William Winniett


Winniett, William, military officer, merchant, and settler at Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, member of the Nova Scotia Council; born c.1685; drowned in Boston harbour, Massachusetts, April 1741.

          William Winniett is said to have been born in France of Huguenot parents, but this is not certain. In 1710 he accompanied Francis Nicholson from London as a volunteer in the successful expedition against Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal), serving as ensign, adjutant, and second lieutenant in Walton's New Hampshire regiment. He was a lieutenant in the Annapolis Royal garrison for a time, but resigned his military commission in 1711 to embark upon a career as a merchant-trader. In that year he married Marie-Madeleine Maisonnat, daughter of Pierre Maisonnat and Madeleine Bourg.

          Winniett had trading connections at Annapolis Royal, the Acadian settlements up the Bay of Fundy, and Canso, selling a variety of provisions, many of which had been transported from Boston. He procured wood for the Annapolis garrison and seems to have been involved in fishing in the 1720s. In June 1722 he was robbed by Indians at Minas, "to ye value of 1,500 pounds, goods & Vessell."  Micmac and Malecite Indians attacked Annapolis Royal on 4 July 1724; Winniett testified to the Nova Scotia Council on 16 July that he had learned of the proposed attack at Minas on 1 July, but had been assured by the French that the Annapolis garrison would already have been warned. In 1725 he helped persuade the Nova Scotia Council to restrict trading up the Bay of Fundy to the Annapolis settlers. He supported this policy again in 1727 as a means of making the Acadians more dependent on Annapolis Royal for supplies and less able to support the Indians in their expeditions against the English.

          Winniett's relations with the government of Nova Scotia were often strained. In 1714 Governor Nicholson warned Lieutenant Governor Thomas Caulfeild not to employ Winniett or even allow him to enter the garrison, pointing to the pro-French sentiments of Winniett's wife and relatives. About this time Winniett was also at odds with Captain Lawrence Armstrong, who sought to exclude him from any dealings with the garrison. Caulfeild, however, defended Winniett and condemned Armstrong's treatment of him. In 1720, after complaining about the establishment of a grain magazine at Annapolis Royal, Winniett was rebuked by the governor and council for behaving towards them in an "insolent, disrespectfull, audacious, contemptuous, and undutiful manner," and was ordered to apologize. His letter of submission restored him to good standing.

          In November 1729 Winniett, as "the most Considerable Merchant, and one of ye first British Inhabitants in this Place" was appointed to the Nova Scotia Council, replacing one of two councillors who were sick. With Erasmus James Philipps he drew up in 1730 a scheme for procuring and keeping currency in Nova Scotia. He sought unsuccessfully in 1731 to validate a claim he had to some land east of the Penobscot River (Maine), and thereafter absented himself more and more from council meetings. The conflict between his son-in-law, Alexander Cosby, and Lieutenant Governor Lawrence Armstrong, which resulted in Cosby's withdrawal from the council in 1732, probably affected Winniett as well. About the same time, Henry Cope accused Winniett of informing the Indians at Minas that the government was building a house there as quarters for a company of soldiers. Finally on 9 January 1734 Armstrong suspended Winniett from the council, citing his infrequent attendance and general behaviour. The Lords of Trade refused to uphold Armstrong's action, however, and advised him not to be so strict about the behaviour of councillors when the colony was so young and there were so few civil inhabitants who could sit on council.

          Little is known of Winniett's activities from this time until his death in 1741. Paul Mascarene stated that his widow was left in deplorable circumstances. Winniett had seven sons and six daughters. One son, Joseph, was a member of the Nova Scotia assembly and a judge. Three of his daughters – Anne, Elizabeth, and Marie-Madeleine – were married to council members: Alexander Cosby, John Handfield, and Edward How, respectively.

—  Charles Bruce Fergusson, Archivist of Nova Scotia
Associate professor of history, Dalhousie University
Chairman, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Source: Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
William Winniett (the original article)

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