When a centuries old oak tree located at the Salem (Quaker) meetinghouse fell in 2019, the local Quaker community along with other South Jersey natives mourned its loss. The significance of the mighty oak dates back to the late 1600s when John Fenwick, credited as founder of Salem, New Jersey, settled in Salem in 1675. According to legend, the Lenni Lenape people living on the land signed a peace treaty with Fenwick while seeking shade and comfort under the tree. The Salem Quaker meetinghouse held a traditional Quaker memorial service to commemorate the life and legacy of the historic “Treaty Tree”.
The Salem Oak was beloved and cared for by the Quaker community and Salem residents. Recognized as a Millennial Landmark Tree, the Salem Oak was named amongst the top 50 trees in the country with historical significance. Although the beautiful tree no longer towers at over 103 feet tall with a 22-foot circumference shading all who would seek shelter under her leafy crown, her legacy lives on. Private backyards, Delaware Valley cemeteries and parks across the country now cradle the growing descendants of the ancient oak.
A year before the tree fell, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), who has followed the story of the beloved oak, partnered with the Salem Quaker community to gather over 700 of the Oak’s acorns and distribute them to every municipality, state-wide. 75 meeting houses received saplings from the Salem Oak tree, many of which have already been replanted throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including:
- Arch Street Meeting House
- London Grove Meetinghouse
- Newtown Meetinghouse
- Burlington Meetinghouse
- Friends School Mullica Hill
Jim Waddington, Clerk of the PYM Administrative Council and lifelong member of the Salem Quaker Meeting, recalls vivid memories of prayer and play around the historic Salem Oak.
“I remember the first day of school and taking the class down to the tree and having kids stand around the tree holding hands because it was so large anyone around the tree seemed to be so impressed by how big it was,” says Waddington. “The Oak Tree was always central to our community. Not only were the oak’s acorns distributed, but our meetinghouse also wanted to avoid financial gain out of the tree, and instead hosted a giveaway day providing wood to those in need,” he continued.
Students at Friends at Mullica Hill School during Salem Oak replanting ceremony. In April 2022, as part of their celebration of Earth Day, Friends School Mullica Hill held a replanting commemoration and educational ceremony for their school community to learn the historical significance of the Salem Oak and why it is important to take care of planet earth and keep promises. The replanting event, planned in conjunction with Earth Day 2022, presented a memorable opportunity to draw an analogy between children growing strong roots in their communities and going on to thrive in society.
“There’s no other place in Mullica Hill more appropriate for the tree to be planted than either at the meetinghouse next door or here on our school campus,” says Matthew Bradley, Head of School at Friends School Mullica Hill and member of West Chester Meeting. “For me, the planting of the Salem Oak sapling on our campus is truly a symbolic connection to both our rich historical past and continued social responsibility to be good stewards of the resources that have been entrusted to us, to ensure they are here for future generations to enjoy and experience.”
Fast forward to present day, where the saplings under the care of the Quaker community are sprouting up all over the Delaware Valley. Stewardship is a key Quaker testimony and stewards of the mighty Salem Oak are now passing on the torch of stewardship, birthing the next generation of socially responsible stewards and conservationists. Friends will continue to follow the journey of the Salem 75. Who knows, maybe 600 years from now, there will be a new ancient oak with a fascinating story to tell.