Some writers have stated that the Winniett family has been in longer continuous occupation of property in the present Maritime Provinces than any other family. Regardless of this claim, the progenitor of the Winniett surname in Nova Scotia was William Winniett, who arrived in Annapolis Royal in 1710.
William was born in France to Huguenot parents in 1685, but to escape religious persecution bought about by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in that year, the family moved to London. William received his early education in England, but by the age of 25 he was in the colony of Massachusetts where he volunteered as an officer in Francis Nicholson’s army in the attack on Port Royal in 1710. After the capture of the fort, he remained as an officer in the garrison there, but resigned his post in 1711 to marry Marie Maissonat (1695-1799), a Catholic Acadian from a positioned family, who was reputed to have been the undisputed Belle of French Port Royal.
William set about building a trading and shipping empire along the New England and Nova Scotia coasts, and at times both he and Marie were intensely involved in the political and commercial life of Annapolis Royal - their home and base of operation. By 1729 the Governor-in-Chief of the province, Col. Richard Phillipps, said of William that he was the most considerable Merchant and one of ye first British Merchants of this place... as one eminent in his Zeal for His Majesty’s Service. At one time Winniett served on His Majesty’s Council, but his main drive in the 1720s and 1730s was to continue to build his commercial contacts. While on a trip to obtain trading goods in Massachusetts in 1741, William fell overboard in Boston Harbour and was drowned. He left his widow in a deplorable financial situation, but with 13 sons and daughters to carry on the Winniett legacy throughout Nova Scotia and elsewhere.
Throughout their careers, William Winniett and Marie Maissonat were recognized for their bold and adventurous spirits and for the energy and outspokenness with which they pursued their lives and interests. It was also not uncommon, however, for their biographers to use such words as insolent, avaricious, contemptuous, undiplomatic, disrespectful, and prejudiced in describing their dealings with others.