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1665 – The Founding of Salem – The Fenwick Colony

Salem Fenwick Colony.jpg

Salem was founded by Quaker John Fenwick in October 1665; the first English settlement established in West Jersey following the English defeat of the Dutch in 1664 and the first Quaker colony in North America, predating Philadelphia by seven years. At the time, in addition to Native Americans, there were in the area a scattering of descendants of earlier Swedish, English and Finnish settlers.  Sweden made a royal claim on the region in the 1640’s; but yielded to the Dutch in 1654. However, in 1665 Fenwick’s new acquisition was mainly a vast wilderness of forest, bogs, meadows and waterways. 

John Fenwick was born at Stanton Manor, England, in 1618, the second son of wealthy and prominent William Fenwick. John was appointed as a captain of Cavalry by Oliver Cromwell and took an active part in the fight against the Crown. About 1648, he married Elizabeth Covert, with whom he had three daughters. Abandoning the Church of England in 1665, he and his wife became members of the Society of Friends.


Fenwick was involved in a financial dispute concerning an undivided portion of New Jersey, which Lord Berkeley had sold to Edward Billinge for £1000, in 1675. The final outcome of the dispute was that for financial considerations Fenwick was granted a tenth of West Jersey. Known as the Salem Tenth, it encompassed 350 square miles in the Southwestern part of the state (much of what are Salem and Cumberland Counties today).

Fenwick immediately began to make preparation to emigrate and take possession of his lands in West Jersey and provide inducements to those who would join him. Land was offered at £5 per 100 acres, owners of 1,000 to 10,000 acres were to be proprietors or freeholders. However, settlers were mainly Quakers of modest means, generally merchants or craftsman. Farms were generally of medium size from 50 to 300 acres. 

The settlers set sail from London on the Griffin, under Robert Griffin, in September 1665.  Arriving in Delaware Bay, they sailed about 50 miles up the Delaware River from Cape May, to the mouth of Assamhockin Creek. Following the stream for about three miles, they arrived at a point near an abandoned Swedish settlement on 5 October 1675. Thinking the site a suitable location to settle, Fenwick named it New Salem, from the word Shalom meaning peace.

Finnish log house built between 1638 and 1643.jpg
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