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Old Salem County Courthouse – Pic of the Week

On a recent physically-distanced road trip to New Jersey, I visited Salem, which sits in the southeastern part of the state. I trekked to Salem in part to visit the Old Salem County Courthouse.

Exterior Old Salem County Courthouse

Old Salem County Courthouse, photograph by Anna Price

Per a placard outside the courthouse entrance, it is the “[o]ldest active courthouse in New Jersey and the second oldest in the United States. Built in 1735, this building was occupied by British troops during the Revolutionary War and later was the site of treason trials for British sympathizers. The courthouse was expanded in 1817 and 1908.” The building’s history intrigued me so I did a little more digging.

The National Park Service has a brief account of raids around Salem during the Revolutionary War. A more thorough history of the altercations around Salem can be found in History of the Counties of Gloucester, Salem, and Cumberland New Jersey. Four British loyalists were eventually convicted and sentenced to hanging for their role in the raids, but the sentences were never carried out. Instead, New Jersey’s governor pardoned the four individuals and banished them from New Jersey.

According to local lore, the Salem County Courthouse was the site of something referred to as the “tomato trials.” Legend has it that a gentleman named Colonel Robert Johnson ate tomatoes on the courthouse steps to prove that they were not poisonous. Unfortunately, after looking through a variety of sources, I was unable to find records that support this story.

For those of you who are curious, the oldest active courthouse in the U.S. is the King William County Courthouse in Virginia. Looks like I need to start planning my next road trip!

One Comment

  1. Donna Scheeder
    August 7, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Regarding the Tomato story there is a book in the LC collection called “The History of the Tomato” and it says the first red tomato was eaten in New Jersey, I know this because I was asked that question once during my tenure at CRS. Later I visited the New Jersey state house and indeed in one of the murals depicting the history of New Jersey there is a man eating a red tomato. I cannot remember if the book contained an extensive bibliography but take a look because it may provide you with more clues.

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