Monster Monday: Birthplace of the Jersey Devil
Sightings of the Jersey Devil are centered around the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and with good reason--the legend of the devil itself was birthed in the vast, alien wilderness.
The legend of the Jersey Devil can be traced back to an 18th century English immigrant named Deborah Smith, who came to the United States to marry a Mr. Leeds. The Leeds family lived in the Pine Barrens, in what is now Leeds Point, New Jersey. As the story goes, Deborah Leeds had already given birth to twelve children, and was in the midst of the very difficult and painful delivery of her thirteenth, when she invoked the devil. The child was then itself born a devil, with the head of a horse, bat-like wings, and cloven hoofs.
According to the New Jersey Historical Society, there are several other versions of the story, each with a minor variation from the original.
"Another version of the story says it was when Mrs. Leeds found out she was pregnant with her 13th, that she said that if she were to have one more child, 'may it be a devil.'
Another version is that the child/devil was the result of a family curse.
Another version is that Mrs. Leeds, who was a Quaker, had refused to be converted from the Quaker faith and that the clergyman who had been trying to convert her was so angry that he told her that her next child would be an offspring of Satan.
Another version is that the child was born a monster and that Mrs. Leeds cared for the child until her death. In this version the child/devil 'flew off' into the swamps after Mrs. Leeds' death."
Scholars note that belief in witchcraft was popular at the time, and a child born with a deformity may have been thought to be the result of demonic influence. It's possible that Mrs. Leeds gave birth to just such a deformed child, and the legend of the Jersey Devil was born out of that event. This doesn't explain later sightings of the creature, and it could be that this legend merely provides a convenient origin for an unrelated but nonetheless unexplained phenomenon, or even numerous unexplained phenomena. That would certainly explain its widespread application to a diverse set of creature sightings in the area; descriptions of which include everything from the traditional bat-winged and cloven-hoofed devil to hairy hominids to eastern cougars.