With Halloween right around the corner, it’s the perfect time of year to swap tales about the Jersey Devil in hushed whispers beside an open fire. But first, let’s take a look at the history of this legendary creature.
In 1735, Mother Leeds, an alleged witch from Leeds Point, New Jersey, gave birth to a deformed child. The Atlantic Monthly, in the first written record of the Jersey Devil, described the offspring as “a son whose father could have been no other than the Prince of Darkness.” The creature was part bat, part horse, and utterly terrifying in appearance. Mother Leeds was appalled by her baby and refused to care for it. Instead, she cast the child out into the wilderness.
At least, that’s one version of the legend of the Jersey Devil. Another account attests that Mrs. Leeds was to blame for the baby’s deformity. As she gave birth to her 13th child, she screamed, “I hope this time it’s a devil!” In this version, instead of being cast into the woods by his mother, the little devil took flight and escaped into the wilderness on its own.
Another version is even more grim. Some storytellers weave a tale about how the child remained with the Leeds family until the age of four. At that point, it killed its parents and took off for the forest. The only thing that remains the same throughout all of these retellings is the ending: the Jersey Devil has been haunting the forest since its birth.
In 1909, more than 1,000 people from New Jersey and surrounding states claimed to have seen the winged abomination. Since then, reported sightings have been sporadic, and most of them have occurred in remote areas of the Pinelands. Weird NJ Vol. 2 records a legend that places the Jersey Devil even closer to home for Burlington County residents. The creature is supposedly sealed inside a stone altar in the Mount Holly Cemetery. Maybe that’s why the sightings have died down since 1909?
Or, maybe there is no such creature. In The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster, authors Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito write that the Jersey Devil myth was born out of political and religious rivalries in the colonial times.
It’s almost Halloween! What do you think?