In the mid-1750s the colonial village of New London in central Virginia was an important trading center. It was difficult to reach from northern towns (such as Charlottesville) due to the necessity of fording the Fluvanna (now James) River which passed twelve miles north of the village.
The family of John Lynch had taken on a tract of land on James River within view of the Peaks of Otter and the mountainous scenery. John Lynch, seventeen years old and son of land-owner Charles Lynch and Quaker Sarah Clark Lynch, decided to establish a ferry service on the James a few hundred yards upstream from the ford, on property owned by his father. The ferry service remained profitable for many years, and by the end of the American Revolution the village at Lynch's Ferry had (itself) become an important center of trade. By the 1780s, batteaus were transporting tobacco down the James River to Richmond, and Lynch's Ferry had expanded to include a tobacco warehouse, a tavern, and a mill. Lynch saw the possibilities of establishing a town on the hill overlooking the ferry site. In late 1784 he petitioned the General Assembly of Virginia for a town charter. In October 1786, the charter was granted, founding the town of Lynchburg.