ONTARIO-L ArchivesArchiver > ONTARIO > 2006-05 > 1148127458
From: "Deborah Glover" <>
Subject: Tragedies ** Colourful family histories / Norfolk history
Date: Sat, 20 May 2006 08:17:38 -0400
Here is one that was passed on regarding a "person" who into a line I was
researching which really was very sad too!
This was in the SIMCOE REFORMER just few short weeks ago:
Norfolk's mass murder 1832
Long before eight bikers were killed in Shedden last weekend, Norfolk County
held the dubious distinction as the location of Ontario's worst mass murder.
At a farm near Waterford in 1832, eight family members were slaughtered
Kate Schwass - SIMCOE REFORMER
Thursday April 13, 2006
The Simcoe Reformer - Some called it the worst mass murder in Ontario's
Eight men, members of the Bandidos biker gang, found dead, stuffed inside
abandoned vehicles on a farm near Sheddon last weekend.
While it is the worst mass murder of our time, it's not the first time eight
people have been killed in southern
The last time it happened, it was in Norfolk County.
In 1832, Henry Sovereign murdered his wife Polly and six children, a seventh
dying later of injuries. The slaughter, on a farm northwest of Waterford, is
one of the worst and most brutal murders in Ontario history.
Small towns are known to have their secrets, says Norfolk Heritage Centre
curator Bill Yeager, but this story was just too big to keep quiet.
"It was very sensational," he says. "It was so big, so horrific, it couldn't
help but be recorded."
People who knew Henry didn't doubt his guilt, Yeager said.
"He seemed to be a bad sort from the beginning. No one was surprised by what
Before his horrific crime against his family, Henry was also sentenced to be
hanged for killing a horse. The Oct. 7, 1819 edition of the Gleaner
newspaper reported on the trial.
"Henry Sovereene, of Windham, Yeoman was convicted of knowingly, wilfully
and maliciously shooting a horse. He was sentenced to be hanged but His
Excellency has been pleased to extend the Royal Clemency to him."
On the morning of Jan. 23, 1832, Henry Sovereign (also Sovereene and
Sovereen) ran to the home of Ephraim Serils (his wife's uncle) to get help.
He told Serils that two men had attacked and brutally murdered his family.
An account in The London Sun's Jan. 26, 1832 edition says: "Serils
immediately repaired to the scene of the bloodshed, and in approaching the
house found Mrs. Sovereign and one of her sons, a lad about 12 years old,
lying lifeless corps about 80 yards from the house. A few yards distant from
those lay her eldest daughter, a girl of 17 years old and on checking the
dwelling house the lifeless bodies of three other children presented
"On entering the house, witness saw the youngest child lying in the fire;
with one of its limbs nearly burnt off -- another was lying close to the
door badly wounded."
The seven dead children were: Elizabeth, Effy, David, Julia, Susan, Job and
Curiously, the two men with blackened faces didn't leave any tracks in the
Henry was immediately considered the prime suspect, an article in the Upper
Canada Herald says. Constable John Massacer went to the scene of the crime
knowing Henry's reputation to become violent when drinking.
As he arrested Henry for murder, Massacer found a bloodied jack knife in
Henry's pocket, which Henry claimed was blood from his own wounds (during
the trial, Dr. John Crouse said the wounds on Henry's chest were
self-inflicted). In a later search of the house, some of Henry's clothing
saturated with blood, brain tissue and hair were found.
Sovereign spent seven months in solitary confinement in London, Ont. before
his trial started Aug. 8, 1832.
In court transcripts, Serles said Henry "seemed perfectly sober" that night.
Another witness, John Glover, said "the prisoner and his wife did not live
happily together," and added Henry "had no quarrel with any person in the
Before the jury deliberated, Sovereign addressed them.
"The thought of murdering my family never once entered into my heart. I had
always taken good care of them and loved them as a father and husband should
do," he told the jury. "God knows, if I die for the act, I die an innocent
It took less than an hour for the jury to come back with a guilty verdict.
Sovereign didn't say anything as Justice Macaulay handed down the death
Henry was to be hanged on Aug. 10, but it was delayed until Monday, Aug. 13,
1832. Onlookers crowded around to watch, despite there being a cholera
An account written in the St. Thomas Journal said people came from all over
to see the noon-hour hanging.
"To the utter astonishment of the anxious crowd . . . he was found still
persisting in his protestations of innocence -- declaring as it were in the
open face of time and eternity, that an innocent man was about to die . . .
at about half past twelve the drop fell, and there hung between Heaven and
earth the body of him who, we believe, were unanimously condemned as
Sovereign's body is believed to have been cut up for medical study.
From that bloody night, a baby named Anna survived in the home, a son,
Peter, had been away and two others had grown up and moved away from home by
Robert Mutrie, a local genealogist and author of The Long Point Settlers,
says Anna Sovereign went on to marry William Patterson. They lived in the
area of Otterville. She had seven children. Peter Sovereign married
Elizabeth Ann Gillis and they lived in Townsend and then moved to Waterford.
They had eight children.
Descendant Len Sovereign, 70, lives in Brantford with his wife Joan. For
Sovereign, his great, great uncle Henry is the topic of many tales told at
family gatherings, but Henry is more infamous than he is beloved.
"Oh yes, he was quite the character," Len Sovereign said. His great
grandfather Anthony was Henry's brother.
Len said the tale of Henry's crime was often told at family gatherings by
his grandfather, Leonard Sr.
"My grandfather was good at this," he said. "My grandfather was a great
talker. He kept in contact with (other family members). I learned a lot from
Sovereign said at a young age, he knew what he thought of Henry.
"He was a hypocrite," he said, adding there's no doubt in his mind about
Henry's involvement. "He was guilty . . . He was so full of crap, it's a
wonder he didn't explode."
In his desk in the basement, Len has a file folder of information with
newspaper clippings, maps, photocopies of the story told in books and even
the court transcripts of the trial. But Sovereign said he'd like to know
more, such as where the graves are for Polly and the children, and even
where Henry himself is buried.
"It's always something I've wanted to get into, if I ever get the time," he
said. "Most family histories are very interesting. Our family history is
Simcoe author and historian Bob Whitside said the Sovereign family name is
well-known in the area with Frederick settling what is now Delhi and another
Sovereign owning a tavern in Waterford.
"People talk about the Sovereigns, but they always come back to, 'remember
that one that killed his family,'" Whitside said.
The murders took place at Lot 1, Concession 5 in former Windham Township,
south of Vanessa and northwest of Waterford. Today, there are a number of
homes along that stretch of Highway 24 which have been built in the past few
decades. But there is one farm which is much older than the rest.
Gustie Gill and her husband George bought that farm on Highway 24 in the
"There was nothing there," she said of the area north of the farm where
Henry and his family would have lived. "It has all been built since we moved
She said they bought the farm from Jack Milne, but it was originally owned
by a family named Serrils (also Serles and Searles).
Gill, who has since moved from the farm house into a house nearby with her
daughter Margaret, was surprised such a crime had taken place so close to
her former home.
"I had no idea. We didn't know. There was nothing there, so we didn't know
there had been another house," she said. "It certainly makes for an
|Tragedies ** Colourful family histories / Norfolk history by "Deborah Glover" <>|