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NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 79
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.
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.
Jersey Devil aficionados regularly head into the Pine Barrens on ‘expeditions’ to find the
creature they think prowls those dark precincts. They argue over the minutiae of physical
evidence, such as tracks in the snow, and compile lists of sightings by famous personages in
order to prove the creature a flesh and blood animal.
Unfortunately for these seekers, the Jersey
Devil has no physical evidence and only scattered, inconsistent, reports, and its reported
I would like to thank Kean University for supporting this project. Thanks to Dr. Frank J. Esposito, Terry Golway,
Blake Smith, and Sharon Hill for reading an early manuscript. Also, thanks to Kirk Wattles for helping with the
Quaker material. Thanks to Everett Leeds, UK, for genealogical material. I take full responsibility for any mistakes
of fact. Thanks to Lisa Nocks.
Fred R. MacFadden. “Claws, Hoof, and Foot: The Devil’s Tracks in Devon and New Jersey,” Free State Folklore
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 80
morphology resists labeling as a genuine cryptid.
Debunkers and skeptics head into the field as
well to prove the legend originates in misidentifications of owls or hawks or in the tricks of light
and easily confusing conditions of the forest. Neither of these groups has looked at the political
and cultural roots of the myth in the epistemological framework of colonial New Jersey from
which it sprang. Approaching the genesis of the Jersey Devil through an examination of the
political conflicts, intellectual quarrels, and printed record of the time rather than searching for it
as an actual animal that leaves physical traces, allows for a more nuanced analysis.
The secondary literature on the Jersey Devil legend creates more obstacles than it
removes. The vast majority of publications and websites simply rehash other secondary works,
as part of the paranormal echo chamber, with little attempt to check the sources employed.
Reports of children killed by the creature or an attempt by local clergy to ‘exorcise’ the Devil in
the eighteenth century have no supporting documentation in the written record (also, Quakers,
who are at the heart of the story, did not perform exorcisms). It is commonly thought that reports
of the Jersey Devil go back to the colonial era. A reputed description of the Leeds Devil comes
from the diary of New Jersey resident Vance Larner for 1790.
This reference, which has been
repeated without question in several texts, is of dubious provenance and must be discounted.
The earliest documented mention of the Leeds devil that can be found, however, in a
media publication, is W. F. Mayer’s article for the Atlantic Monthly which appeared in May of
1859. Mayer travelled to southern New Jersey in order to write about the culture of the
A Cryptid is a creature not described by mainstream science, but which has a mythical history, with at least some,
albeit controversial, physical evidence for its existence. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster are prime examples.
James F. McCloy and Ray Miller Jr., Phantom of the Pines: More Tales of the Jersey Devil (Middle Atlantic Press,
New Jersey: 1998).
Though it is often cited, particularly by McCloy and Miller in Phantom of the Pines (1998), the diary entry, or
possibly the entire diary, is of spurious origins. A number of researchers have tried to track down the Larner
manuscript without success. Until further evidence comes along it must be treated as a hoax. See Don Nigroni, “The
Vance Larner Diary,” Phactum (July/August, 2010):10-12, and Stephen D. Winick, “Tales of the Jersey Devil,”
American Folklore Center, Botkin Archives, 2005.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 81
inhabitants of the Pine Barrens, a region he calls “aboriginal in [its] savagery.”
His view of what
he calls “Pine Rats” is condescending, seeing these people as barely human in their squalid living
conditions. He refers to them as “the degraded descendants of Torries…completely besotted and
brutish in their ignorance.” He also mentions in passing the legend of the ‘Leeds Devil’ as
something the Pine Rats believed in. Like so many authors on the subject he gives no references
for his text.
Stories compiled by Henry Charlton Beck in Jersey Genesis (1945), and McCloy and
Miller’s The Jersey Devil (1976), considered canon works, likewise have no citations. Beck
simply copied out the Leeds Devil section of a John Elfreth Watkins’ article “Demon of the
Pines,” from 1905.
McCloy and Miller offer no footnotes, a bibliography of less than half a
page, and a simple list of newspapers consulted, with no references to specific articles.
Jersey Towns (1973) William McMahon claims folklorist Fred MacFadden found references to
the Leeds Devil beginning in 1735, but neither author published a citation or reference
supporting this claim.
The situation had not improved by the appearance of Coleman and
Hallenbeck’s Monsters of New Jersey (2010), of which half concerns the Jersey Devil. A
respected author on cryptozoology, Coleman’s book, while an entertaining read, likewise
includes no citations or footnotes to be followed, despite the high number of quotations and dates
given in the text.
An episode of the television documentary series MonsterQuest on the Jersey
Devil, aired in 2012, interviews Rutgers University folklorist Angus Kress Gillespie, but focuses
W. F. Mayer, “In the Pines,” Atlantic Monthly 3:19 (May, 1859):560-569.
John Elfreth Watkins. “Demon of the Pines,” Washington, DC, Evening Star (September 2, 1905).
Henry Charlton Beck in Jersey Genesis: the story of the Mullica River (Rutgers University Press, 1945), James F.
McCloy and Ray Miller Jr. The Jersey Devil (Middle Atlantic Press, 1976).
William McMahon. South Jersey Towns: History and Legend (Rutgers University Press, 1973):212, also see
Angus Kress Gillespie, “The (Jersey) Devil is in the Details,” New Jersey Outdoors (Fall, 1993):40-43.
Loren Coleman and Bruce Hallenbeck. The Monsters of New Jersey (Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.:
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 82
on a fruitless ‘expedition’ into the woods to investigate recent sightings rather than any serious
historical examination. Only passing reference is made to the fictionalized Leeds family.
Primary sources can also be misleading in this case when restricted to media reports on
the creature itself. Surveys of extant newspapers of the Colonial and Early Republic period have
turned up no references to any of the story’s characters in relationship to the production of a
monster. The bulk of reports of the creature do not begin until the turn of the twentieth century.
These sources ignore the real life family that came to be attached to the mythos. Other primary
sources, however, do add useful material. The Leeds family produced almanacs and other
ephemera. It is here that the origins of the Jersey Devil can be found. The traces of this myth
are left in the pamphlets and tracts of the region rather than in monstrous foot prints. The story
of the Jersey Devil is an example of how political history and the history of the book provide a
vehicle to explore the creation of a myth.
While the Jersey Devil story has variations, a basic narrative can be articulated. In the
first half of the eighteenth century (often given as 1735), in the woods of Burlington County,
New Jersey known as the Pine Barrens, a witch called ‘Mother Leeds’ bore a child. Being her
thirteenth and a difficult birth, Mother Leeds called out in despair or anger a variation on “Oh,
make it a Devil!” as the child breeched. The ‘child’ had a horse-like head, hooves or claws for
feet, and leathery bat-like wings. It let loose an appropriately unnerving scream then flew up and
out of the chimney and off into the darkness, annoying travelers and generally being a disturbing
local pest until modern times.
In 1905 an article in the Trenton Times appeared that helped bring wide attention to the
story. Described here as a monkey-like creature, it does not immediately fly off after birth, but
lives with the family for some years before doing its dramatic exit up the chimney. This Leeds
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 83
family is headed by a Captain Leeds and his wife and the event occurs in 1808. The wife, local
gossip said, was an alleged sorceress who “associated her name with beings of the other
The major flap came in 1909 with the discovery of a series of “curious hoof-prints
made…by some strange animal not yet classified by scientist or nature-faker,” in the snow
around Bordentown, Mount Holly, and Leeds Point. A number of Philadelphia area newspapers
ran articles on the footprints and what might have made them. The Trenton Evening Times
included a series of humorous cartoons to go with their article showing a reptilian, dragon-like
figure with leathery wings, clawed hands, and hooved feet.
During this period the creature
carried several alternate names, including Leeds Devil, Leeds Satan, Flying-Hoof, Air-Hos, and
Winged Dog. It is not until after 1909 that ‘Jersey Devil’ is used for the first time.
One possible explanation for the story is that it grew from a monstrous birth or in the
more politically correct modern term the appearance of a child with birth defects, born to the
Leeds family. Monstrous births (babies with two heads, multiple arms and legs, or no arms or
legs) both fascinated and repulsed Europeans and became the source for a considerable and
popular printed literature.
Pamphlets and broadsides on monstrous births, often accompanied
by lurid illustrations alternately accurate or outrageously fantastic, sold well particularly in
England from whence many early settlers of New Jersey hailed. Along with depicting actual
births of deformed animals and humans, monster pamphlets used such cases as excuses to attack
political or religious groups. For example, one of the more popular monsters depicted during the
early modern period, the Monk Calf, first appeared in a pamphlet by Martin Luther and Philip
Melanchthon. The Papal Ass of Rome and the Monk Calf of Freyberg (1523) included an
illustration of the purported creature as a pig-like bipedal beast with layers of flesh hanging. It
“The Devil was Bordentown Born,” Trenton Times (July 15, 1905):2.
“Fly Rival of “Leeds Devil” has Jersey people Frightened,” Trenton Evening Times (January 20, 1909):1.
Lorraine J. Daston and Katharine Park . Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 (Zone Books: 2001).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 84
fitted the anti-Catholic diatribes and prurient rumor mongering meant to win converts to the
Protestant cause by turning them away from the establishment. The skin of the Monk Calf
mimicked the religious garb of a Catholic monk. Luther used the creature as a metaphor of the
Church and the displeasure the Church caused God. “Monsters,” Luther and Melanchthon said,
“most times doe note and demonstrate unto us the ire and wrath of God.”
accused by anti-Catholics of trying to achieve Godliness through special clothing instead of
genuine spirituality. Monk’s lives, Luther claimed, “consist of nothing but gobbling food, of
drinking, and of sex.”
Thus, they were not true religionists, but ghastly imposters just like this
malformed monstrosity. The Monk Calf was, Luther said, God’s way of producing a sign to warn
people of the perfidy of heretics. Attaching a monster to a religious denomination, an individual,
or a family proved an effective way to bring social ridicule upon the target.
The simplistic monstrous birth scenario for the origin of the Jersey Devil has no
supporting evidence. A review of the extant publications and doctor’s records from the period
show no references to such births in the Burlington region. If a monstrous birth is at the heart of
the story it went unrecorded. What remains is not Mother Leeds or Captain Leeds, but the
colonial era family patriarch, Daniel Leeds.
European settlement of the area now the state of New Jersey, or Nova-Caesaria as it was
originally named, began in the 1620s as a slow trickle of only a few hardy souls. Sir George
Carteret (1610-1680) received the land between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers as a grant from
the Crown. As he hailed from the island of Jersey in the English Channel it became known as
New Jersey. The region was divided, with the area bordering New York called East Jersey, and
Martin Luther and Phillip Melanchthon. The Papal Ass of Rome and the Monk Calf of Freyberg (London, 1579).
Julie Crawford. Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous Births in Post-Reformation England (Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2005):30-35.
The Register of the New Jersey Society of the Colonial Dames of America (Trenton, New Jersey: 1914):301.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 85
the half bordering Pennsylvania called West Jersey. Settlers to West Jersey came initially from
Holland and Sweden. Not until the 1660s did larger numbers arrive, predominantly from
England and members of the recently created religious order the Society of Friends, more
commonly called Quakers. Catholics and particularly Anglicans too found their way to the
region. In West Jersey Quaker communities, farms and Meeting Houses appeared from the
Atlantic Ocean to Philadelphia (Burlington had its first meeting house built in 1683). In 1702
East Jersey and West Jersey unified as a single colony.
The first Royal governor of New Jersey, Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury (1661-1723),
simultaneously served as governor of New York through 1708. Cornbury is remembered as one
of the most vilified and hated governors in colonial America. He also stands accused of being a
cross-dresser. A portrait widely believed to be Cornbury hangs in the New York Historical
Society and shows him dressed as his aunt Queen Anne. In her reappraisal of his gubernatorial
career, Patricia Bonomi argues that there is little but slander and innuendo concerning
Cornbury’s cross-dressing, and some evidence that, far from being a rapacious spend-thrift, he
actually performed his duties well. She points out that evidence of this behavior comes from a
series of letters written by Quaker opponents of his who made the accusations of him wearing
women’s clothes between 1707 and 1709. As Cornbury was genuinely disliked, the accusations
propagated. Bonomi also shows that the infamous portrait of him in drag has no direct
connection to him, the association being apocryphal.
Regardless of whether Cornbury was a
fiscal scoundrel—he eventually left America in disgrace and financial ruin—or a cross-dresser,
his connection to the Jersey Devil story is tangential, but important because of his association
with one of the story’s main protagonists.
Maxine Lurie and Richard Veit eds. New Jersey: A History of the Garden State (Rutgers University Press, 2012).
Patricia Bonomi. The Lord Cornbury Scandal: The Politics of Reputation in British America (University of North
Carolina Press, 2000).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 86
When Lord Cornbury received his orders to take charge of New Jersey, the document
included a list of his councilors, one of which was Daniel Leeds.
Daniel Leeds (1651-1720)
hailed from Stansted, Essex, England. He followed his father Thomas and his brothers to the
New World towards the end of the 1670s and landed in Burlington.
About twenty-five years
old and a devout Quaker, Daniel Leeds claimed to have had several ecstatic visions as a young
man. His first wife passed while still in England, so he married a second time in 1681. His new
American wife, Ann Stacy, died in Burlington giving birth to a daughter named Ann, who did
not survive long after.
He married a third time, to Dorothy Young, who also passed, though
not before producing eight children by 1699. He married a final time to Jane (Revell) Abbot-
Smout. Some variants on the story name the ‘mother’ of the Jersey Devil as ‘Jane,’ though it is
unclear if Jane Leeds produced any children. There are no contemporary sources referring to any
of his wives as ‘Mother Leeds.’ In 1682 Daniel Leeds became a member of the local assembly.
He also rose to surveyor general. This position carried influence as land ownership disputes and
boundary issues came up often in the wilds of the New World. As a symbol of his prosperity and
religious conviction he contributed a subscription of £4 to build the first Burlington Quaker
Meeting House just off High Street.
In the 1690s he surveyed and acquired land in the Great
Egg Harbor on the Atlantic coast, eventually handing it down to his eldest son as a family seat
which came to be known as Leeds Point: the area most associated with the Jersey Devil legend.
This document is recorded in Samuel Smith’s The History of the Colony of Nova-Caeseria or New Jersey (W.S.
Sharp, Trenton, NJ: 1877): 151. Smith’s book was originally printed in 1765. Despite being alive during the period
in question, Smith makes no mention of a Leeds or anything even remotely similar in his history.
Some confusion exits over just when the Leeds family arrived in the New World. They may have gone to New
York first in the mid-1670s then headed into Jersey. The ship he and his family traveled also has yet to be identified.
By 1678 Daniel Leeds had settled in a house just outside Burlington.
William McMahon. South Jersey Towns: History and Legend (Rutgers University Press, 1973):210.
George Morgan Hills. History of the Church in Burlington, New Jersey (Trenton, NJ: William Sharp, 1876):10.
Francis Bazley Lee. Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey vol IV (New York, Lewis
Historical Publishing Co.:1910): 1609-1611, and Clara Louise Humeston. Leeds: A New Jersey Family. Its
Beginning and a Branchlet (California Voice Print, 1900?).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 87
Running through the story of the Jersey Devil is the story of the Quakers. When Daniel
Leeds arrived in Burlington, Quakerism had been in existence barely longer than he had. Born of
the upheavals of the English Civil Wars in 1647, a group of dissenters formed a new sect they
called “The Society of Friends.” Because they claimed to shake with the inner light of the Lord,
the name “Quakers” became popular. They believed an individual need not have a priest or
clergyman or other official between them and God. The connection with the divine came through
a relationship with Jesus. Their rejection of organized authority brought them into conflict with
the forces of law and order. Persecutions from without and wrangling from within pushed the
originally decentralized Quakers to form a more rigid and disciplined internal structure.
Persecutions also drove them to seek relief in the New World, to which they travelled in
numbers. In the 1650s the Puritans ejected the newly arrived Quakers out of Massachusetts, so
they headed to Pennsylvania and the Jerseys (where they found an easier time).
Publically and officially, Quaker doctrine renounced witchcraft and the occult as
foolishness. Privately, many Quakers enjoyed and were titillated by ghost stories and were
fascinated by the supposed behavior of witches. They rejected it, but did not persecute it the way
the Puritans of New England did. When witch trials broke out in Massachusetts in 1692, the
Quakers were not involved; indeed the Quakers barely escaped accusations themselves. Quaker
founder George Fox (1624-1691) railed against belief in the occult yet at the same time claimed
he could spot a witch just by looking at her. “The Lord,” he wrote, “had given me a spirit of
discerning” so that he regularly accosted women telling them to repent. A story from his life
would reverberate in an occult tale years later in America. While they held him imprisoned in
England in 1659 as a heretic, Fox’s jailers insisted on sitting in the fireplace of his room as they
Thomas Hamm. The Quakers in America (Columbia University Press, 2006).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 88
feared “I should escape up the chimney,”
a feat not unlike that performed by the Leeds Devil
one fateful stormy night.
Along with farming and surveying, Daniel Leeds aspired to more intellectual and
metaphysical activity. He began publishing an almanac in 1687. Titled An Almanac, he referred
to himself as a “student in agriculture.” He had it printed by the Englishman William Bradford
(1663-1752), who had recently arrived in the area, and who would gain fame as one of the first
printers in America. Popular in New England by the mid-1600s, almanacs appeared in the
Middle Atlantic region by 1682 (for example, Samuel Atkins in Pennsylvania, also printed by
Bradford, and William Nuthead in Maryland). Leeds created the first in New Jersey.
the New England mold by not having a connection to Harvard College: something that linked
previous American almanac publishers.
Leeds went initially with a single page broadside, and later to the more traditional
almanac model of multi-page pamphlet. He included tidal information based on Philadelphia,
setting and rising of the sun and moon, and the movements of other heavenly bodies. Leeds also
included inspirational words along the almanac’s mast-head. “No man is born unto himself
alone,” the first one said, “who lives unto himself lives alone.” Leeds’ agricultural, seemingly
innocuous, astrological data did not please all his readers. Not long after its appearance, several
members of the Quaker Burlington Monthly Meeting complained that he used inappropriate
language and astrological symbols for names of days and months that were a little too ‘pagan’
for some tastes. A technique common to almanacs, Leeds made connections between star signs
and various human body parts—Aries for the head and face, for example. He eventually included
astrological medical advice as well. “It is generally approved to be good to purge and bleed in
Quoted in Amelia Mott Gummere, Witchcraft and Quakerism: A Study in Social History (Philadelphia: The
Biddle Press, 1908):20.
John E. Pomfret. The Province of West New Jersey (Octagon Books, New York: 1976):233.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 89
the months of March and April,” he wrote. As to bleeding, that should be done “when the moon
is in Cancer.”
An order was sent out to collect up all the copies of the Leeds almanac not in
circulation and destroy them. Money was appropriated to pay Bradford for the loss of income
and it was thought the incident closed. At the next Quaker Meeting, Leeds publically apologized
for having given offence, but privately had no intention of cancelling his almanac. In fact, he
only seems to have been warming up and would soon establish himself as one of the Quakers
From modest beginnings, the publication of almanacs became a lucrative business
throughout the Middle Atlantic colonies. The first printed material in North America came in the
form of an almanac in 1639 (done in Massachusetts). Ironically, though heavily inspired by
English almanacs, the American strain appeared just as English interest in them began to wane.
Astrology, too, began to fade as a legitimate pursuit elsewhere as American almanac compilers
took it up.
Reading almanacs supplied farmers with agricultural news, forecasts of weather and
meteorological information, home spun wisdom, and even a joke or two. In the rural and
agrarian culture of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where few books were printed or even
available, almanacs proved useful, entertaining, and popular. Though Leeds determined to keep
publishing his almanac, it was not quite enough to satisfy his need to write.
The year after he first published the almanac, Leeds put together a book called The
Temple of Wisdom for the Little World (1688). Also printed by William Bradford, The Temple of
Wisdom is as unconventional a book as a colonial Quaker is likely to produce.
It is a complex
Leeds almanac for 1713.
Bernard Capp. English Almanacs: 1500-1800, Astrology and the Popular Press (Cornell University Press,
It is the first book published in New Jersey and only the second south of Massachusetts. Charles R. Hildebrun,
“The First Book Printed South of Massachusetts,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 6:4
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 90
compilation of theology and the budding Scientific Revolution. Rather than a completely original
text, Leeds paraphrased and outright copied large sections of other authors, including Francis
Bacon, to cobble together a personal cosmology. He included sections on angels, natural magic,
astrology, theology, philosophy, and the behavior of devils. Along with Bacon, the other source
Leeds used extensively was the work of the German Pietist, mystic Jacob Boehme (1575-1624).
From a humble background, Boehme taught himself to be a philosophical theologian and
claimed to have had ecstatic visions of the mystical aspect of the universe. His work Aurora
(1612) was immediately considered heretical and he had to go before the local religious
authorities to explain. Boehme’s writings focused upon the nature of sin and redemption. He
argued that the fall of man needed to occur for him to gain entry to heaven. He saw a
correspondence between zodiac signs and such human conditions as love and sweetness, or
natural conditions such as dryness and sound. In his writings, Boehme argued that mainstream
Lutheranism had lost its way, become dull and lifeless, and had abandoned the proper zeal, strict
behavior, and direct Bible study and emotion Christianity demanded.
Leeds saw Boehme as a
kindred spirit: one who, like himself, had experienced ecstatic visions, been called before
religious authorities for his work, and who rebelled against the local establishment. In 1621 he
published De Signatura Rerum, in which he propounded upon the doctrine of signatures. This
work on medical astrology also influenced Daniel Leeds.
Boehme chided his learned critics who dismissed him as an untrained pseudo-scholar.
Leeds took Boehme’s ranting and used it as the opening section of The Temple of Wisdom. A
colonial example of outsider scholarship and the reaction to it, The Temple of Wisdom—
unusually long and expensive for the time and place—is Leeds’ rebuttal to the “Doctors and
John Yost Stoudt. Jacob Boehme: His Life and Thought (Wipf & Stock Pub., 2004), and Arthur Versluis.
Wisdom’s Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 91
Schollers” that read his work and disapproved of it. Boehme and Leeds were both amateur
theologians who took pride in their underdog status. Defending himself and his astrological work
using Boehme’s words, Leeds says “everyone that will speak or teach of divine mysteries, that
we have the spirit of God.”
Leeds may also have dabbled in geomancy. A technique of
divination that seeks patterns and markings in the earth, geomancy turns up in the work of some
eighteenth century surveyors in England and Europe. Seeing patterns in the earth would be
common within their work. While no direct evidence has been found showing Leeds practiced
geomancy, historian Arthur Versluis thinks it possible he did and that it influenced his
Taken in the aggregate the published work of Daniel Leeds shows him to be
simultaneously a Christian occultist and purveyor of the Scientific Revolution. (He was an early
proponent in North America of the Copernican view of the solar system).
However, he was no
dark magician, but a pious shepherd leading his flock to the light. There is no evidence that
Leeds ever engaged in attempts to manipulate extra-terrestrial or magical processes. For Leeds
and other almanac compilers, astrology was not a dubious, fringe activity, but a Christian
technique for gaining deeper insight into the divine. As historian T.J. Tomlin expresses it,
“Almanacs and their astrological formulations complemented and even promoted Christianity
across eighteenth-century British America.”
The majority of readers of Leeds’ work in West
Jersey would have been unfamiliar with the esoteric nature of his writings and so saw more
occultist than Christian in him. The Quaker Philadelphia Meeting immediately suppressed the
Daniel Leeds. Temple of Wisdom for the Little World (Philadelphia, 1688): introduction.
Arthur Versluis. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 2001):21-24
Leeds almanac for 1694.
T.J. Tomlin, “”Astrology’s from Heaven not Hell” The Religious Significance of Early American Almanacs,”
Early American Studies 8:2 (Spring 2010):287-321, quote on 289.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 92
Temple of Wisdom.
The Quaker Burlington Meeting exerted growing power and control over
Quaker life in the region during this period and were able to rally support to crush Leeds’ book.
They “demanded and obtained general conformity” of its members.
The suppression was so
complete only one known copy of The Temple of Wisdom is extant.
Leeds felt betrayed. His
intention with both the almanac and Temple of Wisdom centered on bringing philosophy,
theology, and science to his New Jersey neighbors. Their rejection and destruction of both
wounded him. Brokenhearted by the religion he had so fully embraced, he turned on the
Daniel Leeds sought influence through local politics on the side of Royal authority and
against the Quaker position. When New Jersey became a Royal colony, he aligned with the anti-
Quaker governor Lord Cornbury. In his role as councilor, Leeds advised the new governor not to
swear in several Quaker members appointed to the assembly by local election. The rest of the
assembly complained to Cornbury about these “groundless accusations,” but to no avail.
Cornbury alienated the West Jersey Assembly and its Quaker population through “arbitrary
practices” by being inconsiderate, listening to false accusations against its members, and by not
spending much time in the colony of which he was governor.
The Quakers saw the Anglican
Governor Cornbury as a local tyrant representing the larger empire who sought to keep them
under control and who opposed their religion as heretical. When Daniel Leeds, as one of their
own, sided with Cornbury and the establishment, they saw him as a turncoat. Adding insult to
injury, Leeds showed loyalty to his sovereign with a ditty ending the 1713 edition of the
Henry J. Cadbury, “Early Quakerism and Uncanonical Lore,” Harvard Theological Review 40:3 (July 1947):177-
205, and J. William Frost, “Quaker Books in Colonial Pennsylvania,” Quaker History 80:1 (Spring 1991):1-23.
Valerie G. Gladfelter, “Power Challenged: Rising Individualism in the Burlington, New Jersey, Friends Meeting,
1678-1720,” in Michael Zuckerman ed., Friends and Neighbors: Group Life in America’s First Plural Society
(Temple University Press, Philadelphia: 1982):116-144.
This copy is in the Pennsylvania Historical Society collection.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 93
almanac. “God save Queen Anne,” he wrote, “her foes destroy, and all that do her realms
Leeds backed anti-Quaker proponents such as George Keith (1638-1716). An early
member of the Society of Friends, George Keith knew founder George Fox, William Penn, and
the original Jersey proprietor, Robert Barclay. Keith came to New Jersey in 1685, became a
surveyor, and took his place as a leader of the Quaker community. He did the survey which
separated East from West Jersey and founded the town of Freehold. He eventually soured on the
Society of Friends and began preaching aggressively that the Quakers had strayed too far for
proper Christianity. He accused the Quakers of being Deists, was disowned by the London
Friends, and eventually converted to Anglicanism. Following the public rejection of both his
almanac and his heart felt book, Daniel Leeds, too, left the Friends, renounced Quakerism, joined
the Anglican Church, and proceeded to zealously attack his former fellow religionists as the real
Involved openly in the Keithian controversy, Daniel Leeds felt obliged to defend and
explain his position. He addressed the issue of his work in The Innocent Vindicated from the
Falsehoods and Slanders of Certain Certificates (1695), where he worked to show he stood on
the side of right where the Quakers did not.
The Burlington Meeting of the Friends had grown
increasingly upset with what Leeds published. In the 1698 meeting they referred to him as “evil”
for his publications and other unseemly behavior.
At odds with the Friends, Leeds produced an
outright anti-Quaker book, The Trumpet Sounded Out of the Wilderness of America (1699), in
which he deconstructed Quakerism. Leeds argued that Quaker theology denied the divinity of
Jesus. In addition to the theology he accused Quakers of being anti-monarchists. He left the
Daniel Leeds. The Innocent Vindicated from the Falsehoods and Slanders of Certain Certificates (Philadelphia,
1695). This work was later published in England in 1699 so that the London Friends could feel Leeds’ wrath as well.
Minutes of the Burlington Monthly Meeting, 7/1698.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 94
Quakers because, he said, “they formerly exclaimed against the government of England.”
book is a laundry list of grievances against Quaker ideology and practice. A defense of
Quakerism appeared as Satan’s Harbinger Encountered…Being Something by Way of Answer to
Daniel Leeds (1700).
With this pamphlet, Leeds stood publically accused of either working for
or being a devil.
It was not unusual for political rivals to ridicule each other by calling them devils.
Depictions in religious and political tracts of Satan—many which resemble the later popular
image of the Jersey Devil—go back to the Middle Ages. The Early Modern era and the
introduction of wood block printing saw the devil rendered in humorous ways as a tactic to
deflate and lampoon evil. One such example appeared in London in 1641 and would have been
known to English Quakers. That year a pamphlet feud broke out between John Taylor and Henry
Walker. Taylor, known as the ‘Water-Poet’ because of his job as a ferryman, produced a tract
satirizing preachers with no attachment to a church congregation. These men were known as ‘tub
preachers.’ In retaliation, Walker published Taylor’s Physicke has Purged the Divel, which has a
crudely drawn but startling illustration of Taylor in his ferryboat with a winged figure defecating
on his face. The image of a creature with hooves for feet, claws for hands, leathery wings, and a
pointy tail did not originate with the Jersey Devil legend, but drew upon a robust tradition.
Identifying a political rival as a monster—as with calling them devils—also proved a useful
technique and contributed to the growing popularity of political satire.
An early example of this
is The Life and Character of a Strange He-Monster (1726), in which a political rival is called
Daniel Leeds. The Trumpet Sounded Out of the Wilderness of America (Philadelphia, 1699).
Caleb Pusey. Satan's harbinger encountered, his false news of a trumpet detected, his crooked ways in the
wildrnesse laid open to the view of the imperial and judicious. Being something by way of answer to Daniel Leeds
his book entitled News of a trumpet sounding in the wildernesse (Philadelphia, 1700).
On the Taylor/Walker feud see, Kirsten Inglis, “Behaving Badly in the Press: John Taylor and Henry Walker,
1641-1643,” Transverse 10 (2010).
Alison Olson, ““Monster of Monsters” and the Emergence of Political Satire in New England,” Historical Journal
of Massachusetts 29:1 (Winter 2001):1-22.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 95
“the scabby offspring of a Scotch Moggy by a scratching pedlar…” Out of Boston came The
Monster of Monsters (1754), which concerned a local alcohol tax. This tax, the author notes in
overblown prose, stands as “the most hideous form and terrible aspect such as one as was never
seen in America.”
Unscrupulous land grabs following the Revolution resulted in The Deformity
of a Hideous Monster Discovered in the Province of Maine (1797).
Colonial New Jersey
brimmed over with devils and monsters, and political rivals regularly made accusations of many
types. Scandal and back stabbing in print occurred as much during the seventeenth and
eighteenth century as it does today, and Daniel Leeds was in the thick of it.
The dislike Leeds held for his former religion seemed to know no bounds. In 1705 he
published The Great Mystery of Fox-craft Discovered, in which he attacked George Fox directly
as a fraud.
Leeds argued that Fox did not write his own books, but paid others to. As proof he
offered up letters from Fox to a correspondent whose spelling and syntax fell well below the
mark. Having a hand in writing Leeds’ pamphlet, the Anglican Reverend John Talbot of
Burlington too preached anti-Quaker rhetoric.
Talbot, Rector of St. Mary’s church in
Burlington from 1703-1725, supplied the incriminating Fox letters to Leeds.
The false letters
accusing Lord Cornbury of cross-dressing may have been in retaliation to these fake Fox letters.
Talbot enjoyed baiting the Quakers and tried to draw them into a public debate. They would have
Thomas Thumb. The Monster of Monsters (Boston, 1754).
Samuel Ely. The Deformity of a Hideous Monster Discovered in the Province of Maine (Boston 1797).
Versluis. The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance, 21.
The Spirit of Missions, volume 81 (New York, 1916):286. Also see, Caleb Pusey. Some Remarks Upon a Late
Pamphlet Signed part by John Talbot, and part by Daniel Leeds, Called the Great Mystery of Fox-Craft
Leeds contributed money to building the new Anglican church of St. Mary’s and was its Warden for 1706 and
bought half of a pew in the nearby St. Ann’s church. See Hills, History of the Church in Burlington, 226 and 716,
and Cynthia McFarland. Recovering John Talbot (Privately Printed, 2011).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 96
none of it and Talbot complained that “No they say,” concerning face-to-face public debates,
“they will answer in print.”
This is what they did.
Daniel Leeds found himself in a pamphlet war with the Quakers. His opposite number
came in the form of Caleb Pusey (1650-1727). A friend of William Penn, Caleb Pusey came to
Pennsylvania in 1700. He opened a mill, entered local politics, became a member of the
provincial Supreme Court, and member of the executive council, and immediately waded into
the Keithian Schism and attacked one of its most vocal supporters, Daniel Leeds. Initially a
friend of the heretic George Keith, Pusey repudiated him when the controversy began.
vigorously defended William Penn and Quakerism and responded directly to the writings of
Daniel Leeds. It was Pusey who referred to Leeds in print as Satan’s Harbinger.
Leeds responded to Pusey with A Challenge to Caleb Pusey and to Check his Lyes and
Forgeries (1700). Playing off the title of one of his earlier works, Leeds quickly followed with
News of a Strumpet Co-Habitating in the Wilderness (1701). Here Leeds referred to the “spiritual
and carnal whoredoms and adulteries of the Quakers.”
Leeds lashed out at many members of
the Quaker elite besides George Fox. He charged them with adultery, fathering children out of
wedlock, cheating tradesmen, and other insidious crimes. Pusey replied with Daniel Leeds Justly
Rebuked (1702), to which Leeds craftily countered with The Rebuker Rebuked (1703). Leeds
became a one man publishing machine, and center of a war of words over the efficacy of
Quakerism putting out biting and sarcastic publications with regularity. Historian Patricia
Bonomi refers to Leeds as “perhaps the best surviving example of early Middle Colony scandal
Quoted in Hills, History of the Church in Burlington, 56.
J. William Frost. “Unlikely Controversialists: Caleb Pusey and George Keith,” Quaker History 64:1 (Spring
Daniel Leeds. News of a Strumpet Co-Habitating in the Wilderness (Philadelphia, 1701):1. This pamphlet is only
known from one extant copy which contains the signature of Daniel Leeds.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 97
When Lord Cornbury relinquished the governorship to return to England in 1708,
Leeds left the council. The next year, however, he became Justice of the colony’s Supreme
Court, presumably sitting next to his nemesis Caleb Pusey (also a justice).
Leeds had other accusers as well. In order to boost sales, almanac publishers entered into
controversies or feuds, sometimes legitimate, but often made up—not unlike the manufactured
controversies of modern media—with each other. In 1705 an almanac publisher named Jacob
Taylor aired an attack upon Leeds in his Ephemeris Sideralis. He accused Leeds of fumbling his
mathematical calculations and of plagiarism in that he “filched matter out of other men’s works
to furnish his spurious almanacs.” To this Leeds replied that Taylor “crows like a cock on his
own dung hill.” The feud went on for years with both men making charges and counter charges
with vitriol flowing freely from their bitter pens.
Daniel Leeds continued to publish his almanac until 1714, when he retired from public
life. He turned the business over to his son Titan, who early showed aptitude in math, science,
and astronomy. Titan Leeds (1699-1738) had already been doing the calculations for the almanac
and had a gift for anticipating lunar eclipses. His father beams with pride while introducing his
son to the reading public and assures them he will do an even better job than he. He says not to
worry about Titan’s age as “while he lives with me he shall not be wanting.”
After taking over
the running of the almanac at the tender age of sixteen, Titan found the Leeds family still had
enemies and that devils were now associated with them.
In the 1720 edition he mentioned he
might not be able to continue publishing the almanac because an unnamed monstrous rival was
The Register of the New Jersey Society of the Colonial Dames of America (Trenton, New Jersey: 1914):301.
Quotes in Marion Barber Stowell, “American Almanacs and Feuds,” Early American Literature 9:3 (Winter
Leeds almanac for 1714.
Unlike his father, Titan Leeds never published any material other than the almanac.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 98
giving him grief. “If I write no more,” he said, “you may think ’tis because of a smoak breathed
out to stifle me by the Devil’s Emissary.” This person, this Devil of Leeds, was guilty of “lying,
cheating, treachery, malice, and damb’d hipocrasie.” Where his father had once been labeled
Satan’s harbinger, now Titan Leeds used a similar title upon another. Demonic influence
concerned many in early America and so any author wishing to tarnish the image of a rival could
do no better than to make them out to be a monster or a devil. In The Armour of Christianity. A
treatise, detecting first, the plots of the devil against our happiness (1704), Cotton Mather argued
there are many devils afoot and a goodly Christian must always be on their guard.
Keach in War With the Devil (1714) likewise warned his fellows of the whiles of the evil one. It
is unclear just who Titan Leeds meant when he referred to his enemy as Devil’s Emissary, but it
would not be long before he fell afoul of yet another, and found himself in one of the most
notorious almanac feuds of them all.
The up and coming Philadelphia printer, scientist, statesman, and soon to be Founding
Father Benjamin Franklin entered the almanac game in 1732 with Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Writing as Richard Saunders, Franklin followed the standard formula of agricultural and
astrological material, including the inspirational quotes (he took the name Richard Saunders
from a popular London almanac).
As competitors in a lucrative market, Franklin decided to go
after his successful rival in print by creating an almanac feud. In the 1733 edition of Poor
Richard’s Almanac Franklin, writing as Saunders, used astrological techniques to predict Titan
Cotton Mather. The Armour of Christianity. A treatise, detecting first, the plots of the devil against our happiness
For a brief discussion of this see Walter Isaacson. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (Simon and Schuster,
New York: 2003):95-97.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 99
Leeds’ death on October 17 of that year. Franklin referred to Leeds in his typical jaunty manner
as “my good friend and fellow student” of astrology.
Franklin approached all this in a humorous vein. Titan Leeds, however, did not. He
retaliated in the Leeds Almanac by saying that Franklin “has manifest himself a fool and a lyar”
for his antics. Franklin replied with mock outrage, saying Leeds was “too well bred to use any
man so indecently and so scurrilously” so this must not be the real Titan Leeds, but a
manifestation from the spirit world.
He said he had “receiv’d much abuse from the ghost of
Titan Leeds.” When he referred to Leeds, Franklin always did so with the language of the
astrologer. “The stars are seldom disappointed,” he said when he predicted Leeds’ death. The
only reference Franklin makes to Daniel Leeds came when he said that Titan followed “the
honor of astrology, the art professed both by him and his father.”
Leeds could do little but
fume. Franklin found the whole project irresistible and kept it going. Even after Titan Leeds
finally died in 1738, Franklin faked a letter from him supposedly written from the great beyond.
Franklin has Leeds say that he can see much further into the future because, having died, “I got
free from the prison of the flesh.”
Franklin then responded to his own creation that “Honest
Titan, deceased, was raised [from the dead] and made to abuse his old friend [Franklin].”
Largely out of fun, Benjamin Franklin had publically cast his rival almanac publisher as a ghost,
and all but a reanimated sorcerer brought back to haunt his enemies. In the end Franklin’s ploy
worked: Poor Richard’s Almanac flourished and is remembered while the Leeds Almanac
Poor Richard’s Almanac transcribed in Albert Henry Smith, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin vol II (New
York: Macmillan Co., 1905):196.
October 18, 1733. Reprinted in Smith, 196.
Poor Richard’s Almanac for 1735.
Benjamin Franklin. Pennsylvania Gazette (February 4, 1734).
Poor Richard’s Almanac (1742).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 100
disappeared to be forgotten. The traditionally believed period of the ‘birth’ of the Jersey Devil
coincides roughly with the death of Titan Leeds as well as the Franklin/Leeds almanac war.
With a few fits and starts the Leeds almanac stopped being printed after Titan’s death and
the family receded from the public eye. The basis of the Leeds family as unintentional
progenitors of the Leeds Devil myth springs from how their reputations—both real and
manufactured—were remembered. Starting as the Leeds Devil, the elements that came together
to form the Jersey Devil mythos percolated and fermented over the next century in the culture of
the Pine Barrens. The leisurely pace of this transmutative process meant that not until the late
nineteenth and particularly the early twentieth century did the legend arrive, spurred on by the
agitation over the supposed mystery hoof prints in the snow.
By the nineteenth century, quarrels, fights, and animosities that seemed so important in
the eighteenth century no longer seemed so. The Quaker rivalries, the political fighting, the
almanac wars, and Daniel and Titan formed a memory that like paint chips flaking away from a
wall mural left a distorted version of the original image behind. The texts through which this
conflict played out passed into obscurity as well. The ephemeral nature of these publications
contributed to their disappearances. Aside from the almanacs, the Bradford family printed the
Daniel Leeds tracts in small numbers and few survived. The active censorship and destruction of
Leeds material contributed to this evaporation. Their memory had become so hazy that an 1848
newspaper article on the history of almanacs in New Jersey incorrectly stated the Franklin/Leeds
feud occurred in 1773.
This dissipation of memory had so set in that by 1900 even the
biographer of the Leeds family, genealogist Clara Louise Humeston, incorrectly called Daniel
“Old Almanacs,” Trenton State Gazette 2:593 (December 13, 1848):3.
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 101
Leeds “the writer of the single volume called the Book of Wisdom.”
This was copied without
question by a later Leeds family chronicler, Alfred M. Heston, in an article for the Proceedings
of the New Jersey Historical Society.
The newspaper articles of 1905 reduced the entire Leeds family down to ‘Captain Leeds’
and his occult leaning wife ‘Mother Leeds,’ while moving the events to the early nineteenth
century and blotting out the eighteenth century family altogether. The 1909 media attention
focused on reports of mysterious horse-like tracks found in the snow around the Pine Barrens
region and attributed them to the Leeds Devil, though accusations of a Philadelphia press agent
inventing it all flew about as well.
Charles A. Bradenburgh, the owner of the Ninth and Arch
Street Dime Museum in Philadelphia, and his press agent Norman Jeffries, saw an opportunity to
cash in on the wave of monster foot print sightings. Always eager for any outlandish scheme to
bring paying rubes into the museum, and showing no scruples about honesty or accuracy, Jeffries
began to plant stories about the Leeds Devil and its sinister behavior in local newspapers. These
early January 1909 press releases were read by an eager public already interested in the reports
of snowy foot prints. Bradenburgh and Jeffries then faked an actual Leeds Devil and put it on
display, further heightening interest. The newspaper accounts—for the Jersey Devil is a product
of the media rather than genuine folklore—began the birthing process. The Trenton Evening
News exclaimed on its front page that the “Leeds Devil has Jersey People Frightened.”
scheme had the desired effect and attendance at the museum grew. The New York Tribune
declared if anybody doubted the stories of tracks in the snow, they have now been confirmed.
Humeston, Clara Louise. Leeds: A New Jersey Family. Its Beginning and a Branchlet (California Voice Print,
Alfred H. Heston. “The Leeds Family,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society 53 (1935):9-11.
“South Jersey Joke Ended,” New York Times (January 23, 1909).
“Fly Rival of ‘Leeds Devil’ has Jersey People Frightened,” Trenton Evening News (January 20, 1909):1.
“The Things they see in Jersey,” New York Tribune (October 20, 1909).
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A new moniker caught on quickly as well. As far off as Minnesota a headline exclaimed “Real
‘Jersey Devil’ Found.”
The story now had a life of its own so that by 1929 a ‘posse’ set out to capture the
A 1930 article in the New York Times referred to Jersey Devil’s return.
MacFadden points out that odd or ‘Devil’s footprints’ have been reported in the British Isles for
centuries and that such tracks have been vaguely associated with the Leeds Devil since the mid-
nineteenth century. The shape, distance, and abruptness of these tracks led to speculation that the
Jersey Devil could fly, and so the dragon-like horse with wings model became the norm.
The Leeds family, genuine publishing pioneers of New Jersey history, soured its
relationship with the Quakers, leaving them open to animosity, resentment, and innuendo.
Daniel Leeds’ almanac was seen as inappropriate while his Temple of Wisdom bordered on the
heretical. His scandal-ridden and not always accurate writings, such as The Trumpet Sounded
and The Great Mystery of Fox-Craft, attacked Quakerism and its founder. His wives had all died
as had several children—for example Ann Stacey, who died in childbirth and was shortly
thereafter followed by their daughter Ann. Both father and son had public battles with publishing
rivals. Daniel found himself accused of being Satan’s harbinger, while Benjamin Franklin
accused Daniel’s son Titan of being a ghost resurrected from the grave. The Leeds family- by
virtue of their supposed heresy, their breaking with the Quaker community to join the opposition
Anglicans, their out spoken anti-Quaker views, their almanac writing, and their siding with the
“Real “Jersey Devil” Found,” New Ulm Review, New Ulm, MN (October 27, 1909):7.
“Posse Sets Out as 'Jersey Devil' Reappears; Black and Shaggy This Time, It Kills Hogs,” New York Times
(December 19, 1929).
“Jersey Devil' Returns as Applejack Mellows, And Dry Agents Investigate the Coincidence,” New York Times
(August 6, 1930).
NJS: An Interdisciplinary Journal Summer 2015 103
Royal government at a time when thoughts of revolution had just begun to germinate- became
political and religious monsters to their neighbors.
By the early twentieth century the Leeds Devil and its fragile memory, remodeled by
sensational media reportage, became the Jersey Devil while Mother Leeds, as much a phantom
as her offspring, materialized out of the snow covered forests surrounding Leeds Point. Stories of
tracks of a strange horse-like creature with wings became coupled to the blurred memory of the
Leeds family. The reality of genuine people’s lives faded from view, replaced by the fantasy of a
forest dragon. The Jersey Devil was never a genuine creature, but a political animal, a scapegoat,
birthed from the pages of forgotten texts and a mangled family reputation.
Brian Regal, PhD., teaches the history of science at Kean University. His most recent
book is Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology (Palgrave-