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.
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!
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