THIS unfortunate man was a farmer at West Witten, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, and the crime for which he suffered was the consequence of a litigation between him and his landlord.
In November, 1813, one William Ridley, a sheriff's officer and auctioneer, went to seize some hay of James's, under pretence that he was in arrears for rent, which it subsequently appeared was not legally due. James had several reasons for disliking Ridley, in addition to that arising from his officiousness on the present occasion. He had, not long before, seized some of his hay, and, being auctioneer at the sale, he knocked down to himself, at fifteen shillings, what was well worth five pounds, if fairly exhibited.
The unfortunate James, teased by litigation, and naturally irritable, vowed vengeance on the present occasion against Ridley, if he attempted to distrain for rent which was not due. The bailiff, hardened in such scenes, treated the denunciation with contempt, and proceeded directly to the field where the hay-stack was situated. Just as he opened the gate to give admission to his followers, the revengeful and infatuated James rushed from behind a hedge, seized Ridley, and, in an instant, plunged a knife several times into his back and neck. The bailiff, without a groan, fell down and expired.
James was now taken into custody, and brought to trial at York, March the 28th, 1814, when he was found Guilty; for, though it was fully proved that he owed no rent, and that the conduct of the deceased was highly aggravating, still it did not justify the summary vengeance inflicted on him, or extenuate the crime of murder.
When asked what he had to say why sentence of death should not be passed on him, he briefly replied, 'That he submitted to the laws of his country, though he had no law shown to him.'
The judge then proceeded to animadvert on the enormity of his crime, and ordered him for execution the next day but one.
William, the brother of John James, was indicted for aiding and assisting; but the charge against him amounted only to some words subsequently spoken, expressive of his satisfaction at the death of Ridley; and these, though they evinced a malignant obduracy of heart, were not sufficient to implicate him in the crime of his brother; consequently he was acquitted.
On the fatal consequences of giving way to sudden bursts of passion we have frequently remarked; and we hope our readers have not forgotten the examples we have adduced: if they have, we can only recommend their reflecting for a few minutes on the fate of this unfortunate man -- torn from home, and all the endearing associations which made home agreeable, and afterwards suspended an ignominious spectacle on the gallows, because he had not learned to curb the natural viciousness of his temper, and seek justice where it would not ultimately be denied him.