How did Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania get it’s name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.
Is in the extreme southern corner of Bucks County. It is irregularly shaped, and on the map, as though to remind one of its Dutch pioneers, closely resembles in outline one of the renowned Governor Wouter van Twiller’s boots. Northwest it is bounded by Lower Southampton Township, northeast by Lower Southampton and Neshaminy Creek, separating it from Middletown and Bristol Townships, southeast by Delaware River and southwest by Poquessing Creek, the dividing line between it and Philadelphia. Bensalem was likely a distinct area as early as 1682, as it so figured on the Holme Map, but it did not then have a name. The Holme Map more or less definitely outlines Bensalem, Southampton, Warminster, Northampton (partly), Bristol, Falls, Makefield, Newtown and Wrightstown, without naming any of them, although some of them already had names. At a session of the Provincial Council in Philadelphia “ye ist 2d mo., 1685.” the boundary line between Bucks and Philadelphia Counties was fixed “to begin at Poaquesson Creek, and soe to take in the Easterly side thereof, togather with ye Town Ships of Southampton and Warminster, and thence backwards.” If Bensalem had a name at that time it seems strange that it does not appear in the same minute that mentions Southampton and Warminster. By virtue of a later order of the Provincial Council, empowering magistrates and grand juries to subdivide counties, the Court of Bucks County at September Session, 1692, appointed thirteen men as a jury to perform that duty for Bucks. This step seems to have been taken mainly to define boundaries and give legal status to divisions already created and perhaps named. The portion of the jury’s report relating to Bensalem, submitted in December, same year (1692), says: “All the lands between Neshamineh and Poquessin, and so to the upper side of Joseph Growden’s land in one and to be called ‘Salem.’ ” Thus Salem appears as the first name of the township. Joseph Growden, whose land is mentioned in this report, was a prominent figure in Provincial times. He came to America from the county of Cornwall, England, soon after the first arrival of William Penn, from whom he had received a conditional grant of to,000 acres of land. He located in Bensalem, some authorities say in 1683, and he may have built his mansion, “Trevose,” as early as 1685. Here he lived in regal style as befitted a man of his great wealth. But he had much trouble over land matters. His grant called for 10,000 acres, but his actual holdings seem to have been only about 5,000, located mainly in the upper half of the township. Although the lower part had been largely settled by immigrants, Growden on November 19, 170t, presented before the Board of Property of the Province, sitting at Philadelphia, a manorial claim for practically the whole township. The Board’s minute of this proceeding is important enough to quote verbatim:
“The Prop’ry having at his Departure, granted to Joseph Growdon that his lands between Potquessin and Neshamineh should be created into a Manor, and as an order for the same left in his Directions to the Secr’y the following words in his own hand; (That Joseph Growdon have a Manor as a mean Lord for his Io,000 Acres, if he had his Father’s orders, but else for 5,000 only), the s’d Joseph Requests that for the greater Convenience of the s’d Manor it may be enclosed by the Natural bounds, Neshamineh, Delaware and Potquessin, and the eastern line of Southampton Township, including all the lands Contained within the s’d bounds, as well as those belonging to other persons as those laid out to or purchas’d by himself, All the Quitrents of which he would either buy of the Prop’ry or lay them on such Lands as he holds himself and so become Answerable for the whole, and in Order thereunto he requests a Re-survey on the said Lands being those that follow, Viz: The Land laid out to himself and Father for 5,000 Acres or thereabouts, his Tract at Bensalem on the River laid out for goo Acres (as he says) in right of the same Purchase with 250 adjoyning bought of John Test, A Tract purchased of Tho. Fairman for 600 Acres, A Tract he purchased of John Bowen for 250 Acres, upon old Rent, a Tract of 952 acres, late of Jno. Tatham, on old rent, A Tract of Sam’l Allen’s, a Tract of 80 Acres sold by Tho. Fairman to Michael Frederickson, A Tract of 250 Acres, late of Nathan’l Harding, a Tract of Dunck Will’m’s of about 250 A’s, a Tract of boo Acres laid out to Nathaniel Allen, A Tract of 400 A’s late of Walter Forrest, a tract of 100 Acres of Jno. Gilbert’s, Containing in all by his Estimation, about 12 or 13,000 Acres, the greatest part of which he has some kind of Claim to.Pa. Arch., Sec. Ser., XIX, pp. 250, 251.
“Which Request being taken into Consideration, ’tis doubted whether the same will not overstrain the Prop’r’s Directions and is to be deferred to be further thought of or referred to the Prop’ry that his mind may be better known therein, In the meantime ’tis thought fitt that a resurvey be granted on all the s’d Lands as Requested.”
Of course, Penn did not sanction Growden’s claim. It will be noticed that the word “Bensalem” occurs in this minute, which indicates the township or a part of it must have been so known before 1701. The derivation of the name has long been the subject of controversy. In his History of Bucks County, 1 General Davis attempts to refute the claim that it is a compound of two Hebrew words, Ben and Salem. He suggests that it may be a union of the Gaelic Ben with the Hebrew Salem to form a new word, meaning “hill of peace” or “peaceful mount.” Disputing this interpretation, a correspondent in the Doylestown, Pa., Daily Democrat, February 13, 1911, asserts that Bensalem is a Hebrew word, signifying “son of peace,” and is pronounced Ben-scho-lem. In a manuscript in the Library of The Bucks County Historical Society Warren S. Ely notes that “Robert Coope, a native of Manchester, England,” says the name Bensalem occurs in Francis Bacon’s philosophical romance, “The New Atlantis”; “he (Coope) says the prefix Ben is common in Cornwall.” Joseph E. Sandford, Brooklyn, N. Y., writes under date of April 27, 1940: “Ben is Scotch, also Hebrew; Salem, definitely Hebrew; Beni-Salem-Sons of Peace, and there seems to be no good reason not to make it singular, BEN-SALEM, Son of Peace. This may have been a graceful compliment on the part of the Growdens to the Peaceful William Penn.” While the derivation of the word remains uncertain, there is no doubt whatever about Joseph Growden’s having, doubtless with Penn’s approval, named his great estate Manor of Bensalem about the same time he chose the good old Cornwall name Trevose for his manor house. Naturally, therefore, the township took its name from the Manor of Bensalem. Like all territory along the river, Bensalem was peopled by nationalities in the order in which they arrived from Europe on the Delaware, first by a very few Dutch and Swedes, then by a much larger influx of English, and very soon by another small wave of Dutch settlers, who became a permanent part of the settlement. “Van” later disappeared from Dutch names or was merged with the surnames, a few of the surnames becoming in the course of anglicizing almost unrecognizable when compared with the originals. Among these were Van Zandt, Van der Grift, Van Kirk, Van der Woestyne, Van Sickel, Van Artsdalen, Van Osten and others. In the Library of The Bucks County Historical Society is a draft of Bensalem, 28 by 15 in., of unknown date, drawn upon a piece of old parchment used in 1774 for a deed. The lettering on the deed was erased to provide a dean surface for the draft. The entire township is figured except a small angle in the northwest corner adjoining Southampton Township and Philadelphia County. Early landowners along Poquessing Creek, Delaware River and Neshaminy Creek are shown, but much of the interior is not divided into small holdings. Plotting of the land in the point formed by the river and Poquessing Creek is peculiar. The Red Lion Inn is shown on a tract of about 75 acres. Unnamed plots are then shown for about four-fifths of a mile up the river. Then follow five plots laid out in straight lines from the river to the Poguessing, each of io6 acres, marked with the names of Jacob Groesback, Johanas Vandegrift, Barn” Vankirk, Leon” Vandegrift and Fredk Vandegrift, and northeast of the Frederick Vandegrift tract is another, of 214 acres, marked Nicholas Vandegrift. Leonard’s plot bears the date “1 of 5 mo 1697” and is the only dated tract. 2 The old Vandegrift graveyard of a half acre above Andalusia College is a part of the Nicholas Vandegrift tract. The map shows the Bristol Turnpike, which is marked “Post Road.” Running from this road are the old Hulmeville and Newportville Roads, neither of which is named. A road from Trevose to Poquessing Creek is marked “Trevose Road to Philadelphia.” No towns or villages are shown, though the site of Hulmeville is marked “Mill,” and small groups of houses are shown at Hulmeville, Newportville and Bridgewater on Neshaminy Creek. Mitchell’s Mill, on the Middletown side of the bend in Neshaminy Creek near Oakford, is figured and named. Buildings are figured at Trevose and on about fifteen other tracts.
The southern half of Bensalem is level. Proceeding northward the land rises into a low ridge, which was chosen by the Growdens for their home. Here they and the Galloways lived for generations. In the center of their manor was a large forest called Richelieu, which remained intact in its primitive beauty until about 1800, when a portion was cleared, cut up into lots and sold at $40 to $133 an acre. As late as 1830 the Galloway descendants held some fine farms and woodlands, part of the original manor. The venerable Neshaminy and Bensalem Church, founded 17 to, is an interesting historical spot. During the past hundred years the township’s development has been marvelous. It is now a prosperous and perhaps the most thickly settled township in the county. It has no boroughs, but the population is increasing fast and building operations have proceeded so rapidly that named townsteads encroach upon one another in a confusing way to a compiler of a history of place names.
Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.Footnotes:
- Chapter on Bensalem, Vol. I, pp. 106, 107. (Hereafter in this volume’s footnotes General Davis’ History of Bucks County, Second Edition, 3 Vols., 1905, will be quoted simply as “Davis,” with proper volume and page).
- Davis, Vol. 1, p. I to, says: “In 1697 four brothers Vandegrift, Nicholas, Leonard, Johannes and Frederick, came to Bucks County and settled in Bensalem. The first of July they purchased of Joseph Growden respectively 214, 130, 106 and to6 acres of land lying on the Neshaminy.” This statement contains errors. The Vandegrift immigrants owned no land on Neshaminy Creek. They did own much of the southeastern point of the township between Eddington and Red Lion Inn.