Saturday, February 12, 2005

More on the verb to lynch

A Lynchburg lawyer writes that he is "reading James Elson's recent history of Lynchburg, Lynchburg, Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years, 1786-1986. The book contains an interesting discussion of the origin of the term 'lynch law' and its verbal form 'to lynch.'

According to Elson, there are several candidates, 'the best-documented historical figure for giving his name to 'lynch law' is undoubtedly Colonel Charles Lynch.' Charles Lynch was the older brother of John Lynch, the founder of Lynchburg and the person for whom the city is named.

Colonel Lynch was not a judge. Rather, he represented Bedford County in the House of Burgesses and was a colonel in the Bedford militia. As part of his duties with the militia, he was responsible for 'suppressing agitation by local Tories.' This he accomplished by holding 'extra-legal hearings' at his estate in present-day Altavista. Tories were tied to a tree and given thirty-nine lashes. A Tory could stop the lashings by proclaiming 'Liberty forever!' While there were rumblings that Colonel Lynch may have presided over some hangings, there exists no such historical evidence.

In 1782, the Virginia legislature passed a law indemnifying Colonel Lynch and others for their actions. The law stated that Colonel Lynch's actions 'were not strictly warranted by law, although justifiable from the imminence of the danger.'"

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