Exploring The Lore Of The Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil was a landmark in front of Lucille’s Luncheonette-Country Cooking. (Photo courtesy Stafford Police)

PINE BARRENS – The recent theft of a prized Jersey Devil statue from an Ocean County restaurant has reignited a wave of interest in the history of the legendary creature.

Accounts of sightings of the “real” Jersey Devil have persisted for well over two centuries. The allure of capturing the elusive creature has even led to rewards being offered, and at one point, claims that it was caught and on public display.

According to popular folklore regarding the Jersey Devil, the story begins with Mother Leeds, a woman who lived in a part of Galloway outside Smithville. She became quite upset after she learned she was pregnant for the thirteenth time. On a stormy night in 1735, Mother Leeds was surrounded by her concerned friends as she entered labor.

Popular folklore points to the end of this road through the Pine Barrens in Leeds Point. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

During a 2014 presentation given to the Colonel Richard Somers Chapter, New Jersey Society, Sons of the American Revolution, Kean University professor Dr. Brian Regal provided more of the details associated with the legend.

“It was a difficult birth, and she screamed out, ‘Let this one be the devil,’” said Regal. “Rather than a normal baby coming out, a kind of horse-like thing with wings came out. It yelps at the astonished family, flies up the chimney, and disappears off into the Pine Barrens.”

“It then spends the next several centuries accosting anyone unfortunate enough to encounter it,” Regal continued.

A visit to Leeds Point confirms that a Leeds family were prominent members of the local area. However, the road leading to their home is now private property. Others have reported that the Leeds house itself burned to the ground in 1952, and only its foundation still exists.

Kenneth Sooy, Sr., who has worked as Galloway’s Town Historian, said his wife is a Leeds, which further prompted his interest in the story of the Jersey Devil. He opined that a child born with deformities may have started the captivating legend.

Photo by Stephanie Faughnan

“The child maybe occasionally got loose and ran through the yards,” said Sooy. “There was no television and no radio. People would just be sitting in the yard at dusk because it would be a hot night…Something goes scurrying through the brush; they might think it’s anything.”

Sooy said he believed the folk tale was actually attributed to Japhet and Deborah Leeds, but only because they had twelve children. However, the dates don’t work out according to Sooy. The couple were also highly regarded in the community, involved in the church, and not participating in witchcraft.

A Historical Perspective

Regal suggested that the legend of Mother Leeds giving birth to the Jersey Devil may have little to do with the Galloway area. His feelings are the story’s roots come from religious-political clashes in colonial Burlington County. These disputes involved early New Jersey politicians, including Benjamin Franklin and Daniel Leeds, a prominent figure of the time who was ostracized by the Quaker community for publishing almanacs containing astrological symbols and writings.

Regal pointed out the picture in the opening pages of his second phase almanac displayed a dragon-like figure that may have led to the beginning of the Jersey Devil’s legendary creation.

Not only did the Quakers order the removal of Leeds’ almanac, but they also demanded that copies of his subsequent work, “The Temple of Wisdom,” be destroyed. Only one copy of the book exists in the United States and is a part of the Pennsylvania Historical Society’s collection.

“Leeds is on the receiving end of the first major political censorship campaign in America,” said Regal. “This just devastates him because he joined the Society of Friends because he felt these people loved him and embraced him and felt the same way he did.”

There have been many renderings of the Jersey Devil over the years. (Photo courtesy Atlantic County)

The disputes between Leeds and the Quaker community intensified. Leeds decided to write anti-Quaker pamphlets, leading to his dismissal and public condemnation by the local South Jersey Quaker community. In retaliation, a Quaker named Caleb Pusey published a book called “Satan’s Harbinger Encountered,” suggesting Leeds penned his works on behalf of the devil.

Leeds’ son Titan ultimately inherited the almanac business, and Ben Franklin went up against Titan when he published his own almanac, calling it Poor Richard’s.

According to Regal’s research, Franklin decided to fight his competition by saying Poor Richard had consulted the stars and predicted Titan’s death.

Titan Leeds allegedly became very insulted and accused Franklin of being a fool and a liar. Franklin’s response may have also contributed to the origin of the Leeds Devil and, subsequently that of the Jersey Devil. The two may have been related but not necessarily the same.

In reply to the accusations, Franklin called Titan his friend, and said that he would never say horrible things about him. Regal called the ruse essentially a “smear campaign.”

“This must be the ghost of Titan Leeds,” Franklin reportedly said. “If you see Titan Leeds, that must mean that the ghost of Titan Leeds has come back to life as a sorcerer.”

In the winter of around 1905, Regal said peculiar footprints appeared in the snow scattered across the Pine Barrens, with an intriguing connection made by the locals. These mysterious markings prompted memories of the notorious Leeds Devil and marked the inception of what would become the compelling tale of the Jersey Devil.

Regal explained that the proprietors of a Philadelphia “dime museum” recognized the public’s intrigue surrounding the elusive creature and sought to capitalize on it. Their ingenious plan involved painting a kangaroo green, affixing wings to it, and promoting it as a part of their freak show. In a bid to enhance the exhibit’s allure, they cleverly chose the name “Jersey Devil,” believing it would generate more interest than the moniker “Leeds Devil.”

There have been many renderings of the Jersey Devil over the years. (Photo courtesy Atlantic County)

Jersey Devil Sightings

Despite historical theories that challenge the existence of a supernatural being like the Jersey Devil, adamant believers persist in their claims of firsthand encounters. The legend of the Jersey Devil has become integral to New Jersey’s identity, with countless sightings and eerie encounters etching themselves into the fabric of local folklore. Many maintain that the elusive creature continues to wander through the vast expanse of the Pine Barrens.

Two years ago, Susan Wolf, a senior citizen from Whiting, firmly believed she came face-to-face with the Jersey Devil. The incident occurred as Wolf returned home after visiting her boyfriend at Deborah Hospital.

“It was ten o’clock in the evening, and I was on Lakehurst Road,” Wolf said. “There was a lot of mist in the air as I neared Whiting’s bogs.”

According to Wolf, she was traveling in the righthand lane when the Jersey Devil came out from some trees on the left. He came within 20 feet of her windshield.

“He looked me in the eye like he knew what eye contact was,” shared Wolf. “He was about 4 or 5 feet tall and was flying with long bat wings that fluctuated very slowly. His nose looked like a moose nose.”

Wolf emphasized that she’s not the type of person to believe in conspiracy theories or anything outside the norm. Although the brief encounter frightened her, Wolf did not report anything to the authorities.

Over the years, others have claimed to have met up with the Jersey Devil and were startled by its piercing screams. Even before the appearance of unusual footprints in 1905, there were tales that Napolean Bonaparte’s brother came in contact with the Jersey Devil on his Bordentown estate.

Weird New Jersey has a collection of Jersey Devil stories, including one related by Sonny D., who said he was at a drive-up in Bayville when an immense figure caught Sonny’s attention, sprinting across Route 9. It resembled the iconic portrayals of the Jersey Devil – a tailless, furless creature with visible ribs and an elongated head with short, flattened ears. Its towering stature almost reached ten feet.

Meanwhile, located just a few miles away from the alleged legendary birthplace of the Jersey Devil, JD’s Pub & Grille proudly pays homage to its namesake.

Photo by Stephanie Faughnan

Staff members interviewed at the establishment were unable to pass on accounts of close encounters with the Jersey Devil, providing no recent sightings or experiences to fuel the legend.

Nevertheless, patrons Jim and Barb Ryan have embraced the local folklore wholeheartedly. Their admiration for the Jersey Devil is evident as they adorned the rooftop of their home’s Tiki Bar with a captivating neon representation of the creature.

As the belief in the Jersey Devil persists, and the fascination continues to grow, the search for answers intensifies. Whether through books, the dedication of paranormal enthusiasts, or the spotlight of television shows, the legend of the Jersey Devil remains firmly embedded in local folklore. An enduring interest in the mystical creature has even led to the formation of dedicated groups determined to search out and uncover the truth behind the myth.

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