early Lottery and Its Tragic Ending 

Way pre-Powerball, son of city's founder tried to generate riches and failed.

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A Lucky's convenience store clerk said folks were in as early as 5 this morning to buy tickets for tonight's Powerball drawing.

With lottery fever fueled by an estimated $1.5 billion jackpot, it's not easy to remember Virginians debating whether the state should get into the lottery business, which it did in 1987.

But the history of Virginia, and that of the South, was filled with lotteries as a kind of early GoFundMe, as discussed this week on BackStory -- a program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

The story, "A Brief History of American Lotteries," features Civil War scholar and University of Richmond's former president, Ed Ayers, telling the tragic story of William Byrd III, son of the man who founded Richmond in 1737:

Early Americans used lotteries much like the crowdfunding of today—as a quick way to generate cash. Lotteries cropped up frequently in the South and “were a perfect way to accomplish big things in places where there was not much cash,” according to Ed Ayers, BackStory’s 19th Century Guy and president emeritus at the University of Richmond.

Ayers cited the example of William Byrd III, son of the founder of Richmond, Va. Byrd, deep in debt thanks to a gambling habit, organized a lottery in an attempt to cash in the lands he had inherited from his father, William Byrd II. Again, the lottery failed to generate the attention and monies needed, and Byrd later committed suicide.

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