Does The Jersey Devil Exist?

In 1735, in the wilds of New Jersey, Jane Leeds gave birth to her 13th child But this baby was like no other

With reptilian flesh, horns, cloven hooves, wings and the face of a goat, something had gone disastrously wrong Within minutes of birth, the child had escaped through the chimney screaming, leaving its family open-mouthed and horrified below Soon the beast was terrorizing towns and devouring livestock In the centuries since, the Jersey Devil has been spotted over 2000 times And historical research reveals the Leeds family did exist

So, once dismissed as pure legend, is the Jersey Devil actually a terrifying supernatural reality? Legend says the devil fled to the Pine Barrens after murdering its mother, where it still lurks today But is this simply provincial folklore? Sightings aren’t just by hysterical locals In the 19th century, one Long Beach fisherman found him serenading a mermaid Another time, former King of Spain Joseph Bonaparte escaped from him while out hunting The devil reportedly rocked the East Coast for 4 days in 1909, with over 1000 witnesses

Sightings were reported in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey Grotesque hoof prints appeared up trees, and across roofs and fields Dogs following the trail returned shaken and whimpering In 1960 desperate merchants offered a $10,000 reward for its capture It remains unclaimed to this day

In 2015 the story resurfaced when the Jersey Devil was recorded on two separate incidents: in a blurry photograph, and a video of an alleged four-legged bat streaking across the sky So, having endured for almost 3 centuries, does this legend hold any truth? Historian Brian Regal, is amongst a growing number claiming to have unearthed a much more sinister reality: that the Jersey Devil was a republican invention meant to engineer American independence Their claim is based on contemporary records, showing a Daniel Leeds arrived in Jersey in 1677 His estate became known as “Leeds Point”, where the Jersey Devil is now said to come from Leeds published an almanac – the Temple of Wisdom – in 1688

Based on the tracts of Lutheran mystic Jakob Bohme Widely considered heretical, the text included sections on astrology, cosmology, magic and the behavior of devils Leeds was branded “Satan’s harbinger” He responded with The Trumpet Sounded out of the Wilderness of America in 1699, which denounced the Quakers as unchristian anti-monarchists His next mistake was supporting Lord Cornbury’s campaign for Governor of New Jersey

Historian Patricia Bonomi notes that he was renowned for his transvestitism – wearing gowns borrowed from his cousin Queen Anne – and tax evasion, not his political ability Unsurprisingly, hostility towards the family increased When Daniel’s son Titan inherited the family business, it came with an industry rival: future US President Benjamin Franklin In the 1733 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Franklin predicted Titan would die on 17 October of that year But Titan lived

Franklin insisted he must be an apparition Titan died a wronged man in 1738 Growing anti-British fervor forced Lord Cornbury to step down The Leeds family soon came to symbolize the enemy in the American struggle for independence Propaganda became increasingly emotive

The Leeds’ family crest, featuring a mythical dragon-like creature, spawned fantastical rumors meant to demonize the British Amongst these was a claim that the family included a bewitched winged beast, cursed from birth Known at first as the Leeds Devil, over time state-wide hysteria warped this tale The “Jersey Devil” was born But how then can we explain the thousands of sightings over three centuries? Some are now proven hoaxes

In one, a Philadelphia businessman bought a kangaroo, stuck on wings and insisted he’d captured the Jersey Devil In another, an East Coast museum made the same claim, with servants and milkmen backing it up Contemporary historians have the most logical answer to this puzzle yet, but many questions remain to be answered Until then, we can almost be sure that the Jersey Devil was originally a critical scaremongering tactic in the battle for American independence Whatever the truth of its existence might be, we can be sure of one thing: this beast has outlasted all other relics of the American civil war

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