A Ticket to Rebuild

Etching of Faneuil Hall before its enlargement in 1805, artist unknown. VW001/000107

Faneuil Hall has closed its doors for maintenance this winter. As stewards of the Old State House, we at the Bostonian Society are well aware that the preservation of Boston’s historic buildings requires constant effort. Faneuil Hall’s current closure gave us the chance to explore previous renovations to the building and take a closer look at three lottery tickets in our archives linked to a 1760s renovation.

On the evening of January 13, 1761, a fire broke out in Boston’s Dock Square and spread the short distance to the town’s meeting hall and marketplace, Faneuil Hall. Damage to the building was extensive. The Boston News Letter shared news of the damage two days later on January 15: “it crossed the street to that stately edifice, Faneuil Hall Market, the whole of which was soon consumed, excepting the brick walls which are left standing… The loss of Faneuil Hall Market must be great to this town as it was a noble building, esteemed one of the best pieces of workmanship here, and an ornament to the town.”  

The importance of Faneuil Hall to the town of Boston, and the necessity of reconstruction then, was not in question. In the nearly twenty years from the completion of initial construction in September 1742 to the fire of January 1761, the lower marketplace and town meeting hall just above became central to the town’s economy and politics. The question facing town leaders after the fire was how to finance a rebuild. Without a patron such as Peter Faneuil, the town selectmen petitioned the General Court to enact a lottery to raise part of the necessary funds.

The practice of fundraising by means of lottery was not uncommon in colonial Massachusetts and so the petition was granted. Lottery tickets, classified by series (a letter of the alphabet) and number, were printed and issued. Local newspapers frequently ran advertisements for the lottery, and these continued well into the decade. The latest advertisement found in our newspaper collection dates from the January 15, 1770 edition of the Boston Evening Post, nearly ten years after the destructive fire. 

 Faneuil Hall lottery advertisement printed in the Boston Evening Post, January 15, 1770

The lottery tickets in our collection date from June 1765 and February 1769. Two tickets (June 1765, Class G) bare the now familiar signature of the young town selectman, John Hancock. Thomas Cushing, future Constitutional Convention delegate and lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, signed our third ticket.  As unassuming as these tickets may seem, they are clearly linked to the renovation process and so an important part of Faneuil Hall’s history.  With the promise of resources raised in this lottery, reconstruction commenced. Lessons were learned from the fire: the new hall featured stone window frames and minimal wooden ornaments. 

Faneuil Hall Lottery tickets circa June 1765. MS0119/DC1129

Faneuil Hall Lottery ticket circa 1769. MS0119/DC1132

In March of 1763, the hall reopened and James Otis committed Faneuil Hall to the “cause of liberty.” And of course, Faneuil Hall continued to uphold the principle. In years to come, the passionate words of Samuel Adams, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Susan B. Anthony, and others would be heard echoing through the hall.  


For more information on Faneuil Hall’s current closure, click here.

Further reading:

Faneuil Hall: Cradle of Liberty by Norma R. Fryatt (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1970)

Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market or Peter Faneuil and his Gift by Abram English Brown (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1900)