Avant family ancestors came to states from France in early 1700s

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Avant family ancestors were originally from France and came to America during the early 1700s as Huguenot refugees. Later descendants became quite influential in Covington County during the last century or so.

One Francis Avant, who was born circa 1670 in Chantilly, Ile de France, France, died in 1724 in Black River Craven County, S.C. Thus, he was the ancestor to bring this family to the new colonies. He was married to Mary who was born in 1670 in France as well. They had at least the following four children who were all born most likely before the family left France: John, b. 1690, d. 1748, m. Ann ?; Caleb, b. 1700, d. 1743; Francis, b. 1706, d. 1742; and Benjamin, b. 1708, d. 1743.

Very little is known about three of the above sons, but there is considerable documentation on the life of Caleb Avant. He was born circa 1700 in Chantilly, Ile de France, and was married in 1726 to Mary Lewis who was born circa 1708 in Prince Frederick Parish, Craven, S.C. Caleb and Mary were among those who settled along the Black River at a site known as Winyah. This was the first part of the present county of Williamsburg, S.C., to be settled by white people.

Caleb Avant was recognized as a Huguenot immigrant by the Huguenot Society of South Carolina. There is an inventory of his estate dated Aug. 8, 1743. He was reported to have had 19 slaves and a large amount of livestock (Book 71 of Probate Court). His estate was the largest of the 53 Huguenots whose estates appeared in that volume.

Caleb and Mary reared three children: Joshua Sr.; Agnes, baptized in 1728; and Jonathan, d. 1724. Caleb died in 1743 in Williamsburg, and Mary died in 1755 in Prince George, Winyah, S.C. At least three generations of descendants of Caleb Avant can be traced in South Carolina. It is most likely that the many Avants in that state were descended from Caleb or one of his three brothers.

Unfortunately for the Avant descendants in South Alabama, their lineage has not yet been connected to that of those in South Carolina. The earliest documented ancestor for those in Alabama is the Rev. William C. Avant, who was born in 1832 also in South Carolina according to census records. It is not known exactly when he migrated to Alabama, but he was here when the 1860 census was enumerated.

The early history of Covington County indicates William C. Avant served as a minister of the gospel with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant with Company C of the Covington County Reserves during the War Between the States. Captain B.F. Lockhart commanded Company C, and he was also listed as a minister of the gospel.

The home guards were organized into one company of militia soldiers and three companies of reserves. This reserve force was made up of men who were exempt or unqualified for active duty in the regular Confederate Army. In 1865, the three companies were combined to form a battalion of county reserves with George W. Kierce, Captain of Company A, being elected Major and Commander.

Following the Confederate defeat at Vicksburg, many deserters were living off the land and plundering Southern families’ possessions. The work of the new battalion and its presence in the area were sufficient to reestablish and maintain order. The Covington County Militia and Reserve Companies only went on a few expeditions into some of the isolated areas of the county during the winter of 1864-65.

William C. Avant was married to Samantha Melvira Webb in 1858 at the home of Mrs. L. Webb in Pike County, Ga. Samantha was the daughter of Fortunatus and Malinda Lena (Almond) Webb. Fortunatus Webb was the son of John Burrell Webb who served in the Revolutionary War and Susan A. (Booth) Webb. John Burrell Webb was the son of John and Lucy “Peggy” (Claiborne) Webb.

Later, William C. was Minister of Sardis Baptist Church in Pigeon Creek, Butler County. He had moved to Covington County by 1860. In 1909, he died in Crenshaw County and was buried in the Emmaus Cemetery in Luverne. His obituary indicated he had been “a preacher in the Missionary Baptist Church and left a widow and several children to mourn his decease.”

William and Samantha reared the following 14 children: George C., m. Mary Olive Dean; Mary Movey or Marietta Lenora, m. John Thomas Parkman; Ella E.; William Watts, b. 1865, d. 1906, m. Minnie Ione Sentell; Sarah Frances; Melvina Judson “Juddie;” Margaret Livora or Lavina, m. Moses Norman Rushton; James Pendry; Lula Ann; Carrie Zeola; Emma Mae; Jesse Homer; Malcolm Varner; and an infant unnamed.

William C.’s oldest son, George C. Avant, was married in 1891 in Pike County to Mary Olive Dean. They reared the following children: Percy Beauregard, b. 1882, d. 1946, m. Margaret “Maggie” Maultsby; Althea “Fleta,” b. 1886, m. Maroy “Roy” Little (1882-1930); Nealtha E., b. 1890; Irene J., b. 1896; Ruth M., b. 1898; and Lurline, b. 1907.

William C.’s daughter, Marietta Lenora “Mollie” or Mary Movey Avant, was married to John Thomas Parkman (1858-1931); They reared the following two children: Beuna Mae, b. 1885, d. 1962; Alvah Webb, b. 1889, d. 1972, m. Linnie Emmajean Matthews.

William C.’s son, William Watts Avant, was married to Minnie Ione Sentell, daughter of John Troup and Martha Fletcher (Wilbanks) Sentell. They lived in Patsburg and had the following six children before his untimely death in 1906: Laurin Avant, b. 1893, d. 1973, m. Olive Elizabeth Crittenden (1893-1965); Erin, b. 1894, d. 1980, m. Hiram Breckenridge “Brek” Gantt; Glen, b. 1897, d. 1960, m. Catherine Barr (1901-1994); Toxey “Top,” b. 1898, d. 1985, m. Mattie Robinson and divorced; Ralph, b. 1899, d 1988, m. Mary Nell Hines (1915-1980); and Lucille, b. 1904, d. 1986, m. J.F. “Buck” Colquett (1903-1991).

William C.’s daughter, Margaret Lavina or Livora Avant, was married in 1899 to Moses Norman Rushton. They resided mostly in Luverne and reared the following four children: Mary, b. 1901; Hermon W., b. 1903; Varner S., b. 1905; and Maggie, b. 1908.

Additional genealogy on this line of the Avant family is available and will be continued in next week’s column. Sources for this family narrative were Ancestry.com and the family records of a descendant, Rebecca Ann (Avant) Crichton, who is the granddaughter of Dr. William Watts Avant. Appreciation is expressed to Ann for her generous sharing of her family research.

Anyone who might have a correction to the above or additional information on the area Avant family is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or email: cthomasson@centurytel.