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The Legend of the Jersey Devil


So what is the legend? The story begins in 1735 when a Mrs. Leeds of Smithville was pregnant. This was to be her thirteenth child, and Mrs. Leeds was feeling old before her time. As her labor began one stormy night, she cursed the unborn baby during a fit of painful contractions, saying, "Let this child be a devil!" Mrs. Leeds soon forgot her curse when a beautiful baby boy was placed in her arms by the midwife. Suddenly the baby's body started to mutate, and Mrs. Leeds watched in horror as the baby's face elongated to resemble a bat or horse, and long, dark wings sprouted from his shoulderblades. His legs grew long and thin and his pudgy feet hardened and formed into hoof-like extremities. Fear gripped all in the room as long claws grew from the baby's fingertips and his blue eyes yellowed. The creature before them now showed no resemblance to the baby it had been just moments before its transformation. The beast let out an ear piercing scream and then turned, burst through the roof of the cabin and flew off into the night.

That is the most common and widely accepted version of the legend, however there are several variations to the story. Let's start with the name Leeds. There are two names of the Jersey Devil's mother- Mrs. Leeds and Mrs. Shourds. Carrie Bowen, a local of Leeds Point, once asserted that the name was Shourds, and the actual house that the creature was born in was the Shourds house. According to Atlantic County historian Alfred Heston, both names are possible.

Heston's research showed that both a Daniel Leeds and a Samuel Shourds lived in Leeds Point around the time of the legend. Heston also discovered that Shourds had lived directly across the river from the Leeds house. This fact adds to another variation- perhaps the Jersey Devil had been an illegitimate child who was cursed by the townspeople before birth.

The father of the Jersey Devil has always been a disputable topic. Some do not believe that either Mr. Leeds or Mr Shourds were the actual father. In fact, they do not believe the Jersey Devil has a human father; they believe the creature to be a product of Satan himself, mixed with human flesh to give it a body.

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Copyright © Laura K. Leuter, The Devil Hunters 2004