WOULD YOUR LIFE BE ANY DIFFERENT IF YOUR ANCESTORS HAD WON THE LOTTERY?

By Daniel Lumpkin, News Editor     

In 1832, the Georgia government elected to remove members of the Cherokee nation that lived in the north east part of the state. This movement, now forever known as the Trail of Tears, also created the largest land lottery in United States history. The Georgia government held a lottery for white males to win plots of land that potentially were rich in gold and other valuable resources.

How, after nearly two centuries, is the 1832 Georgia Land Lottery still relevant today?

For a KSU student, it could be pertinent for several reasons. First and foremost, the land that KSU’s campus is on, and surrounding areas, was originally part of the Cherokee Nation and given away in the land lottery. Also, data shows that KSU still has a strong commuter population within the student body and a majority of those students come from regions that were also formerly owned by the Cherokee Nation. The truth is, many of KSU’s students could be descendants of the largest land lottery in the nation and not even know it. Is a winning descendant of the 1832 Land Lottery any different from a losing descendant? This is what economists Hoyt Bleakley and Joseph Ferrie were looking to answer in their popular paper, Shocking Behavior: Random Wealth in Antebellum Georgia and Human Capital Across Generations.

“A lot of people would generally think that [the 1832 Land Lottery] would result in a permanent divergence into the trajectory of both of hose individuals and also of their descendants because it would also open up a lot of opportunities,” Bleakley said from his home near Princeton University, where he is currently serving as a visiting professor. “We tracked the outcomes of [the winners and losers] over the decades through the census information. I assume that this free money, this wealth [from the 1832 Land Lottery], would have made a big difference. Instead what we find is that over fairly long time horizons, we don’t see any differences.”

The Actual Winnings

“The numbers we come up with was between $400 and $900. Now, that’s 1850s money, but we also compared it to the wages of an unskilled laborer. In that equation, the winnings were anywhere between four and ten years of wages.” Did the Lottery Pull Georgians Out of the ‘Poverty Trap?’ Bleakley and Ferrie’s findings directly opposed one of the founding reasons the 1832 Land Lottery was carried out in the first place. The Georgia government thought, at the time, that the winners would be better off, and the some would be pulled out of poverty. Another interesting piece that Bleakley and Ferrie found was an argument against a popular theory in economics called the “poverty trap.” “You might have this idea that the poor, people who are starved of resources, in what economists call the poverty trap: people who are stuck in poverty because they have no wealth and have difficulty saving any money,” Bleakley said.“But if you could somehow be lifted out of poverty with resources that could better yourself… There is little evidence of this land lottery really lifting anyone out of poverty. “The winners who didn’t have very much wealth before the lottery had nearly identical numbers just two decades after. It just evaporated for them. “People who only had ten dollars before winning only had ten dollars two decades later. And that’s considering that they won thousands and thousands of dollars. They may have lost it or spent it but they certainly didn’t use it to transform themselves into the middle class.”

Now, knowing that information, where do KSU students, the potential descendants of the 1832 Land Lottery, go from here? “You could take the angle on it [that the data and information is depressing] or you could take another angle,” Bleakley said. “It appears like it’s not just a matter of being lucky, right? It’s not just a matter of winning a lottery or winning money that determines success. It’s hard work, discipline, patience and so forth. Those things are rewarded.”

If you would like to learn more about the 1832 Georgia Land Lottery, you can find Bleakley and Ferrie’s paper online at the University of Chicago’s website. Also, the Sturgis Library will be opening an exhibit this fall that will display several original deeds from the 1832 Land Lottery.

Current counties in North Georgia whose lands were distributed in the Cherokee Land Lotteries of 1832/1833 are:

CHEROKEE NATION TERRITORY, GEORGIA CIRCA 1820 (Courtesy DeepRoots.com)

• Bartow • Catoosa • Chattooga • Cherokee • Cobb • Dade • Dawson • Fannin • Floyd • Forsyth • Gilmer • Gordon • Lumpkin • Milton • Murray • Paulding • Pickens  • Polk • Towns  • Union • Walker • Whitfield