The History of Bensalem: Part I (1670 - 1770)
The first part in an examination of Bensalem Township's colorful history.
Author's note: I started this quest of uncovering Bensalem's history in the first place that most would start: the internet. I feel as though I can get a wider variety of information from the internet, as well as immediate access to pictures and videos. However, I will also be consulting the Historical Society and updating what may turn out to be incorrect dates or names as well as filling in the gaps of history as time goes on. But, without further ado, I present to you the first part in this look back at Bensalem Township.
The Founding of Bensalem Township
"The organization of townships, with an account of the pioneers that settled them, and thus transformed the native forest into productive farms, opened roads and built houses, with a sketch of their gradual expansion and growth in the elements of civilization, are the most interest portion of a county's history."
- William Watts Hart Davis, 1876
While our official township seal states that the town was founded in 1692, Bensalem as a location was far from untouched in the 1690s. As far back as 1670, the land was surveyed for residency on orders of the governor. Governor Lovelace had the land cleared in 1672 in response to the large amount of settlers that had been steadily moving into the area.
It would be impossible to discuss the founding years of Bensalem without mentioning an extremely important person: Joseph Growden. Growden was one of the original land owners and his legacy exists to this day. According to historian William Watts Hart Davis, in his work The History of Bucks County: From the Discovery of the Delaware to the Present Time (1876):
Soon after his arrival he built himself a beautiful residence on the northern part of his manor in Bensalem, near the Neshaminy, opposite Hulmeville, which he named Trevose, after his homestead, in England.
It is incredibly interesting to recognize such names and knowing that they've been around since at least the 1870s, and perhaps during the time of Growden himself. One of the original cartographers of the day was a man named Thomas Holme, which could explain the uniquely-named Hulmeville. Growden chose a very specific location for his manor, which still stands today. But unlike today's manor, the land surrounding Growden mansion was full of apple trees in what was, at the time, a famous orchard.
Later, more English colonists would immigrant into the township and influence it. Among these families were the Galloways, which you may recognize from Galloway Road. Joseph Galloway, a future resident at Growden Manor, played a colorful role in the Revolutionary War, and I'll cover that in a later installment. For now, let's shift our focus back to the early founding of the township.
In 1681, William Biddle settled into Bensalem and his descendent Nicholas Biddle would go on to build a mansion named Andalusia, subsequently naming the land surrounding the mansion as well which carries on to this very day. The same situation applies to an area of town that used to be known as “Dunk's Ferry,” named so by its founder Duncan Williamson, a very early settler of Bensalem. It remains a single street known as Dunksferry Road.
In 1692, it was decided that Bensalem should officially become a township. As mentioned in a previous article, there is a great deal of controversy as to where the name "Bensalem" actually comes from. It is generally agreed, however, that the town was originally named "Salem" and later acquired the "Ben-" prefix. One popular theory states that the town was simply named Salem and when Growden named Growden Mansion the “Manor of Bensalem,” the land around the manor began to be associated with the name, similar to what we've seen with Andalusia.
It is important to note that religion, at this point in time, was still incredibly important to the founding families. A large amount of the people that originally settled in Bensalem belonged to the Society of Friends, a group more commonly known as the Quakers. Historian J.H. Battle writes that there is no surprise that such strong-minded individuals would create a township of such lasting permanency.
But Bensalem was not the first township to be incorporated; rather, it was the fourth in a series that began with Falls, Bristol and Makefield and ended with Bensalem and Middletown townships. All of this occurred in the 1692 and marked a rapid change from a heavily-forested area to an agricultural hotspot.
The Pre-Revolutionary War Era
From 1692 onward, the town remained primarily a farmer community with wealthy landowners. There was slave labor and an account can be read in Davis' work. In the years preceding the Revolutionary War, many famous individuals came to reside, whether permanently or temporarily, in Bensalem Township.
One of the most biggest stars of the 1700s who appeared to have a fondness for Bensalem was none other than Benjamin Franklin. While it may or may not be true that Ben Franklin actually did perform his experiment with electricity, if he did fly his kite, he did it in Bensalem. Some say he never left. But Franklin was well acquainted with the Growdens, who were quite a powerful and influential family at the time. And the Growdens' influence continued well into the Revolutionary War, but that will have to be discussed at a later date.
To learn about how Bensalem was involved with the American War for Independence, be sure to check out Part II, which should be coming shortly.