Monday! Today we will learn about the Jersey Devil =)
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Legend has it that in 1735, a Pines resident known as Mother Leeds found herself pregnant for the thirteenth time. (Leeds is the name of one of New Jersey’s earliest settlers, and many descendants of the Leeds family can still be found throughout NJ to this day.) Mother Leeds was not living a wealthy lifestyle by any means. Her husband was a drunkard who made few efforts to provide for his wife and twelve children. Reaching the point of absolute exasperation upon learning of her thirteenth child, she raised her hands to the heavens and proclaimed “Let this one be a devil!”Source (Worth reading, for the curious. There are stories of actual sightings in the 20th century, shredded garbage cans, dead livestock, unearthly howls and screams, and a week in 1909 when residents were terrorized.)
Mother Leeds went into labor a few months later, on a tumultuously stormy night, no longer mindful of the curse she had utter previously regarding her unborn child. Her children and husband huddled together in one room of their Leeds Point home while local midwives gathered to deliver the baby in another. By all accounts the birth went routinely, and the thirteenth Leeds child was a seemingly normal baby boy.
Within minutes however, Mother Leeds’s unholy wish of months before began to come to fruition. The baby started to change, and metamorphosed right before her very eyes. Within moments it transformed from a beautiful newborn baby into a hideous creature unlike anything the world had ever seen. The wailing infant began growing at an incredible rate. It sprouted horns from the top of its head and talon-like claws tore through the tips of its fingers. Leathery bat-like wings unfurled from its back, and hair and feathers sprouted all over the child’s body. Its eyes began glowing bright red as they grew larger in the monster’s gnarled and snarling face. The creature savagely attacked its own mother, killing her, then turned its attention to the rest of the horrified onlookers who witnessed its tempestuous transformation. It flew at them, clawing and biting, voicing unearthly shrieks the entire time. It tore the midwives limb from limb, maiming some and killing others.
Oooh. What a horrible story! Surely it can't be true...
The story of the Jersey Devil has become layered with myths and variations, obscuring the original events that gave rise to it. Not surprising considering the story comes from colonial-era political intrigue, Quaker religious infighting, and a future Founding Father.The real story is actually quite...fascinating? Prosaic? Interesting in a historical context? New Jersey, then known as "Nova-Caesarius," was first settled by Europeans, primarily from England, in the 1620's. Most of these early settlers were Quakers. The story of the Jersey Devil centers around Daniel Leeds.
Born in Leeds, England, Daniel Leeds arrived in Burlington in 1677. A devout Quaker, he claimed to have had ecstatic visions as a young man. His first wife died while in England, so he married a second time in 1681. This wife, Ann Stacy, gave birth to a daughter, though neither survived the birth. He then married Dorothy Young, who also died, though not before producing eight children by 1699. He married a final time to Jane Abbot-Smout. In 1682, Daniel Leeds joined the local assembly. He also held the title of surveyor general. In the 1690s he surveyed and acquired land in the Great Egg Harbor near the Atlantic coast. He handed this property down to his sons as a family seat, and it came to be known as Leeds Point: the location most associated with the Jersey Devil legend.
Daniel Leeds began publishing an almanac in 1687. It was printed by the Englishman William Bradford (1663–1752), one of colonial America’s first printers. Leeds’s astrological data did not please all his readers. Several members of the Quaker Meeting complained that Leeds had used inappropriate language and astrological symbols and names that were a little too “pagan.” The notion of predicting the movements of the heavens did not sit well with Quaker theology. He went to the next meeting and publically apologized. To his surprise an order was sent out to collect up all the copies of the almanac not in circulation and destroy them. Daniel Leeds determined privately to break with the Friends and continue his almanac.
Daniel Leeds continued to publish his almanac and quarrel with the Quakers until 1716 when he retired and turned the business over to his son Titan Leeds (1699–1738). In 1728, Titan redesigned the masthead to include the Leeds family crest, which contained three figures on a shield. Dragon-like with a fearsome face, clawed feet, and bat-like wings, the figures, known as Wyverns, are suspiciously reminiscent of the later descriptions of the Jersey Devil. Titan Leeds then found himself in one of the most notorious almanac feuds of them all. The up and coming Philadelphia printer—and soon-to-be Founding Father—Benjamin Franklin entered the almanac game in 1732 with Poor Richard’s Almanac. As competitors in a lucrative market, the upstart Franklin decided to go after his established rival to boost sales. In the 1733 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Franklin used astrological techniques to predict that Titan Leeds would die on October 17 of that year.Titan Leeds died in 1738. Benjamin Franklin claimed, in jest, that the Titan who lived in the five years after 1733 was actually a ghost. Oddly, the "birth" of the Jersey Devil apparently coincides with the death of Titan Leeds.
So, there was no "Mother Leeds," and no 13th child who turned into a beast. Daniel Leeds became an Anglican. But then...what of the creature supposedly sighted by many? The dastardly deeds and unearthly screams? Since it is the Pine Barrens, perhaps the screams were from the hapless victims of Mafia hit men.
Hope that everyone has a wonderful Monday, and that broths and entlord are feeling better! And that Tonia is doing well, FLMOM too. Today is my son's 14th birthday.