The Jersey Devil Story as told by his cousin

woodjin

Piney
Nov 8, 2004
4,300
281
Near Mt. Misery
I was talking to a neighbor of mine (John) that I speak with seldomly. He wanted a copy of my album, 'Leeds Devil Blues'. He came to me the next day after getting the album and surprised me with some interesting information.

It turns out he is a cousin in the Leeds family and he actually grew up in Leeds point and the absecon area. He relyed to me how the Jersey Devil story developed as it was told to him by his relatives. The story is similar to other theories as to the origins of the folklore but it is particulary interesting to hear it from the Leeds family perspective. I might mess up the geneology a little but bear with me:


Around 1840 Leeds Point was a very small, and close knit community with everyone knowing everyone elses business. Mother Leeds (John's great, great grandmother or something like that, I think he said her name was Elizabeth) was widowed. Despite this fact, she became pregnant. The other wives of the town realized that, given the isolation of the community, one of their husbands must have been unfaithful. No one fessed up. Mother Leeds became an outcast within the community and was not given any medical attention by the local midwives. Pretty much left to her own for the duration of the pregnacy. The pregnancy was condemed as dammed and sinful.

In poor health and probably not particularly happy about her situation and her destroyed reputation, the baby was stillborn and discarded to the basement or attic. (you might draw your own assumptions as to what might have actually taken place) Apparently, no midwives were present at the birth and no one ever saw the baby. Rumours circulated as to whether the baby was infact deceased or living somewhere within the house, out of sight of the community that condemed it. The inncident lived in infamy for sometime, only spoken of in hushed tones.

Years later, John's grandfather, or great grandfather (a grandson of Mother Leeds from a child born before the out of wedlock birth) became concerned about his children wandering off in the woods surrounding Leeds point. He capitalized on the tragic and mysterious inncident by telling his kids that the baby did in fact live, was dammed by his own mother (this time because he was # 13 and his mother was a witch) and was born a devil with devilish attributes and roamed the woods with an intense hate for all the Leeds point citizens. This version of the story was passed around between the children of Leeds point and eventually spread to all of the pinebarrens.

Well, that is the story as it was told to me by John. I think it is interesting that many of popular theories to the origin of the story link closely to this one, but with some slight variations. I have always noticed that the oldest Jersey Devil stories are the most grusome. It is common in those stories for the devil to be a canibal, prefering small children and even his own family in some versions. His character seems to have softened over the years. John confirmed that the ruins in Leeds point are, in fact, the house where this took place.

Anyway, take it for what it is worth.

Jeff
 

Lorun

Explorer
Apr 10, 2004
128
0
Woolwich
Thanks for sharing. It is a very sad story and one that to me sounds like it could be true since even after all this time it would still bring some shame to talk about your family in such a way, even remote family.
 
I was talking to a neighbor of mine (John) that I speak with seldomly. He wanted a copy of my album, 'Leeds Devil Blues'. He came to me the next day after getting the album and surprised me with some interesting information.

It turns out he is a cousin in the Leeds family and he actually grew up in Leeds point and the absecon area. He relyed to me how the Jersey Devil story developed as it was told to him by his relatives. The story is similar to other theories as to the origins of the folklore but it is particulary interesting to hear it from the Leeds family perspective. I might mess up the geneology a little but bear with me:


Around 1840 Leeds Point was a very small, and close knit community with everyone knowing everyone elses business. Mother Leeds (John's great, great grandmother or something like that, I think he said her name was Elizabeth) was widowed. Despite this fact, she became pregnant. The other wives of the town realized that, given the isolation of the community, one of their husbands must have been unfaithful. No one fessed up. Mother Leeds became an outcast within the community and was not given any medical attention by the local midwives. Pretty much left to her own for the duration of the pregnacy. The pregnancy was condemed as dammed and sinful.

In poor health and probably not particularly happy about her situation and her destroyed reputation, the baby was stillborn and discarded to the basement or attic. (you might draw your own assumptions as to what might have actually taken place) Apparently, no midwives were present at the birth and no one ever saw the baby. Rumours circulated as to whether the baby was infact deceased or living somewhere within the house, out of sight of the community that condemed it. The inncident lived in infamy for sometime, only spoken of in hushed tones.

Years later, John's grandfather, or great grandfather (a grandson of Mother Leeds from a child born before the out of wedlock birth) became concerned about his children wandering off in the woods surrounding Leeds point. He capitalized on the tragic and mysterious inncident by telling his kids that the baby did in fact live, was dammed by his own mother (this time because he was # 13 and his mother was a witch) and was born a devil with devilish attributes and roamed the woods with an intense hate for all the Leeds point citizens. This version of the story was passed around between the children of Leeds point and eventually spread to all of the pinebarrens.

Well, that is the story as it was told to me by John. I think it is interesting that many of popular theories to the origin of the story link closely to this one, but with some slight variations. I have always noticed that the oldest Jersey Devil stories are the most grusome. It is common in those stories for the devil to be a canibal, prefering small children and even his own family in some versions. His character seems to have softened over the years. John confirmed that the ruins in Leeds point are, in fact, the house where this took place.

Anyway, take it for what it is worth.

Jeff

Jeff:

An interesting story, to be sure, but the supposed year of birth for the Jersey Devil (Mother Leed's 13th Child, etc.) is actually during the 1730s, not 1840. But as with many stories steeped in folklore, I suspect portions of John's tale contains elements of truth. The earliest visual representation of the Jersey Devil can be found in a pamphlet called The Devil. Or, the New-Jersey Dance. The Library Company of Philadelphia received a copy of this exceedingly rare tract several years ago as part of a superb collection of early Americana once the property of Michael Zinman. The last time I went to Leeds Point, probably about ten to fifteen years ago, I found the old stone building that once housed Japhet Leed's castor oil mill. Someone had converted the structure into a dwelling many, many years ago. It sits right at the bend in the road. Even in modern times, Leeds Point has a very melancholy, eerie environment.

Best regards,
Jerseyman
 

piker56

Explorer
Jan 13, 2006
639
51
66
Winslow
The last time I went to Leeds Point, probably about ten to fifteen years ago, I found the old stone building that once housed Japhet Leed's castor oil mill. Someone had converted the structure into a dwelling many, many years ago. It sits right at the bend in the road. Even in modern times, Leeds Point has a very melancholy, eerie environment.

Best regards,
Jerseyman

When I took my kids to the wildlife refuge, we always went by the "Jersey Devil House" at the bend on Leeds point road, although I told them that because it was the oldest house we knew of in the area, and a little creepy looking. I think someone still lives in the house.
 

woodjin

Piney
Nov 8, 2004
4,300
281
Near Mt. Misery
Jeff:

An interesting story, to be sure, but the supposed year of birth for the Jersey Devil (Mother Leed's 13th Child, etc.) is actually during the 1730s, not 1840.
Best regards,
Jerseyman

Yeah, 1735 is the popular birth year. But I have, for some time, suspected that the origins of the legend date to the 1830's-1840's. I have thought that for these reasons:

1) the popular legend claims that the devil was exorcised shortly after it's birth for 100 years. It seems likely that this would provide for a good starting point for the legend. Rarely does a ghost story, in it's inception, recall a recent event. When one sets the premise for a story of this nature it usually involves a past inncident, that for some reason has resurfaced.

2) the cultural climate of 1840 seems more likely to support the development of this legend than the climate of 1735.

3)sightings prior to the 1840's-1850's are few and far between and sketchy. These sightings could have been added into the legend much later to provide validity. The big exception being Vance Larners account of something he saw in 1790. I don't think he referred to it as the Jersey Devil but he does describe it to a T. The legend is well documented to have been strong in the region by the 1850's.

4) there are many other versions of the legend which does place the birth year closer to the mid 1800's.

Jeff
 

woodjin

Piney
Nov 8, 2004
4,300
281
Near Mt. Misery
Jeff:

The earliest visual representation of the Jersey Devil can be found in a pamphlet called The Devil. Or, the New-Jersey Dance. The Library Company of Philadelphia received a copy of this exceedingly rare tract several years ago as part of a superb collection of early Americana once the property of Michael Zinman.
Best regards,
Jerseyman

That is interesting! I'd love to see that stuff. I went on the Library company of Philadelphia web site but did not see it. Maybe I did not look hard enough. Do you know what year the visual representations are from. It could blow my mid 1800's theory out.

Jeff
 
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