After looking through land grants, court records, wills, and deeds, David States and I looked into the court records at Shelburne County, where we found a case before the Shelburne Court of General Sessions involving John Gossman, a labourer in the Town of Shelburne. There was an indictment of John Gossman for a 1789 felony and a signed voluntary examination and confession. He was charged with killing a black ox.
When I first saw the confession I was worried that we would find out that our ancestors were murderers and imprisoned criminals but the signed confession explains that during a famine in the cold, harsh Nova Scotian winter of 1789 John Gosman killed another man’s ox to feed his family. The court document says that while he was chopping wood an ox wandered onto his land. He knocked it down and cut its throat. After the ox was dead he did not have the courage to skin him but left the carcass lying there. I believe he probably had a crisis of conscious and went home.
According to records he returned at different times to feed his family. After a few days he was so heavy with guilt and his conscience plagued him so badly he went to the local courthouse to make a voluntary confession of his crime. I think that shows a lot of honesty and integrity and interestingly the jury returned with a “no true bill” ruling – meaning they didn’t believe there was enough evidence to pursue the case against Gossman. You can read the confession in this document today.
I find it amazing to touch this document and know that my ancestor John Gosman had his hands on it over 200 years ago. His handwriting is right there. He signed it, with an ‘X’. He couldn’t write. When I read the circumstances of the crime I felt proud of this man who, you could tell, did everything for his family. Clearly, family was of deep importance to the Gosman’s and I can gladly say that this belief continues today.