The origins of the word "lynch" are obscure, but it likely originated during the American revolution. The verb comes from the phrase "Lynch Law", a term for a . Two Americans during this era are generally credited for coining the phrase: Charles Lynch (1736-1796) and William Lynch, who both lived in Virginia in the 1780s. Charles Lynch is more likely to have coined the phrase, as he was known to have used the term in 1782, while William Lynch is not known to have used the term until much later. There is no evidence that death was imposed as a punishment by either of the two men. In 1782, Charles Lynch wrote that his assistant had administered "Lynch's law" to Tories "for Dealing with Negroes, &c."
Charles Lynch was a Virginia Quaker,:23ff planter, and American Revolutionary who headed a county court in Virginia which imprisoned Loyalist supporters of the British for up to one year during the war. Although he lacked proper jurisdiction for detaining these persons, he claimed this right by arguing wartime necessity. Subsequently, he prevailed upon his friends in the Congress of the Confederation to pass a law that exonerated him and his associates from wrongdoing. He was concerned that he might face legal action from one or more of those he had imprisoned, notwithstanding the American Colonies had won the war. This action by the Congress provoked controversy, and it was in connection with this that the term "Lynch law", meaning the assumption of extrajudicial authority, came into common parlance in the United States. Lynch was not accused of racist bias. He acquitted blacks accused of murder on three separate occasions. He was accused, however, of ethnic prejudice in his abuse of Welsh miners.
William Lynch (1742–1820) from Virginia claimed that the phrase was first used in a 1780 compact signed by him and his neighbors in Pittsylvania County. While Edgar Allan Poe claimed that he found this document, it was probably a hoax.
A 17th-century legend of James Lynch fitz Stephen, who was Mayor of Galway in Ireland in 1493, says that when his son was convicted of murder, the mayor hanged him from his own house. The story was proposed by 1904 as the origin of the word "lynch". It is dismissed by etymologists, both because of the distance in time and place from the alleged event to the word's later emergence, and because the incident did not constitute a lynching in the modern sense.
The archaic verb linch, to beat severely with a pliable instrument, to chastise or to maltreat, has been proposed as the etymological source; but there is no evidence that the word has survived into modern times, so this claim is also considered implausible.:16