A myth like the Jersey Devil has spanned centuries of speculation, investigation, and conversation. The Leeds family, who still roam the earth today, have been subject to conjecture from all types of paranormal, mythical, and historical types. The physical being of the devil, however, is less important than the historical implications it holds.
The legend of the Jersey Devil can be traced back to 1735, in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Mother Leeds, in labor for the 13th time, cursed the child after finding out she was pregnant yet again. When the child was finally born, it transformed into a demonic looking kangaroo with horns, claws, and bright red eyes. It killed Mother Leeds, and various other Leeds then flew off into the Pine Barrens.
The creature has been “sighted” dozens of times all over the southern half of the state. Its story criss-crosses the forest, lines the shore and dots the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. Recorded sightings span back to the early 1900s and the devil has been accused of killing dogs, farm animals and giving drunk campers a scare.
Despite all of the hype, however, it’s easy to debunk the creature’s true origins.
The Leeds family, admitted enemies of the Quakers, were at odds with the local religious authority. The Society of Friends, otherwise known as the Quakers, were not friends of the Leeds after patriarch Daniel Leeds published seemingly Christian occultist literature. He ruminated on the behavior of the planets, astrology, angels, and of course: devils.
The Leeds family crest was a devil. With wings, horns, and claws. After a persistent penchant for angering the friendly Quakers, the Leeds family found themselves branded. The family crest, created by Titan Leeds (the father of the devil himself) sat atop the almanacs and other published works that heated the Quaker community.
It’s an easy connection to make when context is given. The Leeds family, seeking some sort of independance from under the thumb of the Quakers, published souring texts and plastered the Devil’s image to themselves. They became heretics and symbols of ungodliness, and so rumors began. One certain rumor is still prevalent today.
However, the physical being of the devil isn’t important, at least to South Jersey historian and journalist Bill Sprouse.
Sprouse, who is a walking-talking member of the Leeds family, finds the legend of the creature is more important than the creature itself.
“I felt like we didn’t have a history in New Jersey,” he said.
“A story like that gives you a sense of history, and it gives you a sense of place. There’s something distinctive about that story and we sort of own it.”
The once local myth has grown to have a considerable influence over New Jersey culture, seeing as even an NHL team is named after it.
Even in Galloway, the local police force and municipal services sought to use the devil as a sort of mascot for the town.
“Growing up in the suburbs, I feel like a lot of people needed a sense of history and place…both of those things contribute to the sense of community and things like this are embraced.”