Thomas Kent, the first Kent in colonial America to whom I can trace a blood relationship, appears in public records for what seems to be the first time in the spring of 1763, when he acquired land in Craven County, N.C. This was not the Craven County of an earlier time, which was much larger and included what would become Carteret, New Hanover, Johnston and Jones counties, and a part of Pamlico County.
Applicants for royal land grants in North Carolina at that time were required to be at least 21 years of age (18 with a guardian), and "in a condition to cultivate and improve the same by settling thereon in proportion to the quantity of acres a sufficient number of white persons or negroes." It can be assumed, then, that Thomas Kent was at least 18 years old, probably older, and was not alone in this venture -- "assumed," because there appears to be no prior public history of this man.
What can be established is that on April 15, 1763, the governor of North Carolina instructed the colony's surveyor general to survey 150 acres of land for the applicant Thomas Kent. The acreage lay at the head of the West Branch, which fed into the Neuse River, and was adjacent to land owned by Thomas Whorton. The survey was completed on June 8, 1763, and the grant registered with the county court.
A few months later, Thomas Kent applied for a second grant. This consisted of 100 acres and is described as being situated "in the fork of Moseley's Creek beginning at Richard Blackledge's corner." A grant for this parcel was filed on April 25, 1767. On Nov. 7, 1765, Thomas bought an additional 100 acres on the West Branch. For it he paid Frederick Isler the sum 15 pounds sterling. And in February 1767, Thomas bought, for 210 pounds, still more land -- 340 acres extending west from near Flat Swamp and adjacent to the land of George and John Stringers. Part of this land lay in the section of Craven County that would became Jones County.
At this point, it appears that Thomas Kent owned some 690 acres of land. But over the next decade he bought and sold land, and acquired more through yet another grant, in 1774. Before he was finished, he held deed to 728 acres. Whether it was all contiguous is difficult to say.
Thomas appeared in Craven County Court in June 1768 as a member of a jury, and later in the year returned as the defendant in another matter. The offense is not specified, but he was ordered to pay the plaintiff, neighbor George Metts, the sum of 6 pounds 9 shillings and 4 pence, plus costs of 3 pounds, 10 shillings and 10 pence. Thomas again appeared as the defendant in September 1771, charged with concealing taxables. He was found guilty and fined 6 pounds damages and 6 pounds costs.
By 1779, Thomas appears on the combined tax list of Craven and Jones Counties with assets of 175 acres and 158 acres, valued at $1,074; one Negro, valued at $400; four horses, valued at $300, and 14 head of cattle, valued at $1,400 -- a total of $2,414. Yet the record of his land acquisitions indicates that he held deed to 628 acres at that time. Conceivably, the difference can be accounted for by parcels transferred to his sons, Samuel, Levi, and Thomas.
What the elder Thomas Kent did with his land can only be surmised. He has been described as a planter, but what he might have planted is not specified. Cotton? Indigo? Tobacco? Precisely when and where and in what circumstances he died are also open to question. There is a story, impossible to verify, that he died at the hands of British soldiers as they crossed his land moving north into Virginia in retreat from Guilford Court House. No written record has come to light.
Where Thomas came from, and when, is not known for certain. There is speculation that he arrived in North Carolina from Virginia, or Maryland. Some researchers think he may have been the Thomas Kent who was born, in 1733, in Chippenham, Cambridgeshire. That would make him 30 years old at the time of his first land acquisition in North Carolina. Logical, but not certain. The International Genealogical Index contains no fewer than 2,355 listings for Thomas Kent, including births, christenings, and marriages, up and down and across the length and breadth of the British Isles. There would seem to be some duplication. For Chippenham, it lists three Thomas Kent births in a time frame that could be relevant -- on 11 April 1725, another on 25 March 1733, and another on 19 November 1739. All three give the name of the father as Thomas and the mother's name as Anne; one is more specific about the mother, giving her full maiden name as Anne Docking. Presumablhy, this information came from three different sources. Similarly, the Genealogical Index lists the marriages of three Thomas Kents in Chippenham, in 1697, 1704, and 1722, and identifies their spouses as Anne, Mary, and Anne.
It does not seem likely now that the when and whence of Thomas Kent's arrival in North Carolina will ever be established.