It appears that the first Avent in America (and the ancestor of most American Avents) was Col. Thomas Avent. We don't have a lot of hard facts concerning him, but here is some of what we do know:
* He was born ca. 1671 and died 1757. ('Albemarle Parish Register', p. 7 :"Colonel Thomas Avent died October 31, 1757 age 86")
* He arrived in VA in 1701. (Brunswick Co. VA Court Order Book 1:24, "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 received the benefit of the Act of Assembly.")
* He was about 30 years old when he came to VA. He did not mention importing a wife with him.
* Contrary to widely-held belief, there is no evidence whatsoever that his wife was named Margaret Elizabeth Gooch. In 1716 the name of his wife was Elizabeth (Chowan Precinct, NC, Deed Book B1:363). Elizabeth Avent presumably died after 18 Aug 1755 when she witnessed the will of her son, John Avent (Sussex Co., VA Will Book A:36). On 21 Sept. 1756, when her husband Col. Thomas Avent wrote his will, he did not mention a wife (Sussex Co., VA Will Book A:80).
* His son John Avent was born by or before 1706. On 13 Oct 1727 he received a grant of land in Brunswick Co., VA (Land Patent Book 13:179).
* His son Thomas Avent, Jr., was born by or before 1712. On 2 Nov. 1733 he received a deed of Gift of land in old Bertie Co., NC. ("Thomas Avent, Sr. of Surry Co., VA, Planter, deeds to Thomas Avent, Jr., of Bertie Precinct...land separated from land of William Avent..." Bertie Co., NC Deed Book D:125.)
* His son William Avent, was also born by or before 1712. See above.
* Three sons of Col. Thomas Avent named daughters "Elizabeth". John Avent named a daughter Elizabeth (b. 1739, married a Massie); Peter Avent named a daughter Elizabeth (b. 1752) and Thomas Avent, Jr. named a daughter Elizabeth who later married New Tapley before 1758. Therefore, it seems highly probable that of Col. Thomas Avent's six children at least John, Peter and Thomas, Jr. were children of his wife Elizabeth.
* Thomas Avent was Sheriff of Sussex County and Justice of the Peace:
from "Wills and Administrations of Surry County, Virginia", p. 53:
"21-August 1734 - Capt. John Dill estate: Thomas Avent, Sheriff"
and from "English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records", p. 52, by Louis des Cognets, Jr.:
"Surry County - Justices of the Peace 1729":
"William Brown...(many other names)...Thomas Avent"
While Sheriffs these days are simply law enforcement officers, in the 1700's the office of 'High Sheriff' was extremely influential, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that they ruled the county. You can see a letter he wrote in 1728 in his capacity as Sheriff and Justice here.
Proof of Col. Thomas Avent's children from his will (you can read his will in its entirety here):
Sussex Co., VA, Will book A, p. 80:
21 Sept 1756 - Will of Thomas Avent, Parish of Albemarle, Co. of Sussex. To son William; to son Peter; to grandson Thomas Avent, son of John Avent, dec'd; to my five granddaughters, daughters of Thomas Avent, dec'd; to my daughter Mary Vincent; to my daughter Sarah Fox; Exec. son William Avent and son-in-law Thomas Vinson. Proved 18-Nov-1757.
Thomas Avent is frequently referred to as "Colonel". Though some have speculated that he was a Colonel in the English Army, there is no evidence to support this. Records show that he was the Captain of the Sussex Co., VA militia from the 1720's, and in 1754, when he was 83 years of age, he was promoted to Colonel, making him the senior military man in the region. (Unless the rank was strictly honorary, his promotion to Colonel at age 83 must mean that he was an active and well-respected gentleman right up until his death three years later.) From the Sussex Co., VA Order Book (1754-1756), p. 212:
"July Court 1755 - Thomas Avent, Esquire, Colonel in the Militia of this County, took the oaths of his Majesty's Person and Government, took and subscribed the Abjuration oath and repeated and signed the Test."
What were "the Abjuration oath" and "the Test"? This all had to do with the conflicts then raging in England between the Protestants and the Catholics. Any English official would have been required to be a member of the Church of England, and these oaths were designed to insure that. According to David Avant's "Southern Colonial Families":
"The oaths related to allegiance, supremacy, abjuration, declaration against transubstantiation and declaration against popery....The "Test" referred to the Test Act which directed all civil and military officers to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and make the declaration against transubstantiation, within six months after their admission, and also within the same time receive the sacrament according to the usage of the Church of England, under penalty of 500 pounds and disability to hold the office."
Who were Thomas' parents? We have no hard information on his parents, but the webmaster has recently discovered some interesting clues. A British genealogical website listing old documents from Devon has the following references:
FILE [no title] - ref. 74/82/4-5 - date: 1699
1 John Avent, Thomas Avent, Thomas Avent, the younger, Bartholomew Avent and Richard Avent, Thomas Stert, Walter Worth, John Philips and Andrew Philips
FILE [no title] - ref. 74/82/8-9 - date: 1701
2 John Avent, Thomas Avent, senior and Thomas Avent, junior and Bartholomew Avent
Could "Thomas Avent, the younger" or "Thomas Avent, junior" be our Thomas Avent? Further research is needed. The "John Avent" mentioned here was the uncle of "Thomas Avent the younger" and was an attorney practicing in the Middle Temple in London during this period. Interestingly, our Thomas named his second son "John", so there may be a link. The webmaster has found no references to "Thomas Avent the younger" in documents after 1701 (the year our Thomas Avent emigrated to America), so he is certainly a possibility.
Also, we know from these land sales that Thomas Avent had some connection to weaving:
pg. 357: "16-July 1716 - Thomas Avent, weaver to Jacob Coleson, carpenter for 4 pounds, 270 a. more or less at Mount Royall on Morattock River..."
pg. 358: "16-July-1716 - Thomas Avent, weaver, to Robert Green for 10 pounds, 370 a. more or less at Mount Royall...as by patent to me (i.e., Thomas Avent) 29-July-1712..."
From the Devon website referenced above we find the following:
FILE [no title] - ref. 710/288 - date: 1698
Probate copy will of Thomas Avent of Plympton Earle, weaver (will dated 4 May 1698)
Could this have been the father of our Thomas Avent? In this period male children usually practiced the same trade as
their father, so it is certainly another possibility.