The Jersey Devil
Most tellers of the legend of the Jersey Devil trace the devil back to Deborah Smith who emigrated from England in the 1700s to marry a Mr. Leeds. The Leeds family lived in the area of the NJ Pine Barrens (Leeds Point, Galloway Township, Atlantic County). Mrs. Leeds had given birth to 12 children and was about to give birth to her 13th. The story goes that Mrs. Leeds invoked the devil during a very difficult and painful labor and that when the baby was born, it either immediately, or very soon afterwards, (depending on the version of the story), grew into a full-grown devil and escaped from the house.
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.
People in the 1700s still believed in witchcraft and many people of the period felt a deformed child was a child of the devil or that the deformity was a sign that the child had been cursed by God.
It may be that indeed Mrs. Leeds gave birth to a child with a birth defect and given the superstitions of the period, the legend of the Jersey Devil was born.
In any event there do not seem to be any subsequent reported encounters with the Jersey Devil in which he/it actually harmed anyone.
In the last 200 years or so, there have been a number of “sightings” and the hearing of eerie noises/wails in the forests which have been attributed to the Jersey Devil, but since these accounts are, in the main, generic descriptions, one is somewhat drawn to the conclusion that any number of “weird” things in southern Jersey are attributed to the Jersey Devil as a matter of course.
Over the years the Jersey Devil has been called by a number of names, “Hoodle-Doodle Bird”, “Wozzle Bug” and the “Leeds Devil”.