Avent's Ferry, Chatham Co., NC

 

 

As we know, one of Col. Thomas Avent's sons was William Avent (before 1712 - 1761), who inherited the plantation along the Roanoke River, in Northampton Co., NC. William married Sarah Massie (his brother Peter married Sarah's sister Amy) and they had the following children: John, Joseph, Sarah, Rebecca, William, Jr., Thomas, Gilly (Ogilvie) and possibly another daughter, Mildred. 

 

Between 1755 and 1765, John, Joseph, Sarah and Sarah's husband William Ragland (and their families) moved as a group from Northampton Co. to Chatham Co., NC (located SW of Raleigh). Sister Rebecca and husband Seth Cotten followed after 1777. (William, Jr. and Thomas moved to Nash Co., NC and founded the community of Aventon. It appears that Gilly married a Solomon Fuller and moved to SC.) 

 

John and Joseph purchased substantial tracts of land on both sides of the Cape Fear River - John on the north side and Joseph on the south (John eventually purchased the site of the ferry landing on the south side, as well.). No deeds have surfaced for the earliest purchases, but the earliest known land purchase of John Avent was from Drury Mims and his wife Lydia in 1772: 

 

Chatham Co., NC, Deed Book 'A'  (1771 - 1782), pg. 170, Sept. 28, 1772:

 

"Drury Mims and Lidda his wife of Johnston Co., NC, sell to John Avent of Chatham Co., 95 acres, for 60 pds., in the county of Orange on the N. side of Cape Fear River, joining Cheeks line."

 

You can see the original hand-written deed here: page 1, page 2. (Warning - large pdf files).

 

(Chatham County was created out of Orange County in 1771).

 

Ferries already existed at this site, as we see here:

Orange Co., NC, Court Minutes, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (1752-1766), p. 363:

"May Court 1765 - Joseph Aven was appointed to a jury to lay out a road from William Braswell's Ferry on Cape Fare (sic) to Hamilton's Store on Crabtree Creek."

Mann's ferry was on one side of the Cape Fear and Braswell's ferry was on the other, and between 1775 and 1779 John Avent was granted the right to operate the ferry from both banks of the river, as we see in the following references: 

 

Chatham Co., NC, Court Minutes (May 1774 - August, 1779):

"November Court, 1775 - Ordered that John Avent have leave to keep a publick ferry over Cape Fear river from his own land opposite Mann's Ferry upon his entering bond according to law and that the rates of said ferry be the same as them of the said Mann."

"February Court, 1779 - Ordered that John Avent have leave to ferry over Cape Fear River at the place called Braswell's Ferry and the following rates..."

In 1775 his rates were set as follows: for a wagon and team: $2.00,  for a cart: $1.00,  a man and a horse: 2 shillings, and a foot passenger: 1 shilling. In 1781 they increased those rates to $4.00 for a loaded wagon and team of horses, $2.00 for a loaded cart and horse and .50 for a man and a horse.

What did it look like? Here is a model of a 1770's-era ferry used in the area:

Ferries at this time were just flat rafts with 2 low sides, made of lumber, usually loblolly pine. They couldn’t carry two vehicles side by side but several could often line up and be carried across at the same time. Smooth poles were used to pole the flat across the river, which required two men in good conditions, and more when the water was high.  Avent's Ferry became an important and heavily-used crossing of the river and was a part of the well-known Pee Dee Trail, and operated until it was replaced by a bridge in 1926. Members of the Avent family (as well as other local people) were involved in running the ferry right up until the bridge was built. The site of the ferry can easily be found today - look on a map of Chatham County where Rt. 42 crosses the Cape Fear River.

In 2001 the National Society of the Colonial Dames, Sir Walter Raleigh Chapter, installed a historical marker at the site: 

Here is a picture of the ferry site on the north bank of the river, taken from the south side (the ferry landing was located about where you see the white pole in the water, on the right side of the picture, to the right of and below the white car):