Raising Israel Randall

Local his­to­rian con­jec­tures a life not found in the his­tory book

Lance Com­fort holds the Israel Ran­dall deed that he bought on Ebay.

By Sharon Lakey

The ideal his­to­rian goes to the mouth of the tomb, cries: “Lazarus, come forth!” and sets him that was dead for ages, blink­ing and pas­sion­ate, in the sun.”

AUSTIN O’MALLEY, Key­stones of Thought

Lance Comfort’s Lazarus is Israel Ran­dall of North Danville, and his attempt to raise him started with a deed he bought on Ebay.

The deed, a time-weathered doc­u­ment, begins with “Know all men by these presents that I Jesse Leav­en­worth of Danville in the County of Orange and State of Ver­mont for and in con­sid­er­a­tion of the sum of thirty pounds law­ful money to men in hand paid before the deliv­ery hereof by Israel Ran­dal of Danville…” The deed is dated Novem­ber 30, 1791.

With deed in hand, Lance began his own his­tor­i­cal mys­tery tour with a series of ques­tions that devel­oped into a con­jec­tured under­stand­ing of Israel Randall’s life in Danville. “His­tory is writ­ten by the sur­vivors, the win­ners, those who passed their his­tory for­ward. If a fam­ily didn’t stick around, they do not appear in the his­tory book,” said Lance, point­ing to Vil­lage in the Hills a his­tory of Danville, Ver­mont that lay on the table in front of us. A quick check of the index in the book shows no Israel Randall.

How­ever, Randall’s name does appear once in the book—page 24 on the map that is cap­tioned: “Final divi­sion of land under Danville’s sec­ond char­ter in 1802 fol­low­ing set­tle­ment with New York for ’30,000 rights.’” There, in the tini­est of print, is a plot with­out a num­ber read­ing “200A Israel Ran­dall.” The first town char­ter was granted under New York with the name of Hills­bor­ough; the sec­ond char­ter was granted under Ver­mont with the name Danville. Vil­lage in the Hills describes this con­fus­ing process in detail in chap­ter two. It was a process that Lance believes affected Ran­dall as well as and other ear­lier set­tlers. Could Ran­dall have set­tled first under the Hills­bor­ough char­ter, then later be made to com­ply with the sec­ond? Lance believes this is likely.

Lance laid a trans­par­ent map of the Danville land plots over an exact-sized map of the town. This locates the Ran­dall plot in North Danville, very near the Ben­nett ceme­tery where he has located Israel’s grave. It also encom­passes the land where the Old North Church stands.

A closeup of Israel Randall’s 200 acre piece. In this par­tic­u­lar area of the map, one sees more vari­ety in the plots, pos­si­bly iden­ti­fy­ing them as ear­lier set­tlers. In this photo you see Jacob Bay­ley and Jesse Leav­en­worths name, both pro­pri­etors sell­ing lots.

Look at these plots,” con­tin­ued Lance, point­ing to the imme­di­ate vicin­ity around Randall’s.  “They are dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers, dif­fer­ent sizes, dif­fer­ent names.” True. Many of the other plots on the map have the names of the two pro­pri­etors on them—Leavenworth of Cabot and Bay­ley of New­bury. “I think these peo­ple were here before the Danville char­ter,” said Lance. The book backs this pos­si­bil­ity by the fol­low­ing (pg. 10), “Under the char­ter, the new town was divided into 78 equal shares ‘exclu­sive of the Poses­sion of forty-nine set­tlers now resid­ing on said Land who are to have each one hun­dred acres agree­able to a plan.’” Lance has com­piled a list of names of 115 peo­ple who claim to have been born in Danville before 1790.

To get an under­stand­ing of when Ran­dall may have set­tled here, Lance checked out Ancestry.com. From Ances­try records, he dis­cov­ered Ran­dall was born in Durham, NH, in 1743 and died in North Danville in 1829. He was mar­ried to Sarah Ches­ley, also of Durham, in 1768. The cou­ple had nine liv­ing chil­dren. But when, dur­ing that life­time, did the cou­ple move to what we know as North Danville?

I believe he was here between 1772 and 1776,” said Lance. Check­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War records, he found Israel did not serve in the mil­i­tary. “Why?” asked Lance.  “If he had stayed in New Hamp­shire, he most likely would have served. But up here, the war was far away and there was no mil­i­tary pres­ence. He most likely had his hands full if he was to sim­ply sur­vive. Think about the set­tlers who came here that early. It was a dan­ger­ous place. The French and Indian War had just occurred and these peo­ple were mov­ing into uncharted territory.”

Adding more weight to the place­ment of Ran­dall here at that date is a writ­ing he has found online from Sias Ran­dall, one of Israel’s grand­chil­dren, who was born in 1822 and

Sias Ran­dall

lived in North Danville with his grand­fa­ther until the age of seven. Sias related that his grand­fa­ther lived in North Danville before the Revolution.


Then how did Ran­dall gain own­er­ship of his 200 acre par­cel, and from whom?  Lance points a fin­ger at a shady land spec­u­la­tor, Samuel Stephens of Bar­net. Before becom­ing a land spec­u­la­tor, Stephens was court-martialed for cow­ardly behav­ior in neglect­ing to set sup­plies des­per­ately needed by Rogers’ Rangers as they retreated from their raid on the Abenaki at St. Fran­cis. After his court mar­tial, he moved to sell­ing land for the New York grants, and Lance believes that is how Ran­dall acquired his 200 acre par­cel in North Danville. Later, Stephens sold land under the Ver­mont grants. It is pos­si­ble that Ran­dall had to pay twice for his prop­erty. Remem­ber the price that Ran­dall paid Leav­en­worth to receive the Ver­mont deed Lance pur­chased on Ebay. Thirty pounds was a high price to pay for what was called a “fil­ing fee.”

With his metal detec­tor, Lance searched the prop­erty, guess­ing where the orig­i­nal cabin struc­ture would have been near the Ben­nett ceme­tery. “I found a lot of trash, a few old but­tons and a 1786 colo­nial cop­per,” he said. “Just too many things had gone on there over time to reveal much in the way of arti­facts.” By the time grand­son Sias Ran­dall was inter­viewed, there were no more Ran­dalls from this large fam­ily liv­ing in North Danville. After Sias’ father, Thomas, died in 1830, the estate passed to his eldest brother, Thomas. Lance believes the land on which the Old North Church stands, erected in1832, was donated in his father and grandfather’s names.

If he couldn’t prove much with his metal detect­ing near the site, per­haps he could prove other set­tlers in Danville were here pre-Revolution. But find­ing an orig­i­nal cabin site is not easy. “There are no foun­da­tions,” explains Lance. “When a set­tler would move in, it would be in early spring and the first struc­ture would likely be a cabin of some sort. There was no time that first year to build a foun­da­tion, let alone a home struc­ture. Later, if the set­tler stayed, a new more per­ma­nent struc­ture was built.” He turned back to the orig­i­nal Danville plots and looked for unusual shapes and sizes. He found one in a plot labeled Ab. Mor­rill, which has a cor­ner that juts upward. Again, Lance asked him­self, “Why?” And that led to his best find in Danville, a site he calls Nova Hill, located on Kate Beattie’s property.

From the 1875 map, Lance has drawn the jut­ting piece of prop­erty where he dis­cov­ered the cabin site. It is located on land presently owned by Kate Beattie.

I thought that jut­ting point on the map might be where a house already stood when Danville was char­tered for Ver­mont, thus requir­ing an unusual plot­ting,” said Lance, “and I went look­ing with my detec­tor.” There he found a plethora of arti­facts in what was an orig­i­nal cabin site. “There was no foun­da­tion, and it most likely was made of a com­bi­na­tion of sod and logs. There were also bricks brought in, prob­a­bly for the hearth.” Here he found coins, from both pre and post revolution—King George on one, lovely Lib­erty on the other. Old shoe buck­les recov­ered also show a style pro­gres­sion from a smaller to larger buckle, all dat­ing to the lat­ter 18th century.

His case made—there were set­tlers here pre-Revolution—Lance knows that to really raise Israel from the past, he needs to put some meat on his bones by adding the human story. That is the stuff of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, and he is well on his way with half a book already writ­ten. I, for one, am anx­ious to get a glimpse of Israel Ran­dall as he emerges from the tomb of history.

To view the full photo album related to this arti­cle, click here

The pub­lic is invited to a pro­gram where Lance Com­fort will share his find­ings and arti­facts at the Danville Ver­mont His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety on Sun­day, March 25 at 1:30 pm, 121 Hill Street, Danville. 



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2 Responses to Raising Israel Randall

  1. Katherine Collins says:

    LT.Israel Ran­dall and Sarah Ches­ley
    Is in the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion Index– p.2401 Part III ‚Blue Book.

    They are my Hus­bands direct line.
    This is when they start west to Michigan

    Kather­ine Collins

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