Mob violence is probably as old as mankind, but the American name for it is comparatively youthful. Two centuries ago, more or less, Captain William Lynch cut a wide swath through parts of Virginia. As magistrate of a kangaroo court, he heard brief testimony and then sentenced several Pennsylvania County ruffians to hang.
Lynch might have been forgotten had not his exploits come to the attention of a literary giant. Writing in the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allen Poe described the Virginia cleanup of crime as a lynching. He even published what he said was a part drawn up by Captain Lynch’s band.
The lasting influence of a famous writer caused mob violence to be known as lynching, and lynch law designates the reasoning by which mob members arrive at a verdict.
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