What did Col. Thomas Avent do for a living?

We know that Thomas Avent emigrated to Virginia ca. 1701 from this entry in the "Brunswick Co., VA, Court Order Book 1, pg. 241":

"3-May-1739 - Thomas Avent makes oath that it is now 38 years since his importation
from Great Britain and that he has never before now received the benefit of the Act
of Assembly which allows 50 acres of land for every person imported from Great Britain aforesaid...Which is ordered to be certified."

Interestingly, he did not request the 50 acres for his wife Elizabeth, which tells us it is likely that they were not married prior to his move to Virginia, and that she was probably a local girl. This is not definite proof of that, however, since it is possible that the 50 acre bounty for her importation (if it took place) was claimed by someone else; her father, for example (as often happened) .


This Act of Assembly, by the way, was created to encourage English immigration to Virginia and was called the "headright" system. Colonial Virginia had a severe labor shortage, so since land was plentiful it made sense for the Commonwealth of Virginia to give land away to anyone who would move here, or to anyone who would pay to transport someone else here. Under the system, 50 acres of land were granted to a person for transporting himself with an additional 50 acres awarded for any other person for whom he paid passage. In most cases, the person being transported (called indentured servants or bond slaves) would have a contractual agreement with the person paying for his passage to serve as a servant for a period of time (normally four years). After the term of indenture, the servant would be entitled to 50 acres of land and other accommodations and become a free man or woman and take his or her place in society.

This last point is important, and brings us to another aspect of Thomas Avents' move to Virginia.

We find in "Nugent, 'Cavaliers and Pioneers (1695-1732)', 3: 158-159" the following:

"16-Dec-1714 - A patent for 217 acres of new land in Prince George Co. granted to
John Nickells, Gent., on the south side of Blackwater Swamp....due for the importation
of five persons [namely] John Nickells, Richard Moore, Thomas Avent
Hannaway Hunt, Francis Carre."

and in "Boddie, 'Colonial Surry' (1948)'" the following:

"A List of Tithables in Southwark Parish in Surry Co. taken 1702 by William
Browne and in Lawnes Creek Parish by Thomas Holt...

p. 205 Thomas Avon (Avent) (56)
p.206 Edward Greene (56)
p. 208 John Nicholls (56)
p. 205 Francis Carre (114)
p. 208 Thomas Makare (114)
p. 209 John Tooke (114)"

Boddie explains that the number in brackets after each name refers to other persons who were tithables (i.e., taxable residents) on the same plantation or in the same household. As you can see, three of the names mentioned in this list (Avent, Nicholls and Carre) are the same names designated as headrights in 1714 by John Nickells (above). What does this tell us? First, it tells us that while Thomas Avent must have imported himself from Great Britain in 1701, (since he received the 50 acre bounty), he must have made another trip back to England and then back to Virginia between 1701 and 1714, paid for by John Nickells (Nicholls) (since Nicholls received 50 acres for Thomas' importation in 1714). Secondly, since Thomas was living on Nicholls' plantation in 1702, it seems likely that Thomas worked for John Nicholls, probably as an agent (or 'factor', as it was called in those days).

Other records indicate that John Nicholls was a wealthy London merchant, who lived in Virginia for a time and then moved back to London by 1717:

"24-Aug-1717 - Indenture in which John Nickells, Merchant, late of Virginia and
now of London, sells to Thomas Griffis...a tract of land... in Surry Co...."

The main, if not only, cash crop in Virginia at this time was tobacco, and large Virginia tobacco growers and traders usually employed factors to oversee the sale of their tobacco. It would not have been unusual for a factor to be required to make trips between Virginia and Great Britain to find buyers and coordinate the shipment of the tobacco, as was apparently the case with Thomas Avent.

Interestingly, there's a possible link between Thomas Avent and John Nichols found in early Devon records. From:

Devon and Exeter Oath Rolls, 1723
Oaths sworn at The George, Rudgeway, Plympton St. Mary,
3 September 1723. Justices names not given.

(hundreds of other other names listed....)

Thomas Avent of Wembury [Signed]
and, listed only four names away:
John Nichols of Plympton St. Mary [Marked]

Whether or not these were our Thomas Avent and John Nichols remains to be seen, however.

It appears that Thomas made multiple trips to and from Great Britain, and possibly worked as a factor for several large tobacco growers. The "Virginia Patent Book", vol. 18:531 shows a grant of acreage to Clement Reade dated 12 Mar 1739/40 for the "... Importation of 10 persons to dwell in Virginia whose names are John Stevens, John Scott, John Jackson, Cornelius Keith, Marmaduke Johnson, Michael Cadet Young, Henry Morris, William Eaton, Patrick Dempsey and Thomas Avent...". Colonel Clement Reade (1707-1763) was a prominent local mover and shaker who served as the representative for Lunenburg County to the VA House of Burgesses.

Thomas bought and sold several thousand acres of land, and owned at least two plantations, one in Sussex Co., VA (just northeast of present-day Emporia, VA) and another in Northampton Co., NC (along the Roanoke River north of present-day Roanoke Rapids, NC, 10 miles south of the VA/NC line) and it is very likely that he, too, was a tobacco grower and trader. We know also that he raised cattle. In those days cattle were not marked by branding but were instead identified by earmarks on the cattle. These earmarks were registered with the local government and in 1712 Thomas registered his ('...under half moon in right ear and a crop in left...").