In 1735, there was a family of settlers who lived in what would become the Pine Barrens known as the Leeds family. While Mother Leeds took care of her 12 children, her husband was a drunkard who provided little. When she learned that she was pregnant with a 13th child, she declared \”Let this one be a devil!\”
When the delivery finally came, it happened in the Leeds home surrounded by midwives and her family. When the child was born, it wailed until it transformed into a hideous form. When it turned into a monster, it killed everyone in the home. It then flew up the chimney and escaped into the wilderness.
What Did It Look Like?
- Body of a Kangaroo
- Head of a Dog
- Face of a Horse
- Antlers of a Deer
- Large Wings, Forked Tail, and Claws
It has been speculated by Brian Regal, a historian of science from Kean University, that the Jersey Devil arose due to the contextualization of southern New Jersey during the Quaker settlement in the late 1600s.
Though Regal gets much deeper and speculates further that there is no one individual who provided inspiration behind the Jersey Devil myth. It may have been the result of the reality that any slight deviation from Quaker theology was seen as pagan. This was the case in the historical context of the Quakers living in southern New Jersey around the same time the Jersey Devil was born–not just the creature itself, of course. There was a Quaker named Daniel Leeds who was excommunicated by his congregation after it turned out that he had a copy of an astrological almanac. Though he was not concerned with witchcraft, rather uncovering the nature of God.
After Daniel passed away, he bequeathed his almanac publication company to his son Titan Leeds. He would replace the masthead with the wyverns from the Leeds family crest that would become the image closely associated with the Jersey Devil. They were depicted as having bodies of dragons, wings of bats, and clawed feet.
But as soon as Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard\’s Almanac in 1732, Leeds would find himself in competition with him. While Franklin took the conflict to be a humorous game, Leeds would consider every remark made by Franklin to be a grievous slight.
What ultimately led to the creation of the Jersey Devil was Franklin remarking that Leeds had become a ghost of his family. In years to come, people started associating the strange scandal of the Leeds family with the Pine Barrens, the Leeds family crest, and the insult put upon Leeds.
This would actually lead to the birth of the Jersey Devil.
In the years since the legend of the Jersey Devil first started spreading in the 18th century, there had been numerous supposed sightings of this creature. The witnesses speculated that the footprints and slaughter of domesticated animals were the result of the Jersey Devil.
There had been films made about the Jersey Devil, such as The 13th Child (2002), starring Cliff Robertson and Lesley-Anne Down.
The creature also developed into a symbol of strength, with the example being the New Jersey hockey team who used the Jersey Devil as its name and mascot.
But regardless of how the Jersey Devil is portrayed, the Pine Barrens is the place where it resides. It is just waiting for any traveler who dares to cross and kayak the swamps of the Pine Barrens.
- Middlesex County NJ Government. “Uncommon History – The Jersey Devil.” YouTube. 2016.
- Regal, Brian and Frank J. Esposito (2018). The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster. Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Regal, Brian. “The Jersey Devil: The Real Story.” Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 37, No. 6. 2013.
- Sceurman, Mark and Mark Moran. “Weird N.J.” Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 2005.