Pennsville Township Historical Society

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History of Pennsville Township 

At the time of the European settlements in America in the 1600s, the Lenni Lenape Tribe called Unilachtigo occupied our area, and they called it Hoppemense.  Pennsville’s first European settlers were the Swedes and the Finns, who migrated across the Delaware River sometime after the Swedish Fort Christiana in Delaware was settled in 1638.  


When English Quaker John Fenwick arrived in 1675 to colonize his territory in West Jersey, called Fenwick’s Colony (present day Salem and Cumberland counties), he had already plotted out and named certain areas and sold large tracts of land, none smaller than 500 acres each. He named our area West Fenwick Township. 


The plantation land owners who pre-dated Fenwick’s arrival, specifically at Obisquahassit, Finns Town and in the Church Town area, reluctantly acknowledged John Fenwick as the new Lord Proprietor.  To insure possession of their tracts of land, they filed quit-claims to Fenwick in consideration of a yearly rental payment.


A series of financial, legal and political difficulties followed John Fenwick from England, as well as a couple of imprisonments in America, so by age 65 John Fenwick was in declining health.  For reasons unknown, he conveyed all his right, title and interest in West Jersey, except for 150,000 acres, to William Penn in March 23, 1682.  Fenwick died in 1683.


In 1701 West Fenwick was re-named Penns Neck Township in honor of the new Proprietor, William Penn.  In 1721 Penns Neck was divided into Upper and Lower Penns Neck.  The Township was incorporated in 1798 as one of New Jersey’s original group of townships.  In 1965 the Township residents voted to change the name of the township from Lower Penns Neck to Pennsville Township, which includes Deepwater and Pennsville.


Since the founding of the Fenwick Colony, our neighbor, Salem, was designed to be a city with areas for commerce growth.  It was also designated as a Port of Entry in 1682.   Other areas in Salem County experienced growth through industry, but Pennsville remained a farming and fishing community.  Since the shortest distance across the river to Delaware was at Pennsville, we were a hub for colonial ferrys and connecting stage coaches.  Steam ferrys would stop here, too, for wood and coal on their way to Philadelphia from Salem.


Local riverfront resort hotels, The Silver Grove Hotel and the River View Hotel, started bringing people to town in the 1880s. They were both located at the end of Main Street and Pittsfield Street in Pennsville Proper.  There was also a resort community of Fenton’s Beach at Deep Water Point in 1908.  The DuPont Dye Works ushered in industry to the community in 1916 and the Deepwater Generating Station in 1929.