The story begins with a woman name Jane Leeds and great mother Leeds had already given birth to twelve children, but upon finding that she was pregnant for a thirteenth she cursed the child. She called it the devil and wished it would be taken by the devil. Upon the night this child was born it stormed, and it introduced the world to the Leeds Devil.
The legend described the birth as violent, with the baby ripping from her and flying around the room before escaping out of a door/open window. An alternative version says the baby beat everyone in the room with its tail before escaping up the chimney and out into the world. Another version says that Leeds was the mother, but the devil himself was the father. Both versions I’m aware of describe a priest going into the Pine Barrens to perform an exorcism. There are two versions of the story that I can tell, but there are many subs-versions that combined the details of two separate tellings mixing them around and telling alternative versions.
Upon deeper research for this post, I discovered a third story version that says that Leeds was punished by a higher power for having a child out of wedlock with a British soldier, an enemy of the country during the Revolutionary War.
Some folklorists had identified mother Leeds as Deborah Leeds, on grounds that Deborah Leeds’ husband, Japhet Leeds, named twelve children in the will he wrote during 1736, which is compatible with the legend. Deborah and Japhet Leeds also lived in the Leeds Point section of what is now Atlantic County, New Jersey, which is commonly the location of the Jersey Devil story. One theory says that the story of Mother Leeds, rather than being based on a single historical person, originated from colonial southern New Jersey religion-political disputes that became the subject of folklore and gossip among the local population.
According to the theorist, folk legends concerning these historical disputes evolved through the years and ultimately resulted in the modern popular legend of the Jersey Devil during the early 20th century. It contends that “colonial-era political intrigue” involving early New Jersey politicians, Benjamin Franklin, and Franklin’s rival almanac publisher Daniel Leeds resulted in the Leeds family being described as “monsters”, and it was Daniel Leeds’ negative description as the “Leeds Devil”, rather than any actual creature, that created the later legend of the Jersey Devil.
It’s an interesting and more rooted of the story, but the eyewitness accounts are not of a Daniel Leeds and him being a monster and of something very different.
The Jersey Devil is often described as a flying biped with hooves, but there are many variations. The common description is that of a bipedal kangaroo-like or wyvern-like creature with a horse- or goat-like head, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, legs with cloven hooves, and a forked tail. It has been reported to move quickly and is often described as emitting a high-pitched blood-curdling scream.
With many legends dealing with crypto zoological creatures, there have been many hoaxes with people faking ‘hoof prints’ and claiming to find them in the area The Jersey Devil calls home. There seems to be details even pointing to an actual manhunt for the creature by President James Monroe in which the claim that the devil was in fact found and killed by a man named Commodore Stephen Decatur, but there’s no hard evidence that I can find that proves this manhunt even happened. For me, this story of the devil being found and killed seems to be just a story to calm the nerves of locals or even as a bragging-rights type of tale.
With, all the information that is out there about The Jersey Devil, I recommend you doing your own research as I have purposely left much out to shorten the post. It’s a interesting story with historical ties.
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