Detecting In Deed
By: Lance W. Comfort
I'm always on the lookout for any historical information on our town. I constantly seek to purchase old pictures, postcards, newspapers, or other literature relating to our little northern Vermont village. Recently, I came upon such a document that took me and my brother Rick on a fantastic historical adventure.
While searching eBay, I noticed an old deed from 1791 for a parcel of property in our town. Since the village was established in 1786, I realized that this was truly a very early deed for this area of the country. By careful monitoring and bidding over the next few days, I made sure it was coming home.
On October 20, 1786, Revolutionary War hero General Jacob Bayley (of Bayley - Hazen Military Road fame), Colonel Jesse Leavenworth (whose son, General Henry Leavenworth went on to establish Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River on May 8, 1827), and their associates petitioned the legislature of the Republic of Vermont= yep, we were our own country and did not become a state until 1791= for a grant of a "tract of Vacant & unlocated land." The petition went on to say that, "Each Person who may be found Residing as a Preoccupant on said Vacant & unlocated lands, the right & priviledge of holding and enjoying so much of said Land as shall be sufficient for the purpose of a settlement upon paying the just Proportion of the granting fees."
I couldn’t wait for the deed to arrive. I had no idea of the signatures on the document, or where in our town the property was located, but I could visualize being able to locate an original home or cellar hole and imagined what the metal detecting would be like. What historical information could be unlocked by this wonderful old document?
When the deed arrived and I carefully opened fragile parchment, I couldn't believe my eyes. There before me was a beautiful, historic legal paper, hand written and signed by Jesse Leavenworth himself, along with signatures of witnesses, all of whom were other original founders of our town, deeding 200 acres of property, "being the lott on which he now lives," to Israel Randal for the huge sum of "Thirty Pounds lawful money," which must have been his portion of the granting fees.
As I started to read the 216-year-old document, my hopes of quickly being able to locate the property soon faced a harsh reality. The property was described as follows: "being the lott on which he now lives, buted and bounded as follows viz beginning at a birtch tree the south east corner, thence running north two hundred and six rods to a spruce tree from thence west one hundred and sixty rods to a firr tree, thence..." You get the picture. For some reason, they failed to use their GPS and give me the coordinates to help me locate the property.
Refusing to allow this minor detail to get in the way of my adventure, I started researching early town information and soon located a map which indicated the final division of land for our town in 1802. Right there was a 200-acre parcel with the name of Israel Randall (now spelled with two l's). I had located the property. By taking this information and transposing it onto a new topographic map, I now had the location of the original property, and it was not long before I found the owners, Don and Diane Langmaid, and gave them a call. They most graciously gave me permission to do any detecting I wished; but first, it was time for more research.
Two hundred acres is a lot of property on which to locate an old cellar hole. I got out my 1875 map of our town and again transposed the original property lines onto it. One of the things I like about this old map is that it shows houses of that time, with the names of those who owned them. As I looked closely, I found what I was looking for. Within the boundaries of the Randall tract were indicated two houses, one of which was shown as belonging to Thomas Randall. Could this be a grandson of Israel? It was not too difficult to estimate the GPS coordinates from this map, so I soon knew the approximate location of this cellar hole and the one adjacent to it. The old map also indicated a small cemetery right on the line of Israel's original property, and a newer map identified this as "The Bennett Cemetery."
My brother, Rick, was scheduled to be out the following week for one of our seven-day hunts. I felt this would be the perfect spot for us to start this year's activities. We began our first day by visiting the Langmaids and giving them a framed copy of the deed for being so nice as to give us permission to search their properties. They also gave us some additional information as to the approximate location of the two cellar holes we were seeking.
We then drove over to the area of the old homestead, and within only a few minutes we located the first cellar hole which had been indicated as belonging to Thomas Randall. It had been a huge place with many outbuildings and a large banked barn. From the location of the house we could see the cemetery, about 100 yards through the field and up the hill to a small rise overlooking the homestead. This had to be our first stop.
As we reached the cemetery, we could see that it had been well maintained by volunteers in our community. The sign at the gate read, "Bennett Cemetery." As we started to look over the old headstones, we found various names including a "Randall." I was reading one of the headstones when Rick called me over. As I went to his side, I looked at the headstone before us. It read, "Isreal Randall, died March 22nd, 1829, aged 86 years." He was buried along with his wife, Sally Chesley Randall. I was silent, gathering in all that stood before us.
When you spend so much time on the research of an individual and his family, you almost start to feel related. Those who have done similar research will understand what I'm talking about. It was as if I'd found a long-lost relative. We had found Israel. (The importance of spelling was in its infancy, and Israel and Isreal are both used at different times as well as Randal, Randall, and in one case I found the spelling Rundal.
To complete this story, I needed to find an item that I knew that Israel had owned or held in his lifetime. This was not going to be done through research or by looking at headstones, but by metal detecting, and that was what we set out to do. We spent the better part of the next week detecting around the Randall Homestead cellar hole and the fields adjacent to it.
During that week, we also located and detected the second cellar hole, located about a quarter-mile to the north along the same road. It was apparent after subsequent research that this house was built for one of Israel's sons and his family, close to the time that the original deed was signed in 1791.
Rick and I had a great week of detecting. It was evident from our finds that both houses had met their demise through fire. Items found among the charred remains indicated that, at least, the original homestead burned while being occupied. This is further indicated by Thomas Randall's having moved to a new location some time shortly after 1875.
Although we made some great recoveries, they did not include much that could be dated back to Israel and Sally. One possible exception was an old lead buzzer that may have been made for one of their nine children to play with. Again, we did find many excellent artifacts, but most dated from the later Randalls who lived in the homes.
One item I found was a nice 1852 silver 3¢ piece at the second cellar hole, and we dug many buttons, buckles, and other items in both locations. An old pewter school bell and mid 1800s clock face were found on the original homestead grounds.
Rick soon had to return to California, and we were both a bit saddened that we were not able to find something that we could definitely attribute to Israel. Within a few days of his return, Rick started to send me more information he had found on Israel and his family. The picture was becoming a bit clearer.
Israel had been born in April of 1743 in Durham, New Hampshire, where he met and married Sally Chesley. They moved to the wilderness that was to become our town some time prior to the Revolutionary War, when there was almost no one but native Americans living in our area of the country. It must have been a terribly hard life, which certainly shows Israel's character. They also seem to have been a very religious family, as indicated by the biblical names of their children and the fact that the family donated land for two of the earlier churches in our town. A brother of Israel who stayed in Durham was also a minister.
Israel and Sally had nine children. Israel's eldest son, Israel, Jr. (I believe that he lived at the second home site near the main homestead), is listed in the earliest town census of 1790 as married, with one child. He apparently inherited his father's desire to move into the western wilderness and later relocated to upstate New York. Eventually, all of Israel's children except Thomas moved out of the area. Thomas stayed on the family farm but died only a year after his father, in 1830, and is also buried in the same cemetery. It is his son, Thomas, Jr., who is indicated on my map as having lived in the house in 1875.
I believe that the second home, in which Israel, Jr. once lived, was donated to the church as a parsonage some time around 1832, when the land was also donated for the church. The fact that Israel died in 1829, and Thomas in 1830, and then the donation of the land to the church in 1832 all tie in well together.
I spent the next several weeks with the goal of finding an item that Israel had touched, owned, or held. During this time I located an 1857 Flying Eagle cent, an 1869 Shield nickel, and an 1875 Indian Head cent, all from the era of Thomas, Jr.
One rainy Sunday afternoon, I decided that I would give it another try. I just knew that there had to be an item there from Israel, and something told me this was the day I would find it. I went back up into the field and woods behind where the original barn once stood. After only a short period of time I received a solid signal and dug a large, flat one-piece Colonial button. Had it belonged to Israel? Within an hour I got another good hit, and there in the hole lay a large, irregular copper. I knew this was not a large cent by the size and shape. After cleaning it, I could see that it had at least been touched by him. As head of the household, he would have handled all the money. It may have been given to one of his children, but there was no doubt in my mind that at one point or another it had been in his hand.
My adventure had now come full circle. It all started with the purchase of an historic document, then identifying the property in the deed, locating Israel's resting place, finding his homestead, and finally, locating and holding a coin that he had once held well over 200 years earlier. Thank you, Israel, for a wonderful adventure that I will never forget. Yes, this is metal detecting in deed!