She Presided Over Councils Of War Against Her Kindred
This was Marie-Magdeleine Maisonnat, born in 1694-95, the daughter of Pierre Maisonnat, called Baptiste, and Magdeleine Bourg, whom I was telling you about these two last weeks. This child was to play a primary role in the history of Annapolis Royal during at least half a century.
When we read of Magdeleine Bourg's children from her "second" husband, Pierre LeBlanc, Jr., including the ancestors of a number of LeBlancs of Yarmouth and Digby Counties, viz., Jean-Simon and Charles, we would hardly believe that they were even related. Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, pastor of Westboro, Massachusetts, where Jean-Simon LeBlanc resided while in exile, kept a diary in which are recorded 43 visits that he paid to Jean-Simon and his family, from 1756 to 1761. He describes him as being "sociable, gentle, soft spoken, amiable." His half-sister, on the contrary, appears to have been domineering, outspoken, not very sociable.
John Knox, an Officer of the British Army, who called on her at Annapolis one morning in October of 1757, tells us in his "Historical Journal" of his visit as follows: "Seeing a young man in blue clothes, with a soldier's hat and lace on his head, I supposed he was an Officer's servant, and therefore directed my eyes towards him and his hat, to try if he would take the hint; but the poor lad, though in soldier's pay, was an idiot; his father had formerly been an Officer of rank in much esteem here, and was married to one of her daughters; she seeming highly offended at my viewing her grandson so steadfastly, said, 'I might look at him, but she could assure me he was a ...'s son, as good as myself, &c., &c.! I unfortunately replied that I supposed he was the son of a French Militia ... or words to that effect. I cannot describe her wrath at this answer; she could no longer contain herself, and, after venting a great many choleric expressions, she concluded with this speech' 'Me have rendered King Schorge more important services dan ever you did, or peut etre ever shall; and dis be well known to peoples en authorite.' To which an Officer, who accompanied me, answered: 'Very true, Madam; I suppose it was in council.' He was going to add something more, but the lady grew so outrageous that we found it was time de decamp."
Previously, John Knox had called her "an old French gentlewoman ... of the Romish persuasion, whose daughters, granddaughters and other relations, have, from time to time, intermarried with Officers and other gentlemen of this garrison (of Annapolis), whereof some of the former's were of respectable rank; the ladies soon acquired an influence, the spirit of the soldier and the characteristic of good Officer were gradually changed, and succeeded by rusticity; the women, in short, did as they pleased, provided they would indulge their good-natured husbands in a pipe, and a chirping-glass extraordinary, in the evening."
The author then goes on to say that if private men were caught by an Officer in "a public-house to drown the cares of the day ... regardless of their duty," they would answer: "I was sent for to finish a job of work for Madam." And if the soldier was confined, the old gentlewoman ordered him to be released by her own authority, which was deemed sufficient and no farther [sic] inquiries must be made into the matter. "I am also assured", says John Knox, "that this lady has actually presided at councils of war in the fort, when measures have been concerting to distress the common enemy, her good kindred and countrymen." Indeed, she must have inherited something of her father Baptiste.
In 1711, when she was about 16 years old, she married in Port Royal, before a Protestant minister, surely much against her mother's will, William Winniett, born in France of Huguenot parents. He was for a time the leading merchant in the Province. His trade covered practically all of Nova Scotia, with ramifications as far as Boston. In 1729, he received the title of Honourable, when he became a member of the Governor's Council at Annapolis, where oftentimes he manifested his sympathy towards the Acadians, to a point of being disliked and suspected by his colleagues. He died in 1741 by drowning in Boston harbour while on a business trip, giving all his estate, real and personal, which was considerable, "to my beloved wife Magdeleine Winniett," whom he had appointed sole executrix.
It is not known when Marie-Magdeleine Maisonnat died. In the census of Annapolis of 1768, she is recorded as living alone. But in 1770, there are with the two "Acadians" and two other persons, who are said to be "Americans."
William Winniett and Marie-Magdeleine Maisonnat had 13 children, seven boys and six girls, all born in Annapolis. The girls married prominent men, as Alexander Cosby, Commander at Canso, Lieutenant-Governor of Annapolis, Lieutenant-Colonel of the 40th regiment, brother-in-law of Richard Philipps, Governor of Nova Scotia; that was Anne. Elizabeth married Major John Hatfield, Governor of Annapolis, till he succeeded in Halifax Charles Lawrence as Lieutenant-General. Marie-Magdeleine, named after her mother, married Edward Howe, one of the leading men in Annapolis, very well known in history for having been fraudulently assassinated by the Indians who accused him of having insulted them in their religious beliefs.
With regard to the boys, Joseph became a member of the Legislative Assembly of Halifax and Judge of Probate Court. They were the grandparents of William Robert Wolseley Winniett, Governor of Cape Coast Colony of West Africa and Governor General of the Cape Coast District. Another boy, William, given in the Church registers as Guillaume Ouinet, was the only one of the family to marry an Acadian girl, who was sent into exile in Boston by her brother-in-law, John Hatfield.
And that is the story of Marie-Magdeleine Maisonnat, of her mother Magdeleine Bourg and of her father Pierre Maisonnat. Just as France had its Cyrano de Bergerac, Acadia had its Baptiste de Bergerac.