The Mississippi Avent Family

Probably the greatest number of Avents outside of NC are found in MS. There are several branches of the Avent family found in MS, but the two oldest branches descend from a common ancestor - Peter Avent, who was born in NC between 1750 and 1760 and died in Talbot Co., GA between 1834 and 1840.  There is little doubt that Peter Avent was a  descendant of Col. Thomas Avent, but, unfortunately, the direct link has proven to be elusive. 

 

Very little can be proven about this Peter Avent. Many researchers assign him a birthdate of Feb., 1749, and a birthplace of Albemarle Parish, Sussex Co., VA, but this appears to be incorrect. There was, in fact, a Peter Avent born on this date and at that place, but he was likely the son of John Avent (son of Col. Thomas) and wife Margaret, who died unmarried in Sussex Co., VA in 1780. 

 

What little we know about Peter is well summarized in the book "Ollie Patton and Benjamin Avent : their Ancestors and Descendants", by Clara Lorene Cammack Park and Wilbur Goolsby Park. Here are some relevant excerpts from the book ("(...)" indicates where material from the book has been cut by the webmaster):

 

"Peter Avent's granddaughter, Eliza O. (Fredonia Avent) Goolsby, prepared on ledger paper a family record, which is inserted in her own family Bible. Eliza O., assisted by her daughter Ollie (Goolsby) Park, wrote that Benjamin Avent (b. 1799) was a son of Susannah and Peter Avent, but they did not write birthdates or death dates for Susannah and Peter.  (...)


Another reference to Benjamin's being a son of Susannah and Peter Avent is on the back of a picture which was in the possession of Ira M. Avant (The Avent men who came to Texas changed the spelling of their name to Avant.) of Shreveport, LA. The inscription on the back of the picture is "Grandparents of B.F. Avant. Benjamin Avant, son of Susanna and Peter, born Sept. 5, 1799. Died Oct. 17, age 79 years 6 mo 1878. Olive C. Patton, daughter of Samuel and Mary Patton born March 27, 1807. Died Jan. age 56 years 1863". (...)

Eliza O. (Avent) Goolsby, who wrote the family data on ledger paper, was born in 1842 in Lafayette Co., MS, and lived there until ca. 1900. Thus, a source from Lafayette Springs and another source from Texas both recite that Benjamin Avent was a son of Susannah and Peter Avent.  (...)


According to the 1850, 1860 and 1870 US censuses of Lafayette Co., MS, Peter's son Benjamin was born in NC in 1799. Thus, our opinion is that Peter and Susannah Avent were living in NC in 1799. But, after having pursued numerous Avent records in NC, we did not succeed in finding reliable documentation for our Peter Avent in that state. Maybe someone else can do so. (...)

 

Although we did not find Peter Avent's name in Wilkes Co. or Oglethorpe Co, GA, he was a "fortunate drawer" in Talbot Co., GA, Edward's District, in 1832, in the Cherokee Land Lottery, in which he drew 16 acres in the Second Section, District 6, Lot 146. (Surveyor Gen. Dept., Office of State, Archives & Records Bldg., Atlanta. Orig. Grant Book entitled "Cherokee -2- Land - Section 6-7.)

On April 25, 1834, Peter Avent in Talbot Co., GA, executed a deed selling his rights in Lot 146 to Benjamin Avent in consideration of $15. This deed is recorded in Gilmer Co. where the land was when that county was organized. Five years later, on August 6, 1839, Benjamin Avent of Talbot Co. sold Lot 146 lying in Gilmer Co. to John J. Wilkinson of Talbot Co. in consideration of $100. This deed, too, was recorded in Gilmer Co.,

Peter Avent was living in Talbot Co. on July 7, 1834, when the Minutes of the Court of Ordinary refer to him in this way: "It appearing to the court that Peter Avent is old and infirm and without the means of support. On motion it is ordered that the county Treasurer pay the said Peter Avent ... the sum of $24 for his support and maintenance to the first day of Jan next of any money not otherwise appropriated." (Talbot Co., GA, Minutes of Court of Ordinary, July 1834, p. 406.) (...)

 

In Talbot Co., GA, in the 1830 US census, a man 70 to 80 years old was enumerated in the household of Hannah (Goolsby) and William Avent. This old man was probably Peter Avent."

 

We can deduce a few things about Peter Avent from the information related above. Census records show that his son Benjamin was born in NC around 1799, so Peter likely hailed from there. It's likely that he was the man 70-80 years old living in the household of William Avent in 1830, so he was probably born 1750-1760, and we know he died after 7/7/1834, when he was granted support in Talbot Co., GA. His name does not show up anywhere on the 1840 GA census, so he was probably deceased by then.

 

It is significant that Eliza O. Avent Goolsby, who made the original notation that Peter and Susannah were Benjamin's parents, was born in 1842, since that was less than a decade after Peter Avent's death, and there would have been numerous people living during her lifetime who knew Peter and Susannah and had first hand knowledge that they were Benjamin's parents.  Benjamin himself lived until 1878, so he would have had ample opportunity to correct Eliza if her belief was incorrect.

 

Circumstantial evidence indicates that Peter and Susannah probably had the following children: Benjamin Avent, (1799-1878), William Avent (1802- bet. 1860 - 70), John Avent (1795 - bef. 1860) and Elizabeth Avent (dates unknown). Benjamin and John are the founders of two large branches of Mississippi Avents. 

 

Benjamin Edward Avent of MS, 1799 - 1878

 

Benjamin Edward Avent was born in NC in 1799  and died in Lafayette Co., MS in 1878. We can assume that he and his family moved from GA to MS between 1838 and 1840, since on the 1850 census they have a child Julia who was born in MS and is 10 years old, and they have another child Sarah who was born in GA and is 12 years old. He and his wife Olive Patton produced numerous children, whose descendants lived mainly in the Oxford, MS, area. 

 

Those of you who are fans of author William Faulkner, who chronicled life in Mississippi, might be interested to hear that there are many Faulkner scholars who believe that the Avents were the family upon which Faulkner modeled the Snopes family, who are featured prominently in many of his novels. For those who haven't read Faulkner, the Snopes family was a large clan of country people who moved into the Oxford area and supplanted the plantation aristocracy that had been the traditional leaders in the area. He depicts them generally as greedy, uneducated and unscrupulous, which is a description that is clearly an inaccurate portrayal of the Mississippi Avents, as shown by some quotes further down on this page. Faulkner biographers attribute this hostility against the Avents primarily to a disagreement that took place between Faulkner's father and a Thomas Wesley Avent (Benjamin Edward Avent's grandson), a view that has been confirmed by Thomas Wesley Avent's great-grandson, Thomas W. Avent, Jr., in a recent communication with the Webmaster.

 

Author Don H. Doyle discusses this topic in his book Faulkner's County:

 

"Few were more notable for their success than the Avent family, whom many think inspired aspects of Faulkner's Snopes saga. There were several families in the area with the name Avent or Avant. The Avents we are concerned with came from a pioneer family from North Carolina that settled in the eastern part of Lafayette Co. around 1839. Benjamin Avent, the family patriarch, fathered 14 children with his first wife and 4 more with his 2nd wife, the last when he was 76 years of age. Though this part of the county was comparatively hilly and less fertile, land was cheap and plentiful. Benjamin Avent farmed the land and garnered considerable property; by 1860 he claimed ownership of 11 slaves and $19,000 in real estate and personal property. The Avent clan remained numerous, most of them still farming the land at the turn of the century.

It was Benjamin Avent 's grandson, Thomas Wesley Avent, born in 1859, who in midlife began the migration from the hill country into Oxford Town. He had been farming land in the area around Liberty Hill, a small rural church in the NE quarter of the county...  He owned some 2000 acres and operated a cotton gin. In 1883 Avent married Sidney Parks, the daughter of another large and successful family..."


Doyle later writes:


"The Avent family rapidly became a prominent feature of Oxford business, government, church and social affairs. All five sons established prominent positions in banking, farming, medicine and business. The Avent children "evidenced a marked degree of ambition", it was said... John Edward Avent was an officer in the bank with his father and Colonel Falkner, and he became a leading merchant and civic booster who was constantly involved in campaigns to promote Oxford's growth. ..Willie Avent was a large farmer in the southern part of the county.  James Kirl Avent became a physician and was elected President of the Mississippi Medical Association. Audley Avent had large farming interests and owned Avent Gin and a retail grocery in Oxford....All the Avents were successful, prosperous and upstanding members of  the community their parents had come to around 1900..."

 

The founder of another branch of the MS Avents was Benjamin Edward Avent's brother John. It appears that John and his wife Mary (maiden name possibly 'Burt') moved from Talbot Co., GA to Choctaw Co., MS around 1840. One of his children was Henry Clay Avent (1820-1897), pictured below.

 

This biography of Henry Clay Avent can be found here (text in parenthesis added by webmaster):

 

"Henry Clay and Sarah moved to Mississippi around the year 1841, settling near Old Cumberland in Webster County where they lived till they died. Their home was described as a two story building constructed of hewn logs, located on a tall, red hill overlooking fertile valleys and surrounded by large, oak trees. This home was later destroyed by fire (no date).

Henry Clay was a farmer, owning slaves and was a pioneer school teacher, teaching (1845) in the first public school building in Webster County located near Bellefontaine. Before the War he had a store in Old Cumberland, then known as Choctaw Ridge. The 1860 Census of Choctaw County showed Henry Clay had land value of $3,000 and personal property valued at $6,870.

(He was an active Freemason and) became affiliated with Eldorado Lodge #184 at Old Cumberland and was a member until his death.

Upon enlisting in Choctaw County with the 6th (Orr's) Battalion Mississippi Infantry, soon redesignated as the 31st Mississippi Infantry, Henry Clay was elected 1st Lieutenant in B Company on February 28, 1862. Four months later on June 25th, 1862, he was promoted to Captain of his company. On April 4, 1863, he resigned his captaincy. Ever afterwards he was known throughout the area as "Ole Captain Avent".

After serving as Alderman Henry Clay became the first sheriff of Webster County from 1879 to 1883. His son, Alexander, served under his father as a deputy sheriff and then later was elected Sheriff.

Soon after his death the Masonic Committee wrote the following :

Tribute of Respect of Brother H. C. Avent


He was born in 1820 in Talbot County, Georgia and departed this life August 18th, 1897. He was over 50 years a Mason and as zealous the day he died as on the day he was initiated; when (at) 78 years (of age) we deposited his mortal body in Cumberland Cemetery, Webster County, Mississippi.

He has lived a long and useful life. All who knew him will bear testimony to his ever cheerful, bright temperament. Of him as ne'er of mortals can it be said; he never made a brow look dark, nor caused a tear but when he died. Companions and brethren, with us it is yet today. May we so use it that when our tomorrow cometh, whether here or beyond the vale where angel's hands stand always ready to throw open the Golden Gate, it may be more abundant and those left to mourn our passing through, may, taught by our example, say how blessed the righteous when he dies.

For nearly a quarter of a century, all our Masonic life, the writer has been closely associated with him. In the Masonic bodies, we feel that one of the strongest links in the Masonic chain has been lost to us.

To him we say, the day has come, not gone, the sun has risen, not set, thy life is now beyond the reach of death or change, not ended, but begun. Oh noble soul, oh gentle hear, HAIL AND FAREWELL,

D. W. Williams,
J. R. Thomas,
J. Q. Durham,
Committee"

 

There is much interesting information on this branch of the family, as well as many excellent photographs, at this website.

 

There is a town in Greene Co., MS named Avent, and, in the War Between the States, Company B of the 6th MS Infantry (the 'Dixie Guards' from Choctaw County) was also known as the 'Avent Company' or the 'Avent Rebels'.