Before 1700, most of the settlers in Salem, Cumberland, and Cape May counties worshipped as Quakers, Baptists or Presbyterians. By 1775, the South Jersey area was dominated more or less equitably by congregations of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Friends, in addition to a small number of Methodists and Lutherans. By 1860 Methodism abounded, followed by smaller numbers of Baptists, Presbyterians, and Friends; and by 1890, Methodists far outnumbered all other sects.  This pattern of religious development is reflected in the extant churches. The religious buildings here fall into three groups: Quaker meeting houses, gable-front Greek Revival forms with and without gable-end spires, and irregular-plan Victorian compositions with towers and wings. The oldest structures in the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail area reflect the first two; most rural examples are frame, while the Quaker and urban structures are typically brick.
The Quakers appear to have been the most influential in the seventeenth century along the shores of the Delaware River, where they are attributed with founding Salem, Penns Neck, and Greenwich. Eventually some, like Richard Hancock, left the waterside environs for interior towns that were more typically settled by Baptists or Presbyterians.
The first Quaker meetings were held in the house of Samuel Nicholson near Salem. In 1681, he deeded a sixteen-acre town lot to the Friends as the site of their first meeting housebeneath an oak tree where John Fenwick is popularly believed to have signed the treaty with the Indians; the Friends also established a cemetery here. In the 1820s a division occurred within the Quaker church. The Hicksites, who followed the teachings of Elias Hicks, broke from the Orthodox church and built themselves new meeting houses, in most cases. In Salem, however, the Hicksites outnumbered the Orthodox Quakers and thus were able to keep the original church. The Salem Orthodox Quakers, as a result, were forced to build a new church on West Broadway in 1837. Before the church was completed they met in a schoolhouse on Walnut Street. Between 1679 and 1725, other meeting houses were built in Elsinboro, Alloways Creek, Greenwich (Fig. 107), Hancock's Bridge, and Woodstown. 
Many of the Quakers who settled in today's Salem and Cumberland counties arrived with Fenwick; the Quakers who helped found Cape May, however, came from New England. They erected their first meeting house in Seaville (outside the study area) and a second in Town Bank, in 1717, on property donated by John Townsend.  Within the NJCHT there are four active Quaker meeting houses, most of which are located west of the Cohansey River in Salem County. These brick, gable-roof structures, erected and added to throughout the eighteenth century, reflect a purity of architecture and Quaker tenets alike. The meeting houses are largely identical, even those built into the next century, because:
Associated with many meeting houses are Friends cemeteries, noteworthy because until the late eighteenth century Quakers believed gravestones should be proper and simpleor without markings. Two exemplary sites are near the Greenwich and Salem meeting houses, where they are surrounded by stone walls. The Greenwich cemetery has no markers, but Salem's does because it contains late eighteenth-century burials; thus, part of the latter cemetery mistakenly appears vacant.
The Friends' beliefs were not only reflected in the purity of their architecture; it extended to their attitude toward social conventions, especially slavery. In 1696 they opposed the importation of slaves, and by 1776 barred membership to slaveholders. Quaker protests helped subdue the laws against blacks. In 1768 special courts that dealt with blacks were abolished; in 1769 a special tax was levied on each slave imported into New Jersey; and in 1778 special laws aimed at crimes committed by blacks were abolished. By 1794, South Jersey had three antislavery societies, at Trenton, Burlington, and Salem. 
In addition to being ardent abolitionists, the Quakers also abetted runaway slaves. New Jersey was the first free state en route north from Virginia and the Delaware-Maryland peninsula, and as early as 1786 South Jersey was known for its efforts. By 1810 it offered a network of many safe, secret shelters to guide the fugitives northward along what would become known as the Underground Railroad. Many slaves came from the Chesapeake Bay region and Delaware via three principal routes: the Delaware River from Camden to Burlington, then through Bordentown, Princeton, and New Brunswick; from Salem through Woodbury and Mount Laurel, then joining with the first route at Bordentown; and by way of Greenwich to Swedesboro to Mount Holly, to meet with the Burlington route. South Jersey's Underground Railroad, with Quaker support, is estimated to have aided approximately 50,000 slaves escape to freedom. Harriet Tubman frequently used it in her efforts, and she supposedly worked in Cape May to raise money to support her expeditions. 
Some historic Quaker-built homes in Salem County may contain an alleged "secret room" once used to hide runaway slavesa difficult claim to prove because of the intentional lack of evidence. One such site is the Abbott Tide-Mill Farm outside Salem. The 1845 Federal-style mansion features an old, underground cistern accessed by a crude trap door that had long been hidden beneath contemporary cabinetry. The Abbotts, a Quaker family, support the oral history tradition of this "room's" use through abundant written documentationfamily papers, maps, and other recordsthough additional research is required to ascertain whether or not there is evidence for the claim.
The Quakers, however, were not the only religious group to express radical social beliefs. As early as 1675, the first Baptists arrived in Cape May County, including George Taylor and Phillip Hill. The first congregation was formed in 1712, with meetings held in private homes for three years, until a church was built on Leaming Plantation near Rio Grande. 
The first Baptist church was established in Salem County in 1683 by David Sheppard, Thomas Abbott, William Button, Obadiah Holmes, and John Cornelius. Thomas Killingsworth served as the first preacher, as well as an early judge in Salem County. In 1690 these men built a frame Cohansey Baptist Church; a second building was erected in 1741, and in 1801 the congregation moved to Roadstown where the present Cohansey Baptist Church (Fig. 108) was erected.
Three years before the original Cohansey Baptist was constructed, the congregation split. Reverend Timothy Brooks led the new group to Bowentown, outside Bridgeton, where they built what would emerge as the Seventh Day Baptist Church. Unlike Killingsworth's followers, the Seventh Day Baptists believed the Sabbath should be observed on Saturday instead of Sunday. In 1710, the Bowentown congregation united with other Seventh Day Baptists and built a new church on land given to them by Robert Ayars. Ayars' land and the church later became part of the town of Shiloh. 
Roger Maul gave land for a new church to Baptists in the Back Neck area, near New England Town, in 1713; during the next three decades, more Baptist churches were organized in the area. In 1790 the Baptists of Mill Hollow and Salem united to erect the First Baptist Church in that city. Robert Kelsey, minister of Cohansey Baptist Church in Cumberland County, also preached at the courthouse in Bridgeton. His successor, Henry Smalley, continued this practice into the nineteenth century. Services were held there until 1816, when construction began on the First Baptist Church. In 1853, the congregation moved downtown and the Pearl Street Baptist Church replaced it. 
The Shiloh Baptist Church, in keeping with the straightforward tenets of that faith, is reserved and well proportioned, with an unadorned frontal pediment and wide, plain cornice. Tall, narrow sash flank the central door, which boasts a prominent surround (though the doors themselves are contemporary glass). Plain brick pilasterssingle on the front, paired on the sidespunctuate the tall, paired fenestration.
Baptists arrived to the southern part of Cumberland County from Cape May and the Cohansey River area in the mid eighteenth century. One of the first Baptist churches in the area was erected in Dividing Creek in 1751. It served the Newport and Port Norris region, as well. In 1821 a second building (erected 1771) was destroyed by fire. A new church was built and dedicated in 1823. In 1855 the church allowed fifty-one members to form their own church in Newport. A year later the Port Norris members were given permission to start their own church. The dismissals of the Newport and Port Norris members did not eliminate the problem of overcrowding and in 1860 the Dividing Creek church was enlarged. 
Cedarville was also the location of an early Baptist church. Baptists lived in the Fairfield Township area near Cedarville but did not organize until 1836. Although Nathan Lawrence, a prominent Cedarville resident and Baptist, left a plot of land to the church upon his death at mid century, no building was erected at the time. The first Cedarville Baptist Church was built, instead, on land owned by Butler Newcomb, a deacon of the Dividing Creek Baptist Church. Upon Newcomb's death the church was willed the money with which to purchase land and building. In 1836 the church was moved to a more central spot on Main Street where it still exists. 
The Presbyterians were the third religious group to establish a church in Fenwick's Colony in the seventeenth century. Like the Baptists, the Presbyterians came from New York and New England, and settled on both shores of the Cohansey River in 1680-85.  Due to this settlement pattern, some resided in Greenwich on the west bank, others lived in Fairton on the eastern shore. A church was organized in Fairton in 1695, and for ten yearsuntil a church was built in Greenwichthe Greenwich residents ferried across the river to attend services. 
A century later, Greenwich native Philip Vickers Fithian officiated at services at his town's Presbyterian church and those of surrounding areas. Fithian graduated from Princeton University in 1772, after which he spent a year in the seminary, then another year serving as a tutor at Robert Carter's Nomini Hall in Virginia. In 1774, when he returned to New Jersey, Fithian was licensed to preach by the Philadelphia Presbytery. He worked in the Greenwich area and participated in the burning of the tea on the town square. In May 1775 he began a tour as chaplain with the revolutionary forces, but the next year he died of dysentery in a camp outside New York City. Fithian is best known for his journals, which depict eighteenth-century life in New Jersey and Virginia. 
The Old Stone Church/Fairton Presbyterian Church (1780, Fig. 120) reflects the influence of Quaker building traditions on the New England Presbyterians; the appearance and basic configuration is like a meeting house, but highlighted by Georgian ideals of proportion and decoration. It also bodes of the boxy, Greek Revival form that would became popular almost a century later, with its two stories and rectangular plan with three bays on each side, topped with a slate-covered gable roof. Church and cemetery are surrounded by a later, elaborate Victorian-era cast-iron fence. 
The first Presbyterian Church built in Salem proper was in place in 1821 thanks to Robert Gibbon Johnson and other Presbyterians, after they were denied permission to share the Episcopalian church.  The First Presbyterian Church (Fig. 109) in Salem is one of the most exuberant in the region. It was designed by Philadelphia architect John McArthur Jr. (1823-90), who served as chief architect of Philadelphia City Hall in 1869, as well as the designer of numerous residences, churches, and commercial buildings.  The main facade features a series of recessed walls and borders. The verticality of the building is enhanced by its tall, round arched windows, decorative blind arcading, and dramatic 165' spire. It represents eclectic inspiration from several late nineteenth-century movements, especially Romanesque Revival.
Bridgeton did not have a Presbyterian church until 1791, when Quaker Mark Miller donated a lot to the city for the purpose of building one with a burial ground. Broad Street Presbyterian Church, 1792-95, is the oldest of this denomination in the region, and its cemetery contains the graves of Cumberland County men who died in the Civil War.  Located in an elevated urban setting also accompanied by a spacious, tree-filled burial ground, the area serves a parklike function.
In Cape May County, the Presbyterians were organized in 1714 at Cold Spring. Similarly, services were held in private homes until 1718 when the congregation erected a small log cabin church. The adjacent cemetery, along with the original cemetery at Stone Presbyterian in Fairfield Township, contain some of the oldest grave markers in the area; many at Cold Spring commemorate men who lost their lives at sea.  The present Cold Spring Presbyterian Church (1823, Fig. 110) is two-story, brick gable front with little ornamentation. One of the most interesting features of this site is the ironwork found in the adjacent cemetery, which contains the plots of noteworthy local citizens whose prosperity is reflected in the accoutrements of the iron fencingespecially faces, figures, and urns (Fig. 111).