Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jersey Devil: Possible Parents and Siblings


The facts: Deborah Smith was born in 1685 in Burlington County, New Jersey and died as Deborah Leeds in 1748 in Atlantic County New Jersey. She was a Quaker and married Japheth Leeds giving birth to 12 of his children. Deborah was (possibly) the daughter of Daniel Smith and Mary Murfin. There is much speculation and much of the details may have been lost to time. In those times it was an old practice to name the first son after the parents, which in her situation was not true. Deborah named her first son Robert, and her sixth son, Daniel, bore the name of her father. Japheth's father was also named Daniel. Her first child Mary was born 1704, and her last known child by Japheth, Hannah, was born 1726.

Some information provided supports the idea that Deborah was not the daughter of Daniel Smith and Mary Murfin:
"Mary's (Murfin) Granddaughter Hannah Callender wrote a diary & listed her Grandparents' children & Deborah is not listed. Extracts from the diary of Hannah Callendar--Daniel & Mary Murfin Smith were her Grandparents.All info on dates (birth & death) taken from Daniel Smith's family Bible June 20, 1759 by Hannah Callender--
'The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom--Sense & sensibility in the age of the American Revolution,' Edited by Susan E. Klepp & Karin Wulf."

More about Deborah Smith:
Deborah Smith (born about 1685-died December 1748) in Great Egg Harbor, New Jersey. She married Japhet Leeds on 1704 in NJ, son of Daniel Leeds and Dorothy Young.

There were many legends connected with Deborah, one of them was that she was a witch and many modern databases have her listed as a Pagan. But many that were not in direct discipline of the same relgion as of those around them will be labeled a heathen or a pagan.

There is a strong possibility that the parents of Deborah were Thomas Smith and Ann Pancoast (both born about 1660 and from Yorkshire England) of Cohansey, Salem, New Jersey.They are listed as the parent's of a Deborah Smith born September 23,1687 in the Family Data Collection. And there is an underage Deborah Smith in Thomas' Will dated 1692 (Deborah born about 1684, she would be 8):

There is a John Smith who married Elizabeth Ball in 1685, the year of Deborah's birth. There is also the possibility that she came over from England already bound to marry Japeth Leeds as indicated in "Brigid's Charge" by Cynthia Lamb. There is a Deborah Smith listed in Passenger and Immigration lists for the year 1702, two years before the date of birth of her first child. In Genealogical and memorial history of the State of New Jersey says that Deborah is supposed to be the daughter of Daniel Smith, of Burlington.

Then in "Inscriptions from Gravestones of St. John's Cemetery, Yonkers, NY" copied in 1921 and verfied and published in 1925 states that in grave site #1646 Barzillai Leeds, death 5/20/1875 age 53, 8 months, 16days (born Leed's Point, Atlantic City, NJ on 8/12/1821, son of of Barzillai Leeds, great grandson of Samuel Leeds and Lovica Barber, great great grandson of Japheth Leeds & Rebecca, dau of Henry Woodward, gr. gr. gr. son of Japheth Leeds and DEBORAH, daughter of DANIEL SMITH, great great great great grandson of Daniel Leeds & Dorothy Young, great great great great great grandson of Thomas Leeds."The Compendium of American Genealogy" says her father was probably Daniel.

Much research would need to be conducted to find a birth record , perhaps in old Quaker meeting records of Burlington County, New Jersey, we can't be sure. We do know that there were several Smiths who attended Quaker Meetings along with her husband's family.Checking census records for the area, Deborah and Japhet did have a confirmed 12 children. In the Leed's Point area she is the only person that fit the profile of Mother Leeds without embellishment. The time frame was right on also since most legend place the Jersey Devil's birth in 1735. Since her last (confirmed) born child was born in 1726, in 1735 Deborah would have been 50 years old. Back in the 1700's it would have been highly unlikely that a woman in her 50's would have had a successful birth due to the primitive medical care. This might lead us to speculate and explore the possibilities that the 13th child was born handicapped, mentally retarded or disfigured over a real life devil or beast.

More information concerning Japhet:
Japhet(h) Leeds (October 24th, 1683 - Dec 15th 1748) was the son of Daniel Leeds and Dorothy Young. he was born in Springfield Twp., Burlington Co. NJ and died in St. Mary's Church, Burlington Co. NJ. He married Deborah Smith on 1704 in NJ.

Having been baptized Episcopalian in February of 1704 in St. Mary's Church, Burlington, NJ, at age 21, he must later have returned to Quakerism as according to Great Egg harbor Monthly Meeting minutes: Peter White and Jonathan Adams appointed overseers of the meetings held at Japhet Leeds.

Per minutes of Haddonfield Quarterly Meeting states that in 1726 there were three places for holding Friend's meeting in this county: Japheth Leeds', Peter White's and John Scull's, which were Leeds Point, Absecon and Somers Point, respectively.

In 1710 he purchased from his uncle, Felix Leeds, Further Island (Atlantic City) that in 1707 his father had sold to this uncle. From his father he received Leeds Point containing approx 800 to 1000 acres.

Japhet and Deborah Leeds settled at Leeds Point, Gloucester Co., NJ. Japheth's house stood well out on the Point. It was an old fashioned hip roofed structure, known as the Homestead and was successively occupied later by Japheth the 2nd, and by his son Samuel and by the latter's youngest son Barzillai. Leeds Point is a promontory with Great Bay upon one side and Little Bay on the other and is said to be the highest coast side land between the Highlands of NJ and the Capes of VA. Upon the very top of this noticeable elevation is to be seen an ancient graveyard in which, it is supposed, rest the bodies of Japheth and his wife.

There are also political/religious reasons for the legend of the Jersey Devil to appear. Deborah was a Quaker and possibly converted to Episcopalian after she married Japhet. He was also a Quaker but in 1688 had a falling out with his church and then converted to Episcopalian and was christened at St. Mary's of Burlington in 1703. This rift may explain why Deborah was accused of being a witch and how the word "devil" made it into the Leed's/Jersey Devil's name.

Originally the Jersey Devil was called the Leed's Devil, it was not until the 1900's the Jersey Devil name came around. Other names he was called were Hoodle-Doodle Bird, Wozzle Bug, flying hoof and winged dog.

A Leeds Family grave marker from Leeds Point Community Church Cemetery

Abstract of Japhet's will from 30 NJA1st 295-296:
1736, Feb. 5. Leeds, Japhet, of Great Egg Harbor, Gloucester Co., yeoman; will of. Wife, Deborah. Sons-Robert, land bought of Benjamin Jennings near a brook, formerly called Wigwam Creek, southeast to Holly Swamp brook; John, land, 200 acres, bought of his uncle Felix Leeds, by the south branch of Landing Creek; Japhet, the plantation I live on by the Bay northwest to Maple Swamp; Nehemiah, land adjoining Jeremiah Addams; James (youngest son), land bought of Benjamin Jennings, adjoining his brother Robert's; and Daniel, not 14. Daughters-Mary, eldest (alias Somers), Sarah, Deborah, Dorothy, Ann and Hannah. Cedar swamps on Bever Run and
Proprietary Rights to the sons. Executors-sons John and Japhet. Witnesses - Jeremiah Adams, Abel Scull, Isaac Addams. Affirmed December 15th, 1748. Lib. 6, p. 10. 1748, Nov. 4. Inventory, L213.17.3; made by Abel Scull, Joseph Johnson.

There are some very interesting resources online concerning the various family members associated with the Jersey Devil, above are the original scans of the survey for Japhet Leeds' house along with the blueprints for the house that can be viewed at:

Here are the names and information concerning the children of Deborah and Japhet Leeds:
1. Mary Leeds, born 1704, Great Egg Harbor, NJ, died 1768, Great Egg Harbor, NJ, married Samuel Somers.
2. Robert Leeds, born 1706, Galloway Twp., Atlantic Co. NJ, died Feb 13 1759, Gloucester NJ, married Abigail Higbee.
3. John Leeds, born about 1708, Burlington Co. NJ, died Sep 16 1785, Galloway Twp. Gloucester, NJ, married (first) Rebecca Cordery; (second) Sarah (Mathis) Coate.
4. Japhet(h) Jr. Leeds, born Mar 18 1710, Leeds Point, NJ, died Apr 12 1781, Great Egg Harbor, Gloucester Co., NJ, married Rebecca Woodward.
5. Nehemiah Leeds, born Jan 12 1712, Burlington Co. NJ, died about Dec 1773, Great Egg Harbor, Gloucester NJ, married Elizabeth Woodward.
6. James Leeds, born 1714, Leeds Point, NJ, died about 1754, Leeds Point, NJ.
7. Daniel Leeds, born 1716, Burlington Co. NJ, died Jan 30 1765, Gloucester Co., NJ, married (first) Susannah Steelman; (second) Rebecca Steelman; his children were: Susanna, married James Scull (q. v.) ; Dorcas, and Rachael.
8. Deborah Leeds, born 1720, Leeds Point, NJ, died about 1774, Atlantic Co., NJ, married Hugh Neale.
9. Dorothy Leeds, born 1722, Leeds Point, NJ, died date unknown, married Jonathan Husted.
10. Ann Leeds, born 1724, Leeds Point, NJ, died date unknown, NJ, married Nathaniel Thomas.
11. Hannah Leeds, born Feb 18 1726, Leeds Point, NJ, died Nov 24 1762, Gloucester Co., NJ, married Peter Steelman.
12. Sarah Leeds, born 1713, died 1818, NJ, probably married Thomas Wilson.
13. The Jersey Devil, The 13th Child, The Leeds Devil born 1735, died unknown.
(Kintzel, 2017)

There is strong possibility that the parents of Deborah were Thomas Smith and Ann Pancoast (both born about 1660 and from Yorkshire, England), and now living in Cohansey,
Salem, NJ. They are listed as the parent's of a Deborah Smith born on 9/23/1687 in the Family Data Collection. And there is an underage Deborah Smith in the Thomas Will dated 1692 (Deborah born about 1684, she would be 8.) They lived at Great Egg Harbor, Leeds Point area, in Galloway Township, Atlantic County New Jersey. (Kintzel, 2017)

One of the earliest known (fictional) stories in print about the Leeds Family is documented in a 1859 Atlantic Monthly article by W. F. Mayer, entitled "In the Pines."
“There lived, in the year 1735, in the township of Burlington, a woman. Her name was Leeds, and she was shrewdly suspected of a little amateur witchcraft... One stormy, gusty night, when the wind was howling in turret and tree, Mother Leeds gave birth to a son whose father could have been no other than the Prince of Darkness. No sooner did he see the light than he assumed the form of a fiend, with a horse’s head, wings of a bat, and a serpent’s tail.

The first thought of the newborn Caliban was to fall foul of his mother, whom he scratched and be pummeled soundly, and then flew through the window out into the village, where he played the mischief generally. Little children he devoured, maidens he abused, young men he mauled and battered; and it was many days before a holy man succeeded in repeating the enchantment of Prospero. At length, however, Leeds’ Devil was exorcised but only for one hundred years." (Mayer, 1859)

(Chris Chaos is a long time resident of South Jersey who once again resides in and writes from Gloucester City, New Jersey.  He is a filmmaker, a business owner, writer, urban explorer and investigator of the odd and weird, has a black cat named Jynx, four rats: Phantom the Dumbo Rat, Abbey the Albino, and two brown girls yet to be named, a proud parent, happily taken and a connoisseur of hot wings. Chris can be reached at


  1. I was wondering what the source was for the portrait of Deborah Smith Leeds you posted here? My wife is a descendent of hers.

    1. I wondered also, so far i have yet to find the source or who made the drawing.