The Lenape Indians had settled the Delaware River region which includes Salem County and all of western South Jersey centuries before the arrival of European settlers in the early to mid 1600's. Lenape means "the people"; the tribe is also called the Lenni Lenape or "true people" and later the name Delaware was given to this indigenous people living along the Delaware River. The early Delaware had no idea of land possession or selling land, they welcomed European settlers and accepted token gifts, which they thought were given because of the aid and kindness they showed, but the Europeans intended these gifts as the purchase price for the land they settled.
The Dutch began arriving and settling in the Delaware River area in 1631. A large colony of Finns settled on the eastern shore of the Delaware around 1638 in present-day New Jersey around Finns Point. The Swedes and Finns traded with the Indians, sending furs, tobacco and other products back to Europe. They found the area had rich soil for farming and the settlers flourished building a small but successful colony in what is now known as Salem County. Swedish settlers in today's Salem and Gloucester County began "buying" land from the Indians and in a few years bought all the land from Cape May to Raccoon Creek. The area was known as New Sweden under Governor Johan Printz (1643-1653); he improved the military and commercial status of the colony by constructing Fort Nya Elfsborg which is near Salem.
The land around the Raccoon and Oldmans Creek watersheds is one of the Delaware Bay's most fertile farm belts and still has many working family farms in Northern Salem County, the early colonists farmed this area, fished in the Delaware Bay and traded by sea.
The English began settling in present day Salem County in 1641, about 60 people settled on Ferken's Creek now Salem, NJ. In 1654 the Swedes surrendered their claim to the Delaware Region of South Jersey to the Dutch who in turn submitted to English Rule. In 1664 the Duke of York conveyed title to the province of New Jersey to John, Lord Berkleley and Sir George Carteret. Berkeley received claim for West Jersey which he sold to John Fenwick and Edward Byllinge for f1,000. Fenwick personally received a one-tenth portion of the land in a deed dated 1673; his portion comprised what is now known as Salem and Cumberland Counties.
John Fenwick, a member of the Society of Friends, embarked from London to America on September 23, 1673 and landed at the mouth of Assamhockin creek now know as Salem Creek with his immediate family and a large number of members of the Society of Fiends. Fenwick and company ascended Salem Creek about thee miles and founded the town of New Salem. The new owners of this region held council with the Indians that lived in Salem County and purchased all their lands from them, but leaving the Delaware tribe rights to hunt, trap and fish; with this treaty, peace was achieved with the natives and continued for 300 years until the remaining Indians sold all their rights they still held to the State of New Jersey. John Fenwick issued a proclamation granting religious and civil liberties to everyone who settled in Salem County. He used the name Salem for his settlement because it means peace and to his credit he did much to keep peace and live at peace with his neighbors.
Fenwick had many thousands of acres surveyed in Salem County and built homes for his family. In 1682 he sold all the lands he held except for one hundred and fifty thousand acres (which he kept for himself and family) to Governor William Penn and a new government was established for West Jersey. Fenwick was elected to the legislature. On July 11, 1688 Fenwick had one acre of land in Salem surveyed to build a court-house and prison, the buildings were erected on Bridge Street later called Market Street. Fenwick died shortly after. The town of Salem became incorporated in 1695.
National Register of Historical Places - NEW JERSEY (NJ), Salem County
South Jersey Heritage - R. Craig Koedel: Chapter 3: The Husbandry ...