William Winans was born November 3, 1788, in Chestnut Ridge Pennsylvania. When he was still a child his family moved to Clermont County, Ohio. While still living in Ohio, Winans was admitted on trial to the Western Conference, and his first few years in the conference were spent in Kentucky and Indiana. In 1810, he was received in full connection and went to the Mississippi District where he would serve in Mississippi until his death in 1857.
During his service he was elected the first secretary for the Mississippi Conference, and he was ordained an elder in 1816. He served for many years as a presiding elder as well as a pastor on local circuits. He first went to the General Conference in 1824 and would continue to go for the rest of his life. He delivered the Pastoral Address in 1832 and was part of the committee that drew up the Plan of Separation for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was the chair of the organizational committee that was in charge of organizing the new church. In 1846 he called the first General Conference of the M.E. Church, South into session.
Winans married Martha Dubose in 1814, and they had four children. He died August 31, 1857, and was buried in the family plot on his property north of Centreville in Wilkinson County, MS. Centreville now has a school built on Winans' former land: the William Winans Institute was in use at least as early as 1928 and today (2001) a Headstart center is headquartered in a building bearing the Winans name that was built later. A street in the vicinity is also named for its legendary citizen.*
William Winans was an integral part of both the Mississippi Conference of the M.E. Church and the Mississippi Conference of the M.E. Church, South. He was known around the United States as a great speaker and the champion of the Southern Church. Winans was an active member of the Conference and is considered one of the pioneers of Methodism in Mississippi.
Further reading: Holder, Ray. William Winans: Methodist Leader in Antebellum Mississippi. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 1977. This title is in the J. B. Cain Archives.
* Winans' home has since been leveled and the property (north of the school perhaps one half mile) is planted in pine trees, with considerable undergrowth: an attempt in spring, 2001, by Millsaps Emeritus Librarian, Jim Parks, and Centreville mayor, David Owens, to locate Winans' grave failed, but a talk with the current owner assured that the site, while difficult to locate, is still there with several graves. Local folklore recounts how once two escaped convicts from Louisiana hid within its iron fence but were spotted by helicopter. The area then was a pasture and the cemetery was on a ridge between Macedonia Road and the railroad tracks, clearly visible from both. The property is owned today by the Paul B. Rees family.