Charles Lynch, 1736–96, American Revolutionary soldier, b. near the site of Lynchburg, Va. A member (1767–76) of the Virginia house of burgesses, he took a prominent part in the preparations for war. When a Tory conspiracy was discovered (1780) in Bedford co., where he had been a justice of the peace from 1774, Lynch, a zealous patriot, presided over an extralegal court that meted out summary punishment to the Loyalists. From this action is said to come the origin of the term "lynch law." Lynch clearly exceeded his authority, but he was later exonerated by the state legislature. He led a volunteer regiment at the battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781.