The Salem Oak, depicted in this early twentieth-century postcard, was a beloved landmark in Salem County. According to local tradition, founder John Fenwick affirmed his claim to the so-called “Salem Tenth” beneath the mighty white oak, for it was there that Fenwick negotiated a treaty of peace with the resident Lenni Lenape. Whether the tree actually witnessed any such negotiations could never be known for sure. Nevertheless, the story is woven into the fabric of the community: images of this living monument adorn public buildings, several local businesses are named after it, and artisans create commemorative keepsakes from fallen branches.
The massive limbs of the Salem Oak stretch out over Friends Burial Ground on West Broadway. The Salem Monthly Meeting purchased the sixteen-acre plot surrounding the tree in 1681 and has taken responsibility for the care of the tree ever since—no small task considering its advanced age and its size. At more than five and a half centuries old, the Salem Oak has far exceeded the average life expectancy of its species, which is about three hundred years. In 2016, the tree earned another distinction when New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection named it the largest living white oak in the state. The circumference of its trunk alone is more than twenty-two feet and its crown spreads more than one hundred feet. The tree is so massive, in fact, a single limb could weigh as much as six thousand pounds.