Brian Regal


The Jersey Devil: A Political Animal

By Brian Regal


The Jersey Devil ranks as the most popular legend in the folklore of the Garden State. In the dark forbidding Pine Barrens, a witch known as Mother Leeds gave birth to a "child with horse-like head, bat-like wings, clawed hands and hooved feet." It flew off into the woods to take up a career haunting and harassing travelers. The only element of the legend with historical connection is the reference to the Leeds family (indeed, it was originally known as the Leeds' Devil). The story has become layered down with myths and variations obscuring the original events that gave rise to it. A reappraisal of the story is in order. Far from being a tale of a monstrous birth gone horribly awry, the story comes not from a blaspheming mother, but colonial era political intrigues, Quaker religious in-fighting, astrology, rumor mongering, almanac publishing, a cross-dressing Royal Governor, and a future Founding Father.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14713/njs.v1i1.13


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