Jersey Devil, or Leeds Devil
Origin: American Folklore
Whenever he went near it, it would give a most unearthly yell that frightened the dogs. It whipped at every dog on the place. "That thing," said the colonel, "is not a bird nor an animal, but it is the Leeds devil, according to the description, and it was born over in Evasham, Burlington county, a hundred years ago. There is no mistake about it. I never saw the horrible critter myself, but I can remember well when it was roaming around in Evasham woods fifty years ago, and when it was hunted by men and dogs and shot at by the best marksmen there were in all South Jersey, but could not be killed. There isn't a family in Burlington or any of the adjoining counties that does not know of the Leeds devil, and it was the bugaboo to frighten children with when I was a boy."
— "The Devil of Leeds", Elkhart Sentinel; October 15, 1887
In New Jersey folklore, the Jersey Devil (AKA the Leeds Devil) is a legendary creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. The creature is often described as a flying biped with horns and hooves; it has been reported to move quickly and often is described as emitting a "blood-curdling scream".
According to popular folklore, the Jersey Devil originated in the late 17th and early 18th Century with a (then) unpopular local family named Leeds.
Simon Leeds, a Quaker and a prominent person of pre-Revolution colonial southern New Jersey, became ostracized by his Quaker congregation after his 1687 publication of almanacs bearing the family crest, a strange wyvern-like creature, and containing astrological symbols and writings. Leeds' fellow Quakers deemed the astrology in these almanacs as too "pagan" or blasphemous, and the almanacs were censored and destroyed by the local Quaker community.
In response to and in spite of this censorship, Leeds continued to publish even more esoteric astrological Christian writings and became increasingly fascinated with Christian occultism, Christian mysticism, cosmology, demonology and angelology, and natural magic. By the 1690s, after his almanacs and writings were further censored as blasphemous or heretical by the Philadelphia Quaker Meeting, Leeds continued to dispute with the Quaker community, converting to Anglicanism and publishing anti-Quaker tracts criticizing Quaker theology and accusing Quakers of being anti-monarchists.
In the ensuing dispute between Leeds and the southern New Jersey Quakers over Leeds' accusations, Leeds was endorsed by the much-maligned British royal governor of New Jersey, Lord Cornbury, despised among the Quaker communities. Leeds also worked as a councilor to Lord Cornbury about this time. Considering Leeds as a traitor for aiding the Crown and rejecting Quaker beliefs, the Quaker Burlington Meeting of southern New Jersey subsequently dismissed Leeds as "evil".
Simon Leeds' wife, Jane Leeds, known as Mother Leeds and alleged to be a witch who had already had 12 children, would find herself pregnant for the 13th time in 1735, a child to be named Nephilim Leeds. During a stormy night in 1735, Mother Leeds was in labor with her family and friends gathered in the Leeds family home when the thirteenth child was born. Though the well-wishers could clearly hear the child's growling and screaming as it was whisked upstairs in the arms of the family midwife to a "disappointments room" waiting in the attic, Nephilim Leeds was declared stillborn by the family doctor and Simon Leeds as they to hurried the disturbed visitors out of the home. According to legend, the child was born hideously deformed: a monster with hoof-like feet, shrunken and twisted clawed arms, a goat's head, bat wings, and a forked tail.
Within a few years, the family's sullen and silent midwife, who (according to legend) was herself another witch in the Leeds' coven who had stayed with the family to care for the monstrous child, would vanish - killed, according to rumor, by the demonic child as it rapidly grew old and strong enough to claw the old woman to death as she entered the attic prison to feed the beast, and then escape the house by flying out of the opened attic door, into the parlor fireplace, up the chimney, and out into the pines.
Over the next few months, "devil's footprints" would appear in the snow in over 30 different locations throughout the area after heavy snowfall: the footprints were so called because some people believed that they were the tracks of Satan, as they appeared to have been made by cloven hoofs. The tracks would take the form of a series of hoof-like marks in the snow, most of which measured about four inches long, three inches across, between eight and sixteen inches apart and mostly in a single file; houses, rivers, haystacks and other obstacles were travelled straight over, and footprints appeared on the tops of snow-covered roofs and high walls which lay in the footprints' path, as well as leading up to and exiting various drain pipes as small as four inches in diameter.
"It appears on Thursday night last, there was a very heavy snowfall in the neighbourhood of Evasham, Leeds Point, and the surrounding Pine Barrens. On the following morning the inhabitants of the above towns were surprised at discovering the footmarks of some strange and mysterious animal endowed with the power of ubiquity, as the footprints were to be seen in all kinds of unaccountable places – on the tops of houses and narrow walls, in gardens and court-yards, enclosed by high walls and pailings, as well in open fields...."
— local newspaper report
At first, several theories were put forward as natural explanations for the tracks, ranging from common domestic animals such as donkeys and goats, to wildlife such as birds and hopping mice (which have been known to leave similar tracks in the snow), to a claim that an "experimental balloon" had gotten loose and dragged shackles in the snow (an event that was kept quiet from the public as the balloon had left a trail of destruction in its wake, including broken windows and damaged property), to a rumor that kangaroos had escaped from a nearby private menagerie, to mass hysteria, but the rumors soon focused upon the Leeds family and the sinister rumors surrounding their 13th child, and the disappearance of the child's midwife.
There was subsequently an attempt by local clergymen to exorcise the creature from the Pine Barrens, but the exorcisms would end in failure, while the Leeds Devil proceeded to viciously kill local Quaker children in retaliation for the exorcisms; the Leeds Devil would never be successfully exorcised from the area, and is said to have survived there to this day, gaining the new name The Jersey Devil over time.
- The Jersey Devil backstory has here been modified slightly to fictionalize the account, and to combine it with the legend of the Devil's Footprints (which actually occurred in Devon, England). There really was a family named Leeds in the area which was highly unpopular with the Quaker locals due to the head of the family (Daniel Leeds) dabbling in Christian occultism in his almanacs, with the almanac business and the family's alliance with England in time putting the family into direct conflict with no less than Benjamin Franklin! See this Wikipedia article for the details: (Wikipedia)
Associated Mythos Elements
- setting: Folk Mythos
- race - the legend includes direct references to:
- race - the creature bears at least a passing resemblance to any of the following Lovecraftian beasts: