Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Lynch's Law,” Southern Literary Messenger, vol. II, no. 6, May 1836, 2:389


[page 389:]




Frequent inquiry has been made within the last year as to the origin of Lynch's law. This subject now possesses historical interest. It will be perceived from the annexed paper, that the law, so called, originated in 1780, in Pittsylvania, Virginia. Colonel William Lynch, of that county, was its author; and we are informed by a resident, who was a member of a body formed for the purpose of carrying it into effect, that the efforts of the association were wholly successful. A trained band of villains, whose operations extended from North to South, whose well concerted schemes had bidden defiance to the ordinary laws of the land, and whose success encouraged them to persevere in depredations upon an unoffending community, was dispersed and laid prostrate under the infliction of Lynch's law. Of how many terrible, and deeply to be lamented consequences — of how great an amount of permanent evil — has the partial and temporary good been productive!

“Whereas, many of the inhabitants of the county of Pittsylvania, as well as elsewhere, have sustained great and intolerable losses by a set of lawless men who have banded themselves together to deprive honest men of their just rights and property, by stealing their horses, counterfeiting, and passing paper currency, and committing many other species of villainy, too tedious to mention, and that those vile miscreants do still persist in their diabolical practices, and have hitherto escaped the civil power with impunity, it being almost useless and unnecessary to have recourse to our laws to suppress and punish those freebooters, they having it in their power to extricate themselves when brought to justice [column 2:] by suborning witnesses who do swear them clear — we, the subscribers, being determined to put a stop to the iniquitous practices of those unlawful and abandoned wretches, do enter into the following association, to wit: that next to our consciences, soul and body, we hold our rights and property, sacred and inviolable. We solemnly protest before God and the world, that (for the future) upon hearing or having sufficient reason to believe, that any villainy or species of villainy having been committed within our neighborhood, we will forthwith embody ourselves, and repair immediately to the person or persons suspected, or those under suspicious characters, harboring, aiding, or assisting those villains, and if they will not desist from their evil practices, we will inflict such corporeal punishment on him or them, as to us shall seem adequate to the crime committed or the damage sustained; that we will protect and defend each and every one of us, the subscribers, as well jointly as severally, from the insults and assaults offered by any other person in their behalf: and further, we do bind ourselves jointly and severally, our joint and several heirs &c. to pay or cause to be paid, all damages that shall or may accrue in consequence of this our laudable undertaking, and will pay an equal proportion according to our several abilities; and we, after having a sufficient number of subscribers to this association, will convene ourselves to some convenient place, and will make choice of our body five of the best and most discreet men belonging to our body, to direct and govern the whole, and we will strictly adhere to their determinations in all cases whatsoever relative to the above undertaking; and if any of our body summoned to attend the execution of this our plan, and fail so to do without a reasonable excuse, they shall forfeit and pay the sum of one hundred pounds current money of Virginia, to be appropriated towards defraying the contingent expenses of this our undertaking. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands, this 22d day September 1780.”





This article is attributed to Poe by Burton Pollin and J. V. Ridgely.


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