Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia



How did early promoters advertise the Virginia colony?

Lesson Images

Nova Britannia, A Declaration for the certaine time of drawing the great standing Lottery, and By the King (title page)

Nova Britannia, title page, By Robert Johnson, fl. 1586–1626, supposed author (New York, Printed for J. Sabin, 1867) Special Collections, F229.J676, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

A Declaration for the certaine time of drawing the great standing Lottery

Nova Britannia, title page, By Robert Johnson, fl. 1586–1626, supposed author (New York, Printed for J. Sabin, 1867) Special Collections, F229.J676, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. (Transcription)

The King ends the Lottery

"By the King, 1621," in Three Proclamations Concerning the Lottery for Virginia, 1613–1621 (Providence, Rhode Island: John Carter Brown Library, 1907). (Transcription)

Standards Of Learning

USI.5, VS.1, VS.3

Historical Information:

Virginia began as a commerical venture. This exercise explores how promoters of the Virginia Company advertised for investors.

England was one of the leading powers involved in trade by the 17th century. Wealthy merchants created a number of companies to set up trade and exploration throughout the world. Each company was made up of individuals who would purchase shares of the company stock and then were given the opportunity to explore and settle a particular area. Profits were shared among the investors.

One of these privately owned businesses was the Virginia Company of London. In 1606 King James I of England granted the rights to the Virginia Company to settle in Virginia near the Chesapeake Bay between the 34th and 41st northern parallel. Their hope was to create jobs for the unemployed, find a route to the Orient, convert Virginia Indians to Christianity, use the resources of the New World for industrial production, and increase English wealth and power. The company raised funds, furnished supplies and gathered settlers. Investors purchased shares of stock to finance the settlement. Money from the sale of these stocks were used to pay for supplies and recruit laborers. One single share of stock in the Virginia Company cost twelve pounds and ten shillings, and all who purchased the stocks shared in the success or failure of the venture. In order to increase share sales, a media campaign began in 1609 where the company had pamphlets and broadsides, like Nova Britannia, created in order to raise interest in company stocks. Before the company was dissolved it produced 27 pamphlets and books promoting the Virginia settlement. In fact, the company even convinced clergymen to support colonization in their sermons. The campaign was directed toward gentry, noblemen, and English guilds. Almost 1,700 people purchased shares. This could be done individually or in groups. The largest single investor was Lord de la Warr, the first governor of Virginia. Supplying an overseas colony was an expensive undertaking. Unfortunately, not enough people were willing to take the risk and buy stock. By 1612 the company's debts were more than one thousand pounds. This was caused by the increased Jamestown population, as well as the high mortality rates. As a result, the third charter allowed the company to begin running lotteries and fund-raisers with prizes up to 5,000 pounds. These lotteries raised more than 29,000 English pounds sterling before they ended in 1621.

Lesson Activities

Vocabulary Words:

• Broadside—an advertisement or public notice that is usually printed on one side of a large piece of paper.

• Charter—a document that bestows privileges or rights to an individual, or group of people.

• Guild—an association of persons of the same trade.

• Headright system—Every male head of household who came to the New World received a land grant of 50 acres. He received an addition 50 acres of land for every servant he brought along.

• Investor—a person who pledges money in order to gain a financial or other profitable return.

• Lottery—a drawing in which prizes are determined by chance.

• Shares—any equal interests or rights in which an entire stock of a business is divided.

• Stock—the capital or funds that a business raises through the sale of shares.

Lesson Ideas:


♦ Give each student a copy of the document, Nova Britannia, and allow time to examine.

♦ Ask students to identify both text and graphics in the document, and record student responses.

♦ Have students deduce or conclude the purpose of the document.

♦ Have students relate the document to their prior knowledge of the Virginia colony between 1607 and 1609.

♦ Students will use textbooks, trade books, the Internet, or encyclopedias in order to research important events occurring in Jamestown from 1606 to 1609.

♦ Students will organize information by using a timeline, and draw conclusions about Nova Britannia.


♦ Provide a variety of print advertisements for students to examine.

♦ Discuss how print advertisements persuade the consumer to purchase the product.

♦ Allow students to work in small groups to create their own Virginia Company advertisement for Jamestown. The advertisements should be historically accurate.

♦ Have students present advertisements to the class for discussion.

Discussion Questions:

♦ The promotion of the Virginia venture through the publication of broadsides and pamphlets— was it a success or failure?

♦ Imagine you were a Virginia Company stockholder. As an investor, what would you have done to make the marketing campaign more successful? How could you encourage citizens to invest their money in the company? Come up with your own marketing campaign and present your findings to the class.

♦ Take on the role of a potential investor. What would encourage you to invest in the company, what would be a deterrent?

♦ By 1612, company debts had soared to more than one thousand pounds. Imagine you are King James I, what instructions would you give the investors in order to resolve their problems? Remember as the king you have the ultimate authority over the Virginia colony.

♦ Sir Edwin Sandys, Virginia Company treasurer, supported the headright system. His goal was for a permanent colony, which would enlarge British territory, while Sir Thomas Smith considered trade and profit the main goal of the colony. Have students debate the two sides. Will the headright system solve company problems?

Extensions for Secondary Students:


♦ Since the broadsides like Nova Britannia did not produce the results the company had hoped for in 1612 King James authorized the following type of document in the third charter, A Declaration for the certaine time of drawing the great standing Lottery. Divide students into groups, and give each group a copy of the document.

♦ Ask students to examine the document and define both text and illustrations; record student responses.

♦ Have students deduce or conclude the purpose of the document.


♦ Have your students conduct their own standing or running lottery. Students will be expected to illustrate and write text for lottery broadside, sell tickets (this could be done with fake money), determine prizes, and conduct the drawing. Students will need to consider the following:

- What is the purpose behind the lottery?

- What motivation will you give potential customers to participate in the lottery?

- After completing the project, what problems did the students have, what were their successes in completing the lottery assignment? Have the students speculate whether Virginia Company members' successes and problems were similar.

Discussion Questions:

• What is the lottery system and how did the Virginia Company use this system to encourage investment in the company?

• According to the great standing lottery,

- What do the members of the company wish to further?

- What have the company members failed in?

- On what date did the lottery take place?  

- Who should you make your payment to and how much?

- How were the rewards to be paid?

• Captain John Smith in 1621 in The Records of the Virginia Company of London referred to the lotteries as “the reall and subtantiall food.” What did he mean by this statement? 

• While trying to gain support for the lotteries, oftentimes Edwin Sandys, sent letter to mayors of the towns where the lotteries would be conducted, asking leaders to support the lottery. What would you include in your letter in order to convince local leaders that the lottery was a worthy cause?

• By 1620 many citizens began to object to the company lotteries. Read By the King and answer the following questions.

- What does the king decide to do on March 8, 1621, in response to this resistance?

- Why do you think the king made this decision?

- Imagine you are the king, what would you have done?

- Knowing the decision the king made on March 8th, where do you think the colony of Virginia and the company should go from here?

Suggested Materials

Bemiss, Samuel M., ed. The Three Charters of the Virginia Company of London. Williamsburg: Virginia's 350th Anniversary Celebration Corp, 1957.

Johnson, Robert C. “The Lotteries of the Virginia Company, 1612–1621.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 74, no. 3 (1966) 259–292.

Kingsbury, Susan M., ed. The Records of the Virginia Company of London. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906.

Millikan, Neal Elizabeth. “A Taxation Upon All the Fools in Creation, Lotteries in the British North American Empire.” MA thesis, North Carolina State University, 2004.

Neill, Edward D. History of the Virginia Company of London. Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell, 1869.

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