Mulliner the Mariner: The Man Beyond the Myth

Those familiar with the New Jersey Pine Barrens have probably heard the legend of Joe Mulliner, the infamous outlaw who is said to have terrorized the inhabitants of the Pines during the American War for Independence. Yet, beyond the myth, there was a real man. What facts are known about him? What elements of the folklore can be dismissed as fictitious?  This article sets out to briefly answer these questions by way of addressing a number of commonly repeated claims about Mulliner.

Claim: He was lawless and indiscriminately plundered everyone he encountered.

Was Joe Mulliner really a scoundrel who gave allegiance to no one and observed no law, as the story goes?   According to the British, he was not. However, the Whigs painted him in a much different light. In 1781, the Grand Inquest of Burlington County claimed that Mulliner and his gang were “moved by the instigation of the Devil,” that they were “false traitors and rebels against the State of New Jersey,” and that they “captured and held citizens of the state as prisoners of war.”[1] Shortly after Mulliner’s death, the New Jersey Gazette reported: “This fellow had become the terror of the country. He made a practice of burning houses, robbing and plundering all who fell in his way, so that when he came to his trial it appeared that the whole country, both Whigs and Tories, were his enemies.” [2] Such accusations were often leveled against Tory irregulars, and this particular case may have merely been an example of wartime rhetoric. John Watson, who was born at Batsto Village in 1778, claimed that Mulliner burned the home of his father, William Watson, who was a patriot and privateer, and took him to New York as a prisoner of war in November 1781.[3] It was common for Tories to kidnap Whigs for ransom or to exchange them for Loyalist prisoners, but Mulliner would have been dead by the date Watson sets for the event, indicating either that Watson simply confused the date or that Mulliner had nothing to do with it.

However, while the Whigs denounced Mulliner as a depraved soul who was guilty of horrendous crimes, the British painted him in a much more favorable light. According to Benjamin Franklin’s son, William, who, unlike his father, remained loyal to the Crown throughout the Revolutionary War, Mulliner was what was known as an Associated Loyalist.[4]  The Associated Loyalists were comprised of willing and able Tories who were hired to disrupt the activities of the Rebels. According to General Henry Clinton, the British Commander-In-Chief in North America, Mulliner worked for the British as a whaleboat privateer.[5] This demonstrates a fact about Mulliner that is absent from the folklore surrounding him: He was a sailor. Beginning in 1779, in an effort to compensate for economic loss caused by the Rebel privateers, the British encouraged Loyalists to engage in privateering, a common wartime occupation for mariners. Mulliner was allegedly one of a number of such anti-insurrectionists and, given the fact that the British went to some lengths in defending him, it may be unlikely that he indiscriminately plundered both patriots and Tories, as charged by his detractors. Ultimately, it is impossible to know whether the British account or the Whig account reflects a greater degree of truth, but it is reasonable to suspect that perhaps both sides were construing Mulliner in such a way as to advance their respective agendas. On the one hand, the Whigs may have been set on demonizing Mulliner in order to foster patriotic sentiments. For certain, they were set on making an example of him in order to deter other Tories from engaging in such “criminal” activities.  On the other hand, it is possible that General Clinton lied about Mulliner’s commission in order to bolster his case that the Rebels were engaging in “acts of cruelty and barbarity” against the Tories.[6]  Clinton’s accusation was not without merit, as it was not unusual for Tories to be tried and executed as prisoners of the state for committing essentially the same offenses as the patriots who were treated as prisoners of war by the British.[7]

Claim: He was the “Robin Hood of the Pines”.

“The Robin Hood of Pines” is a title often attached to Mulliner’s legacy, but how much similarity actually exists between the legend of Robin Hood and the historical Mulliner?  Not much.  Like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Mulliner and his gang lived in the woods (at least when they weren’t at sea) where they could more easily elude the law. Yet, with the possible exception that Mulliner and his men occasionally robbed people traveling through the woods, the similarities end there.  That said, it is unlikely that Mulliner held up stagecoaches as is traditionally believed.  If he had done so, it certainly wasn’t routine, judging from the utter lack of any record of such events taking place in the region. Moreover, historian David J. Fowler, who devoted an entire chapter of his PhD dissertation (Rutgers) to Mulliner, concluded that the claim that Mulliner’s gang numbered around 40 to 100 men is a gross exaggeration and that, based upon what is known about other Pine Robber and outlaw gangs, the real number would have probably been closer to ten.[8]

Claim: He hid out on Rabbit Island.

An oft-repeated element of the Mulliner myth is that he and his gang hid out on an island at the Forks of the Mullica River, where the Atsion and Batsto creeks converge.  This island is known as “Rabbit Island”, and oral tradition has it that goods were stored in warehouses here during the Revolutionary War. The island is located right in the middle of what was once one of the hottest centers for patriotic privateers and smugglers along any New Jersey river. When one considers also the fact that the island would have lacked sufficient tree cover due to logging, it becomes clear that there is no substance to this particular tradition.

A more feasible tradition holds that Mulliner and his gang hid out in the nearby Mordecai Swamp, a large tract of cedar forest stretching from Batsto to Bulltown that was owned and logged by Mordecai Andrews in the early 1700s.  It is said that they had an encampment on one of a number of island-like areas of high ground that are dispersed throughout the swamp.  Mulliner and his men would not have lingered for long, however, and likely made transient encampments throughout the Pines as they moved about carrying out their missions.  It is not unreasonable, however, to surmise that Mulliner would periodically return to Mordecai Swamp or other suitable places in the vicinity. With all of the patriotic activity that took place at the Forks and Batsto, and given Mulliner’s supposed familiarity with the area, it would make sense that he would frequently come back to carry out the work that the British government commissioned him to do.  However, it certainly would have been a risky undertaking, considering the presence of armed soldiers, militia and patriots at these locations.

According to oral tradition, Mulliner lived with his wife (whose name is not known) on her property along the Mullica River in present day Sweetwater before he had to flee as an outlaw, but this has yet to be confirmed through historical records. If it is true, then perhaps he would have sometimes traveled under the cover of darkness to visit her when he was nearby.  Local lore holds that the family dog was trained to relay messages between Joe and his wife by means of crossing the river with notes tucked into a special collar.  Another legend holds that Mulliner and his men would cross the river by means of using cedar branches as camouflage.  These stories make for good folklore but can neither be discounted nor proved.

Claim: He would frequent the tavern at Quaker Bridge.

It is said that Mulliner had a penchant for drinking, singing and dancing and that he and his men would frequent the taverns throughout the Pines. Allegedly, Mulliner had a habit of taking the hand of the prettiest woman in the building and dancing with her. Her significant other, if present, would scarcely protest out of fear of Mulliner and his gang, who apparently were reputed to be prone to violence.  It is often suggested that one such tavern visited by Mulliner was the Quaker Bridge Hotel (or Thompson’s Tavern), but this cannot be true. It wasn’t until 1809, nearly 30 years after Mulliner’s death, that the first application for the tavern license was submitted. However, his reputation as being violent is not without historical support.  In November 1780, he was called to trial for his actions on September 30th of the same year when “Joseph Mulliner, mariner, did beat and ill-treat” a man named John Wood. [9]

Claim: He was arrested at the Indian Cabin Mill Inn in Nesco.

There is a blue sign in front of an old house along Route 542 in Nesco that reads: “Indian Cabin Mill Inn. Joe Mulliner noted refugee-Tory-outlaw captured here in 1781. Renamed Union Hotel in 1861.”  The sign is incorrect on two levels. Mulliner was probably arrested either in Monmouth County or off the coast of Monmouth County, as indicated by Sir Henry Clinton, who reported that Mulliner was first taken to Freehold and then later transferred to Burlington County. The Scots Magazine (which happens to be the oldest magazine in the world still in publication) echoed Clinton’s report: “Joseph Mullener, an associated Loyalist, and captain of a whale boat privateer, was taken by the rebels in 1781, carried to Freehold, removed to Burlington, tried and executed, not withstanding he produced his commission as Captain of the said privateer at his trial.” [10]

The second problem with the sign is the fact that Indian Cabin Mill Inn was not located at Nesco, but rather just off Indian Cabin Road near what is now known as Egg Harbor City Lake.  The tavern was so named due to its proximity to a saw mill that once operated at the foot of the lake known as Indian Cabin Mill. The earliest owner of the mill that the author is aware of was Timothy Shaler, whose wife and children are buried in marked graves nearby.  It is not known when the mill was first given this name, but it was previously known as Shaler’s Upper Mill.[11] The mill was probably constructed shortly after Shaler, who himself was a prominent patriotic privateer, purchased many acres of land between Pine Creek (a.k.a Newton Creek) and Landing Creek in 1774. [12]

Claim: He was hung along the Mullica River.

Tradition holds that Mulliner was hung from a tree at a place called “High Bank” on the south side of the Mullica River, but the historical record shows that he was hung at Gallows Hill in Burlington City, where Laurel Hill Cemetery is presently located.  Everyone sentenced to death by the Burlington Court met his or her fate at Gallows Hill, and Mulliner would not have been an exception. His sentencing resulted in some controversy with General Clinton decrying Mulliner’s hanging as unlawful. Clinton noted that because Mulliner was commissioned by the British government he should have been tried as a prisoner of war. Instead, he was treated as a prisoner of the state and was charged with felony and high treason. Mulliner pleaded not guilty and allegedly presented proof of his commission, but to no avail. The judge sentenced him to death after citing the fact that he owned no property, which must have made him expendable in the eyes of the court.[13]

Claim: He was buried at High Bank (or at Crowleytown).

Mulliner’s body may have been placed in a common burial ground, as were many who were executed under the law. Alternatively, his body could have been turned over to his wife for burial on her property.  It is not known where her property was, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that it was located along High Bank where a recently placed tombstone now purports to mark her husband’s place of repose.  There is a tradition that his original grave was indicated by a small stone at High Bank that read “J M”, but the following excerpt of 1765 deed for land near the same location may indicate that the stone in question was merely a property boundary marker:

“Benjamin Brush of Galloway Twp., £90 for 14 acres…in the same place on the west side of Mullacais River just below a certain landing called Reads Landing and on a tongue of land that puts out in a cove, bounded by J. M. (marker), excepting 5 acres lying next to Richard Westcott.”

Read’s Landing (of Charles Read fame) was located on the south (or west) side of the river just below the mouth of Lucas Branch, which flows into the Mullica immediately downstream of High Bank.  The initials are that of John Monrow who had this land surveyed and then conveyed to Benjamin Brush in 1765.[14] We can be certain that it did not signify Mulliner, who owned no land.

Closing Remarks

The folklore surrounding Joe Mulliner is interesting but can be determined to be largely fictitious.  However, the little that we do know of him through historical records proves to be quite interesting nonetheless.  Extracting the historical Mulliner from the legend proves to be a stimulating albeit difficult task that raises many questions, some which are unanswerable and others that have yet to be answered.

Notes

  • Burlington County presentment, n.d. (c. 1781). NjMoHP, reel 37.
  • NJA, 2d ser. 5: 282.
  • Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time (Philadelphia, 1898), vol.3, 12.
  • William Franklin to Clinton, 25 April 1782, BHQP, reel 13, no. 4474
  • Clinton to Washington, 1 May 1782, PCC r 171, v10: pp. 543-46
  • Fowler, Egregious Villains, Wood Rangers, and London Traders (Rutgers, 1987), p.224
  • Richard M. Brown, Strain of Violence (New York, 1975), p.75
  • Fowler, p.218
  • Burlington County indictments, November 1780, NjBuHi.
  • The Scots Magazine, Volume 44 (1782), p.491
  • GC-A-216
  • Colonial Conveyances, A-F, p. 526
  • Min. Burl. Co. O & T Ct., July – August, 1781
  • SGO Book Y

* For further reading, see Egregious Villains, Wood Rangers, and London Traders by David J. Fowler, which includes a chapter dedicated to unraveling the legend of Joe Mulliner and is the most comprehensive historical work on the subject to date. I am indebted to Fowler for the research behind a significant portion of this article.

* The author has written a song that celebrates the lore of Joe Mulliner, which can be heard here: https://gabrielcoia.bandcamp.com/track/joes-last-jig

A Hat, a Hut, or a Tavern: The Tale of Ong’s Hat

It all started with a road map of New Jersey. A little north of the Red Lion Circle, in the heart of the Burlington County Pine Barrens, the map depicted a tiny hamlet marked with the unusual name of “Ongs Hat.” In the early 1930s, Henry Charlton Beck, a reporter with the Camden Courier Post, became curious. After convincing his editor that a story could be found there, he and a photographer packed up a car and set off to investigate.[1] Little did he know that his explorations at Ongs Hat, and a succession of later voyages to mysterious places in the hinterlands of New Jersey, would inspire generations of other “lost town hunters” –pouring over ancient maps, exploring dismal cellar holes in the middle of nowhere, and sharing their discoveries with one another – first by telephone and letter and presently through online forums.

In Beck’s time, the best way to Ong’s Hat was the rough tarred road out of Pemberton. Little travelled, the long, slow road passed through miles of bleak forest, cranberry bogs, and forlorn cedars where scarce a human foot had trod. Only a dusty clearing betrayed the location of where the town once stood. Today, the road still follows the same route, but it is now well-maintained asphalt. Want to go? Just travel south from Pemberton, past the old Magnolia Road Tavern, until you come across a restaurant on your right hand side. You’ve arrived in Ong’s Hat – miles away from anywhere. Blink and you’ll miss it.

The story of Ong’s Hat begins long before the birth of our nation. On February 5, 1631 the ship Lyon arrived in Boston Harbor from Bristol, England. The settlers on board included Francis Ong, of Suffolk County, England; his wife Francis; and children Simon, Jacob, and Isaac.[2] Members of the Society of Friends, the Ongs left England seeking religious tolerance in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.[3] Isaac and his wife, Mary, moved to Burlington County around 1688, eventually settling on a plantation in Mansfield Township. They had five children: Jacob, Jeremiah, Isaac Jr., Sarah, and Elizabeth. On June 13, 1696 Jacob Sr. died, leaving his plantation and other property to his second wife, Sarah.[4]

Jacob Ong was born on his father’s plantation around 1672, and followed in his footsteps as a farmer. An early court case in 1698 tells of Jacob being accused of riding his horse at a gallop “in the fair time Betwixt the Market house and the water side” in Burlington City – charges that were eventually dropped when nobody appeared in court to prosecute.[5] Sometime after 1699 he left Mansfield, following his sister Sarah and her new husband, Edward Andrews, to Egg Harbor.[6]

The forlorn cedar swamps along the Stop the Jade Creek called to Jacob, and in 1700 he purchased 100 acres of land in Northampton Township, encompassing the area that would later be known as Ong’s Hat.[7] There is no evidence that he ever intended to build a home there. It’s more likely he realized that he could make good money harvesting the cedars on his land.

So what about the hat? The oldest maps simply show the location as “Ongs.” Thomas Gordon’s Gazetteer of 1834 seems to be the first published source in which the town gains its puzzling surname.

The Magnolia Road Tavern, just north of Ong's Hat.

Several theories abound explaining the unusual name. The most famous recounts Jacob Ong as a type of dandy, as best as the eighteenth century could produce, that regularly visited the local tavern. Jacob was quite the charmer and known for wearing a fine silk hat. One night he seems to have gotten on the wrong side of his dance partner who, in a fit of anger, snatched the hat from Jacob’s head and stomped on it in the middle of the dance floor. This story can be discounted, as a tavern was not located here until the early 1800s. Another story is that Ong’s Hat is a misspelling of Ong’s Hut, and that the Ong family built a hut or some other structure as a convenient stopping-over point between Egg Harbor and Burlington or Mansfield.

I find the most plausible theory to be one concerning the tavern at Ong’s Hat. Isaac Haines was one of the first recorded tavern keepers in the area, establishing his business circa 1800.[8] In the days where many people could not read, an identifying mark was more valuable than words. It doesn’t stretch the imagination to picture the tavern keeper painting a large hat on a crude pine board and hanging it from a pole to announce to passersby that they had reached the “Ong’s Hat Tavern.”

The town of Ong’s Hat soldiered on in relative anonymity until tragedy struck. About 1917, a pine hawker named John Zimbacke and his wife mysteriously disappeared from their small cabin. Nine years later, brothers Orville and Joseph Carpenter came across the skull of the woman while hunting for deer along the fringes of a cranberry bog north of Ong’s Hat. Arriving on the scene, Burlington County detectives, led by Ellis Parker, found the bones of John scattered by buzzards across nearly two miles. Suspicion fell to the couple’s son, who disappeared shortly before his parents went missing.[9] The trail led Parker to New York City where, unfortunately, it went cold. It has been said that Parker kept the skull of the woman in his office as a reminder of the case he was unable to solve.[10]

Eight years later, another crime brought Ong’s Hat back to the headlines. Farmer Ellwood Anderson was driving from Mount Holly to his home near Reed’s Bogs when he found the road blocked. It was shortly before 8 PM and the dim light of the moon illuminated the vehicle that had halted his progress. Anderson stopped his car and walked towards the vehicle, whose doors stood open. Inside, the bodies of two men slumped over to the side. Peering out into the dimly lit woods, he saw another body. Horrified, he ran back to his car and phoned the State Police barracks in Columbus.[11]

When the police arrived, they found that the men had all been shot at least twice at close range with a double-barrel shotgun. Once again, Ellis Parker made his way out to Ong’s Hat to investigate. Details on the victims came first – Edward Reihl, Stanley Zimmer, and William Schwar, all from Easton, Pennsylvania.[12] Prohibition had just started, and the three young men were known to be members of a gang that would follow molasses trucks to clandestine stills in Pennsylvania and Western Jersey. They would burst out after the truck had arrived and shake the owners of the still down for money with a threat to report their operations. The men frequently ran afoul of Pennsylvania mobsters, and it was reported that they had been “beaten up” several times prior. The detectives were tipped off that the trio had planned to raid a still in Trenton before the mobsters got to them. “They tried to burn somebody up once too often,” Detective Parker said to a Trenton Evening Times reporter, “and they got burned up themselves.” Parker surmised that the perpetrators rounded up the men and drove to a predetermined spot in the backwoods near Ong’s Hat. The men were removed from the car, lined up, executed, and haphazardly returned to the vehicle. Nearby residents reported hearing the retorts from the shotgun, but assumed that it was blasting being done nearby.[13]

Apanay's Cafe at Ong's Hat

When Henry Charlton Beck visited in the late 1920s, he found the hamlet to be little more than a clearing with bits of broken brick, pieces of roofing, cast-off shoes, and long, straggly Indian grass to mark where the town once stood. He found one last resident, Eli Freed, trying to make a living there. Freed, then seventy-nine years old, had moved there from Chicago. At Ong’s hat, Freed said, he had cleared twenty acres by hand and built a house with the help of a man called Amer. He was having a rough time of it – the deer and rabbits kept eating the produce he attempted to grow, despite the high fences constructed to keep them out.[14] By the time Beck came back to revisit, Freed had departed and Ongs Hat was deserted.

Ultimately, the strangest tale about Ong’s Hat has to be about the Incunabula Papers. In the papers, it’s claimed, Wali Fard, an American expatriate and follower of tantric and shamanistic magic, returned to America after the fall of Afghanistan to the Soviets. He laundered his savings by buying 200 acres of land near Ong’s Hat, including the former Ong’s Hat Rod and Gun Club. There, with several other people who had followed him from New York, he founded the Moorish Science Ashram.[16]

Ten years later, the ashram became a place of refuge for other Moors and outcasts. Among the new residents, by then living in a scattering of weather-gray shacks, Airstream trailers, recycled chicken coops, and mail-order yurts, were Frank and Althea Dobbs, siblings and scientists. Joseph Matheney, one of the authors of the Incunabula Papers, claims that the Dobbs were scientists who lost their positions at Princeton University when they attempted to submit a thesis based on “cognitive chaos” – a scientific and philosophical system that stated that patterns of thought could affect autonomic functions like tissue repair and aging, unlock the brains unused potential, or perhaps even control matter itself.[17]

At the ashram, the scientists resumed their aborted experiments. Through trial and error they found that by controlling thought patterns, especially with the use of sensory deprivation, that one might be able to cross over to another universe. They constructed a series of “vessels” they named “eggs” that would facilitate the journey. The legend continues that one night the compound was raided in a “black ops” operation and the buildings and experiments all destroyed. Elsewhere the papers say that groups of refugees left before the raid happened, settling in Ong’s Hat in a parallel universe – one just like our own but without human habitation.[18]

While the events that they claim happened at Ong’s Hat are certainly fictional – there was never any Ong’s Hat Rod and Gun Club, for example – the story itself once again thrusts the tiny backwoods hamlet back into the spotlight. Joseph Matheny and others created the Incunabula story as an experiment in “culture jamming” – creating a fictional, yet somewhat plausible, story and weaving it into the social consciousness. He was successful – years of photocopied pamphlets, text files uploaded to pirate and fringe internet bulletin board systems, websites, blogs, radio interviews, and books have cemented the infamy of Ong’s Hat.

Whether it’s a hat, a hut, or a tavern, Ong’s Hat is certainly one of the most infamous of the Pine Barrens ghost towns.

Continue reading “A Hat, a Hut, or a Tavern: The Tale of Ong’s Hat”

Ghosts of Old Jersey Fiddlers Still Haunt the Back Woods

Whenever I walk the Tallertown road, the ghosts rise up around me. There is, to begin with, the ghost of the town itself for in these days no one seems to be sure if the village, now only a scattering of weather black houses, was Tallertown or Tylertown. Up to now, or not long ago, it had been Tylertown to me because. old men like Constant Ford and Vill and Lonzo Nichols had associated it with a long-gone family of Tylers. More recently my friends in Hermann, or Hermantown, where they used to make glass along the Mullica River and beyond Charcoal Point, from where cordwood was shipped to heat pre-coal New York, began calling it Tallertown or Tallowtown, because this was where quantities of “tallow trees” grew.

Here, then, and within the shadow of Hanover Furnace now swallowd up by Fort Dix, early Jerseyans knew how to boil what they called “tallow trees” in order to obtain a wax from which they fashioned their rude candles. I must not complain, however, for they still use the next best appropriate illumination – oil lamps. None has known that intruder, electricity, which recently spoiled the quaint interior of the ancient Green Bank Church.

For my part, I thought that I had finished with Tylertown or Tallertown, as the case may be. I went that way to Bulltown, another glass kiln, long ago, and, even in an earlier day, I traveled with Warner Hargrove along the brushy path which still is dignified with the name, Washington Turnpike. This is the road, straight as a ramrod from Batsto to Harrisville, past the cellar-holes of a little known Washington, N. J., that Joseph Wharton built with his own money across what he expected to be a Philadelphia water-shed.

It was a letter from Hoills Koster, probably written so painstakingly by the light of another oil lamp, that called me back – this time to the weird tune of phantom fiddles.

Old-time fiddlers widely known

“Hearing often of your interest in the violin,” wrote Hollis, that native of the Mullica shores whose name is known to botanists almost everywhere, “it might be well to touch upon the violin in folk lore, if you have a mind. Although we can only hope to scratch the surface, at the beginning, which is the way of most violinists, it will no doubt prove a rich subject. Relying entirely on what comes to me now, let’s talk about a few things that have happened in this section:

Many years ago, I have been told, the three taverns on the old Quaker road – Quaker Bridge Tavern, the Mount Tavern and Washington Tavern – held party nights once a week. One week the Mount will hold a party, the next the Washington Tavern took its turn, and so on. Folk from miles around attended and the region produced some particularly fine fiddlers, we are told. Their reputation, at any rate, seems to have survived a hundred years or more, Naturally, so have their ghosts.

Bill Birdsall recalled the excitement that followed when violin, music was heard in the dark of the night from the old Joe Miller place at Tallertown. Of course, Jeremiah Ford’s sons, David and Thomas, had been notable and lived nearby. I find “David Ford, Fiddler” entered in an old account book of the 1850’s, written so to distinguish him from David Ford, of Tulpehauken, and David Ford, of Frogtown. A violin heard at times in the past at Hermann was said to connect with Asa Ford. I find, however, that a later Asa Ford, who played the instrument, was indicated. But more on Asa Ford, the fiddler, later. Before Bill Birdsall died, he laughed the whole matter aside by explaining that the “music” resulted when two limbs of the trees would be rubbed together by the wind – but he always spoke of it as if he were never quite sure

Johnnie Johnson, now at Anchorage, Alaska, has been concerning himself with some of the old names along the Tallertown road – and we have exchanged a deal of correspondence. We have been trying to find out, for instance, why the king snake is known in the Pine Barrens here as a “wamper.” Naturalists had supposed that this word was a corruption of “swamper” but we felt this theory was not too strong. We soon had string of words meaning to undulate, etc., from the Scotch, Dutch, old English and other sources. We also remembered the wampum snake but feel that we have as yet proved nothing.

But Haze Wobber gave me a fine example of the manner in which words at times can be corrupted. It seems that an old-time woodchopper, having ground his blade unusually fine, tested it on a pine tree somewhere between the Mount and Tallertown. The bit broke off in the tree, that tree became known as the ax-bit pine. Many years later, Haze tells me, people were calling it the “acklby pine.”

“While we are concerned with the environs of Tallertown we might as well note Kate’s Money Tree, known also as “The Haunted Pine” and as the Haunted Stump.” Kate Ford, wife of one of the Jeremiahs, used to explore the forests with a “money spear.” And you might make a note there that the name that has troubled us so long, Aunt Bash Ford, was actually Barsheba Ford . . .”

Let me break in here to say that in company with Will Nichols and Hollis we have located the stump behind which, the legends say, an unidentified ghost is known to lurk at certain times of the year. It isn’t far beyond Tallertown and, at least by day, it appears far from extraordinary. However, it was the late Bill Birdsall, brother-in-law of Will Nichols, who said that on at least one occasion a cold hand touched the back of his neck as he passed that way. “And Bill wasn’t given to believing in that sort of thing.” Will assured me.

Money spear just pointed stick

“What,” I demanded of Hollis, as we hurried along, “was a money spear?” I had concluded that it must be some new variation of a divining rod but Hollis told me I was wrong. It was to all appearance just another pointed stick, he said. Whatever powers there were seemed to belong to Kate Ford although whether her poking about in the Jersey “desarts” ever resulted in the discovery of buried treasure is something I have not found out. It was at this point that Hollis, in the midst of an impromptu lecture on the difference between two-leaved pine, stood still as if to listen. I thought that he was about to reveal that his sensitive ears had just picked up the wavering whine confected of rosined horsehair on catgut. But it was something more important than that.

“I wanted to tell you,” he said, “that the herring are up as far as Lower Bank and that thinking of them the other night brought back an old song they used to sing here along the Tallertown road.” Hollis refused to attempt the tune but he did recall the words so that at least one more New Jersey folksong was added to my meager store:

“Looked down the river, heard the herring coming;

Looked up the road, saw the folks a-running;

Some had a saucer, others had a cup

They were all raising hell ’cause the herring was up!”

Which, while you imagine an appropriate setting full of rhythm, perhaps with fiddle accompaniment, gives me the chance to recall the occasion when a forgotten pastor of the Green Bank Church was interrupted in the midst of his sermon. A bashful member of the congregation had made his way to the platform and had handed up a note. The parson nodded and as the intruder returned to the back of the church he said: “The sermon, friends, will end right here. So will the service, however, both will be resumed this evening when, I think, we will have even more reasons to give thanks to God. The good brother has just brought me word that there are herring in the river. Go get ‘em!”

I recalled the episode and Hollis merely smiled. “As long as you are on the subject of God,” he said, “you might take note that over on the Tuckahoe River people used to answer a query as to where they might be from with ‘Tuckahoe, God bless you!’ Some say that when the herring were up and the Tuckahoe folks in no mood to tarry another word, probably profane, was substituted for bless’ . . .

“Of course,” Hollis Koster continued in his letter, “you have heard of the old statement that when the herring are about, a dweller along the Mullica River cannot remove his shirt. The explanation is, I suppose, that while the fish are in the river, every moment must be spent in catching them. As for the eating of herring, Mullica men always insist that there is but one satisfactory way in which to handle the numerous fine bones for which the species is celebrated – to forget that bones are any impediment to eating, and swallow!

“But back to our fiddlers. Asie Ford had been fiddling at the Mount Tavern one night and then at a very late hour took the ‘lang Scotch miles’ afoot down the old Quaker road toward Tallertown. Today this country is a pine barren wasteland without a dwelling for miles. Then Asa, on his way, after bidding his host, Jonathan Cramer, good-night, would have passed what was known as Noah’s Ark – this was where Noah Sooy lived alone, after separation from his wife, who in turn lived alone some distance away in what we call Polly Sooy Field.

“Asie arrived home with his face scratched and bleeding and in a generally disheveled condition. Perhaps some said, ‘Served him right to be caught on a lonely road at such an unholy hour!’ But Asie had been through a strange adventure, perhaps the natural sequel of a boast he must have made during the evening. He had said he could out-fiddle the devil any time he liked.

Challenged Asie to fiddling match

“Two or three miles southeast of the Mount, a stranger had stepped into the road, accosting Asie with words of anger. He then whipped out a violin and challenged Asie to a fiddling match right then and there. A pine log lay by the side of the road and the two sat down and commenced fiddling.

“Before long the stranger was puffing and blowing. Asie glanced at him, and in a moment deeply regretted the idle boast he had made during the evening. He had not intended to be so drawn into a contest with Old Nick himself. There was little to be done. Asie simply fiddled more furiously. Soon he noticed that the stranger had stopped his fiddling and was listening to his opponent. Asia then stopped, too.

“The devil rose from his seat gazed down at Asie, and suddenly fell upon him, striking him angrily across the face with his bow. Asia recovered in time to see his defeated opponent disappear into the pre-dawn mist which bad commenced to rise like steamy smoke from the chilled turf of the pinelands. Harve Ford’s granny said she could vouch for the tact that her brother, Asie, did return with welts across his face and with a story as startling as it was colorful.”

“To conclude with one more story of the vicinity of Tailertown – Jack Updike says to tell you that a refuge, and of the celebrated pine-robbers of Revolutionary days, was seen in flight with silver plate belonging to Joost Sooy II. The robber was shot that evening through a tavern window – perhaps one called Mount – but the silver was never discovered. Although some legends say the shooting happened near Chatsworth, the plate is believed to be somewhere near.”

Surely you can see how Hollis’s letter spilled over with unspoken invitations, I had expected to go down that way a little later when more than the shad-bush would be blooming and when I could visit with Bill Birdsall’s widow, now in her 70’s, and Abbie (Mrs. Will) Nichols, 93, in what I like to call my unofficial parish. Aunt Mary Birdsall had been ill all winter, they said, and Abbie hadn’t spoken plainly since she suffered a stroke. Now, looking back, although I will freely admit that it was the string of stories linked with the Tallertown road, especially the tale of the devilish fiddling match, that drew me Down Country, my own compensation lies in having seen these old friends.

I can never understand why people far up fading country roads are allowed to grow lonely when a call means so much to them. First time I went to the Birdsall’s you may remember, their house had burned down a few days before. Even so, the fact that nearly everything but their lives was lost failed to keep Will and ‘Lonzo home on the first day of deer season.

On the way to the Nichols’s we passed what Hollis called Molasses Hill. There’s no molasses, of course, and the hill is equally elusive now that the land back of Hermantown is so grown over. Beyond the graved hole is where, Hollis Koster says, Mary Tunis met a bear. Mary was in such a hurry to get away that the lid of her kettle slipped off and molasses dripped all over the ground. The bear, whose attention had been devoted to an ant hill until Mary’s approach, quickly switched to the molasses with evident delight.

“And just who,” I asked Hollis, “was Mary Tunis?” Perhaps, I thought, her ghost was somewhere about this Tallertown road.

“Her husband was Sam Tunis,” Hollis told me. “He was what they always called ‘a water man’ down here. That means he was a sailor. It also means, In Sam’s case, that his wife, Mary, was intensely jealous of him. Although there is no certainty that he consorted with other women, Mary always imagined that he did, especially when he was away on coasters for any length of time. She was the one, you remember, who burned her husband’s musket while be was away, just because she couldn’t show her fury to the man in person. Rare article, Mary!”

Homes for living and for dead

It was not until I sat down beside Abbie Nichols’ making believe I could understand all the things she was trying to tell me, that recalled that she Is Hazleton Birdsall’s daughter and that “Haze” who taught Sunday School in the old one-room school that has been turned into a delightful little house, was my favorite Down Jersey carpenter. “Haze,” whose name will be ever remembered In Haze’s Crossway not far down the Tallertown road, used to build houses for the dead as well as for the living. Nothing could interrupt his careful building of a house except word that someone had died.

Then he quickly brought his work to a halt, climbed down his ladder and went home to his barn to ascertain if the corpse would fit one of the “boxes” he had fashioned and put by in storage. His barn, they say, concealed coffins in all sizes, always of the best wood and Birdsall workmanship. If the measurements of the deceased required a special “fit” Hazieton’s plans would be interrupted still further. The point is, as Will Nichols admitted when Mrs. Nichols couldn’t, In spite of her smiling and chattering agreement with all I said, that from the moment someone died, “Haze” Birdsall took charge.

He prepared the body for burial on what he called a “cooling board” and he used pioneer ways to keep the body in good state until the funeral. In Hazelton Birdsall’s day even preachers were hard to find when wanted and, when a reasonable wait had been undertaken, “Haze” suggested that, in addition to driving his homemade hearse to the cemetery, the bereaved might like to have him preach the funeral sermon at the end of a service which, from all accounts, he conducted very well.

Yes, sweet Abbie, who in spite of the paralysis which has tied her tongue appears far younger than 93, remembered all that. A tear betrayed the fact that she knew all that I had said was part of familiar though fading picture. Will broke in to remember the time Al Nichols lived “up to the Housen place” and Ephraim Sooy’s horse “got scared” as he passed the haunted stump. Minutes later I had persuaded Will to desert his house long enough to travel up the Tallertown road further than he had been, by his own admission, In the last two years, “There’s the stump,” he cried, as we came upon it. “More’s rotted off since I was here but there she be, sure enough. Eph’s horse got scared when something white came out from behind the shaft of it and Eph swore neither he nor the horse knew what it was.

We had moved on to what once was Washington, or Washington Field, site of the parties Hollis described as well as the Inn where “Joe” Mulliner, the Refugee, was captured. Although I have been there many times through the years, I did not know there was ever as much of a town as Will described, “Place had its own school,” he said. “Tom Campinello was one of the last schoolmasters.” Inasmuch as Tom served as godfather for Hollis Koster, I have concluded there was a settlement in what today is a mere clearing in the heart of the pine woods much later than anyone ‘has revealed. The cellar holes are all that remain of houses still standing as late as the 1880’s, perhaps, probably the victims of a forest fire that swept all such century-old relics before it.

“People say the soil is poor,” said Will. “Not so at all. Soil’s as good as any around. I remember when this clearing was a corn field and when there were farms all around. Shreve Wells ran the Mount Tavern, then, and there was a town as big as any around here. Here where the roads meet, cutting into what was the farm, people were happy and – ” What ‘Will wanted to say was that Washington, N. J. – far from the remaining Washington in Warren County – was self-sufficient. Tallertown may have dropped from sight, Quaker Bridge may be less than an empty crossroads, and Harrisville may be but the crumbling ruins of the paper plant I’ve told you about, but there were many years in which whole families lived and moved and had their being in all of them.

There are things you can’t explain

As Will Nichols tried to hide his lost agility and moved beside me as quickly as he dared, showing me that the walls of what many have concluded were those of the tavern were really those of the barn, and then moving by me to find the deep stone-lined well that proved without doubt where the celebrated inn of Nick Sooy had stood, I tried desperately for new light on the fiddlers and their ghosts. Nick Sooy had an inn at Quaker Bridge, too, Will said, changing the subject. Then, as if in deference to me he added: “There are things you just can’t explain and shouldn’t try.”

“Lonzo’s horse, now – he’s scared along here, too. Maybe the town has dropped into a bole, or a lot of holes, and maybe it looks as if everybody but the deer has gone to glory but you just know something’s been left behind. You can just feel it. Same as over to Buck’s Point. Charlie Green used to say the Wilsons lived there and that Quakers lived on the Point before them. He remembered a time when recruiting officers came – the story had been handed down from Revolutionary days – and the women folk said there were no men. From the woods came the ringing of many axes. Demanding an explanation, the officers were told that it was only old Daddy Ford chopping down a bee tree. Odd thing is that there’s always been a bee tree, nigh onto every summer, on Buck’s Point, and that when the nights are particularity still you can hear the ringing of Daddy Ford’s ax even now. By this time he musta chopped a lot of wood, we always say.”

Uncle John was sexton of the Green Bank Church, Hollis added, remembering that still another ghost of the Tallertown road has a part to play in the mystery of the tremendous coffin, shaped like a boat, dug up unexpectedly in the 1800’s. “Body was over-size too,” Hollie said, “and the crazy thing was that the giant, whoever he was, had two full sets of teeth.”

It was, I can assure you, a shivery journey, even though I encountered neither Old Nick nor phantom fiddlers on the Tallertown road. The ghost arose from the shadows all around us, however, and it was something of a relief to return to Hermantown and see something more tangible, a violin they say was by the fiddling Fords. The instrument was proudly displayed by Nick – for Nicodemus – Ford who swore, as country musicians usually do, that hero was a true Stradivarlus. “Play it,” Nick suggested. Although I was trained, long ago, to nudge Fritz Krelsler from his throne, I demurred, pointing out that the bow that was proffered had no hair.

“Don’t need none,” Nick declared. “Hair on bows went out with horses. Fiddlers down this away never seemed to mind. When a tune was wanted they rosined the wood and played. See? Like this!” Without further preliminary, a full-bodied tune emerged, melodic in spite of the scratches required, and rhythmic as well. I knew at once that the limbs of trees, rubbed together by the wind, could never make a sound like this and that the Devil, who came upon Asie Ford In the long dark of the road toward home, could have welted Asie’s face with ease – and with such a hairless stick.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, May 9, 1948. Reprinted with permission. Transcribed by Ben Ruset. The Star Ledger requests that you do not copy, retransmit, or link directly to this article. Please link to our homepage at http://www.njpinebarrens.com

The Wells Mills Frog Farm

By Robert Blanda.

It was back in 1968, that the Wells Mills Frog Farm first saw the light of day. Even the locals were unaware of the giant 10-, 20-pound, and even larger, frogs that were being dredged up at night, from a secret Wells Mills Road lake, for shipment the following morning to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. The record catch was a 27-pounder affectionately named Tom, who was kept as a pet, but on a chain.

At this point, for the benefit of you skeptics who may be thinking, “Sounds like another one of those Baron Munchausen tales that those Pineys are always making up,” well, perhaps you’re right – at least in regards to this particular tale.

However, at the time this story got started, there was a believer, a disc jockey known to the farmers only as “Cowboy Joe.” He had just embarked on a Saturday night, 6 p.m. to midnight, country western music and talk show, on the then new FM station WOBM in Berkeley Township.

Cowboy Falls For Frog Farm

Cowboy Joe was sharp, and he had talent. His show was really great, so they say. Apparently Joe was inspired by the homey, Jersey bayshore area atmosphere, so different from that of his regular station up north in Brooklyn.

On the other hand, Cowboy Joe was a city boy. He knew from nothing when it came to bayfolk, Pineys and such. That’s how come he bit the hook, line and pork rind when he first met and became friendly with four local guys – Cliff Oakley and Toby Spatt, both of Manahawkin; Bill Sneddon of Waretown, and Bob Kruysman, known locally as Kaptain Krunch of the same name bait and tackle shop located on Route 9 in Waretown.

It all started when Sneddon and Kruysman checked in at the recently opened radio station. Both men were police officers at that time. A pot of coffee was kept going in the office for visitors.

This was a welcome treat for the officers since there was no other place for coffee on Route 9 back then.

There they met the new announcer and got to gabbing. They were asked what it was like down here, and whether there were any things of special interest in towns like Waretown.

In reply, Bill Sneddon said, “Well, there’s the Wells Mills Frog Farm.”

“Frog farm?” exclaimed Cowboy Joe. The two men, with serious cop demeanor, but as a joke, began to embellish on the frog farm story. Neither could later recall just what made them do it.

“It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing – we got carried away,” Kruysman said, adding “Maybe there was something in the coffee.”

Oakley and Spatt were then brought into the growing conspiracy. The two schemed and they thought up the idea of buying a pair of choice frog legs from Clayton’s Restaurant on Route 70 in Barnegat. They wrapped the purchase in tinfoil and fastened a bow on the package. This they then delivered to Joe along with a bottle of fancy French wine.

The boys were invited into the broadcast room. Oakley, who loved good western music! asked if more Eddie Arnold platters could be played. Pleased with his gift, Joe agreed.

More details about the farm were sought. In unison, they said, “Sure.” Then each tried to outdo the other to dream up some of the more unusual frog farm “facts.” It went something like this.

“We pack from six to eight, sometimes 10, cases each night.”

“How much does a case weigh?”

“Oh, maybe a hundred pounds or so. Only four to six frogs can be fitted into one case. We have to pack’em in standing up.”

“How come the frogs grow so large down here ?”

“They eat up lots of big, fat Jersey skeeters lots of’em. Sometimes we camp out all night and never get bit once. Those frogs get’em all.”

“But we ain’t shipping right now.”

“Oh! Why is that?” asked Joe.

“Drove the price way down, we did. Have to hold back until the price goes up again.”

Oakley then explained how they dredged for the frogs, from a rowboat, using a special jumbosize frog dredge that Spatt had made up. Kap’n Krunch added later, “Yeah, but we trolled for them, too.”

Then one Saturday night Cowboy Joe aired the Wells Mills Frog Farm story. As it so happened, All the startled culprits had gathered in the Oakley cabin as they often did on a Saturday night. Recalled Oakley, “We laughed so hard that tears rolled down our cheeks.”

Reunions Keep Alive Big Frog Stories

The D.J never did learn of the hoax that had been played on him. But then again, who can know for sure whether or not the “Cowboy” wasn’t pulling a leg or two himself?

Thereafter, Cowboy Joe would always play at least one, or even three or four, Eddie Arnold records on his show. With that, he would say, “How are all the guys doing at the Wells Mills Frog Farm?” Soon after, he had to return to his permanent job up north in Brooklyn.

The 20th anniversary of the broadcast of the Wells Mills Frog Farm story on WOBM was celebrated at a reunion held in a backwoods cabin off Wells Mills Road (Route 532) in Waretown on a Saturday in 1988. Present were Oakley, Sneddon (now the police chief in Ocean Township) and Kruysman. Absent due to the frigid weather was Spatt. With snow in the cabin fireplace, who could blame him?

The story was re-enacted, as it is at each frog farm reunion, amidst spasms of laughter. Somehow the story keeps growing, as Piney legends are wont to do.

At the get-together, Kap’n Krunch, with a crododile tear glistening at each eyelid, remarked, “Those were the days. Haven’t caught a 21-pounder since. We overfished, I guess.”

“But we never fished on a Sunday,” added Oakley, “never frogged on a Sunday.”

Then Oakley explained what had happened to old Tom, their 27-pound pet frog. “Broke his chain, he did. I still got the piece that was left.” And breaking up, he dragged out a length of rusty chain. “Last we saw of ole Tom he was three miles west of the landing heading towards Brookville. Never saw him again. Poor Toby took it real had. Tom had taken a special liking to Toby.”

Thus ends the saga of the long-gone, Wells Mills Frog Farm. Or does it?

Note: This page is from an article that appeared in the SandPaper, Wednesday, February 10, 1988 by Cornelius Hogenbirk. Cliff Oakley is now a Park Ranger at the Wells Mills County Park. If you visit the park, look for him and ask him about the frog farm. It will make his day.

Bob Kruysman sold his interests in Waretown and is now retired in Florida.

The Legend of the Jersey Devil

Stretching from Toms River in Ocean County, to Cape May lies a tract of forest that has captivated people since pre-colonial times. Some of the first permanent settlements in North America were in the Delaware River area. Dutch, Swedes, Portuguese, and English settlers all found the area a harsh but profitable area to settle.

In the early years of British Colonials, iron making towns sprang up, converting the local bog iron found in the cedar streams to a crude form of iron – pig iron. These foundries provided much needed ammunition for the American fight for freedom.

But there is something else about these woods that makes it a place shunned by many. The Pine Barrens are truly a world cut off from the rest of society. Within the Pine’s stretches many strange things have happened. Paint Island Spring, a natural hot spring, has been said to cure many illnesses. A tree in Burlington County that a man was murdered in front of is perpetually green – as is a patch of grass in front of it. A huge forest of stunted pines lay nearly in the center of the forest – you could look from horizon to horizon and not see a tree bigger than four feet.

And then there’s one thing that makes many of the locals dive for cover, when eerie screams ring out and cloven footprints appear in the ground – what many of the locals call the Leeds Devil, or to those outside of the pines, the Jersey Devil.

Birth

The weather that usually accompanies supernatural events is the standard “dark and stormy night”? stuff. And indeed, this night was one of those nights. Leeds Point, where our story begins, is located on the Southern shore of the Great Bay in Burlington County. Leeds Point today is a small dot on the map, just a few houses that are used only seasonally. Leeds Point, back in pre-colonial days, was a larger community, located conveniently on the Mullica River and the Great Bay.

Like any good folklore, the details of the Leeds Devil’s birth are shadowed by the mists of time. The most commonly accepted belief is that a lady known only as Mrs. Leeds (although many insist that her name was Mrs. Shourds) was blessed with 12 children. Upon finding out that she was pregnant with her 13th, she cried out, “May this one be the devil!”? Her wish was granted. The birth was normal, but accounts say that almost immediately, the infant began changing. It’s skin grew rough and scaly, it’s hands and feet elongated and grew hooves, it’s back sprouted a pair of bats wings and serpentine tail, and it’s face twisted and changed to have the face of a horse. Reeling about, it thrashed everyone in the room with it’s tail and flew up the chimney and off into the night.

The devil began raiding local farms, feeding off of crops and livestock, it’s most favorite animal being chicken, which would either be missing when their owners would check them in the morning, or be found dead, for apparently no reason. In 1740 one of the wandering missionaries that preached from town to town in the Pines exorcised him for 100 years. This may not have been effective, because the Devil was reported seen a few times between 1740 and 1840.

Another theory is that Mrs. Leeds refused food to a wandering gypsy, and that the gypsy cursed her unborn child. Another version has it that someone other than Mrs. Leeds had the child – that a young woman was impregnated by a British soldier, and that the offspring was the Devil itself. The latter is probably just Revolutionary War propaganda, because in the eyes of colonials, the Redcoats were the devil themselves! It should be noted that the British had several campaigns against smugglers and pirates in the area, and that the disastrous Battle of Chestnut Creek was fought not far from Leeds Point.

No matter what the variants on the legend, the basics are the same. It was man sized, with a forked tail, cloven hoofs, and the head of a horse. Sprouting from it’s back were two large leathery bat wings. It’s diet consisted of crops and livestock, but oddly enough, there are no reports of it every attacking a human. Many people believe the Devil to be a harbinger of doom. He has been spotted right before every major war, and legend has it that the Leeds Devil will perform some act of mischief on you if you hold evil thoughts.

The Devil was also not alone in the lonely pines. He has been seen with the spirit of a pirate thought to be one of the infamous Captain Kidd’s crew, killed so that his spirit would guard the treasure. The Devil was also thought to be cavorting with a mermaid out to sea, and a beautiful white clad girl with radiant golden hair.

Week of Terror – January, 1909

Many people had hoped that the new century would see the end to the Jersey Devil. He had remained quiet since the late 1880’s, when he was last seen raiding sheep near the New York – New Jersey border. However, fear and panic struck Burlington county in the latter half of January, 1909 – and a new era of Devil sightings were about to begin.

January 16-23 was a week not forgotten quickly by residents of the Delaware River valley. Thousands heard or saw the devil himself, or his footprints. Factories and schools closed for lack of attendance. Many people refused to come out of their homes unarmed, and that was in daylight. Trolley conductors were armed, and posses roamed the countryside following mysterious tracks that would lead for miles, crawl through areas with less than eight inches of clearance, hop fences, or suddenly disappear. His name also changed. In newspaper articles, he was given names like “jabberwock,” “kangaroo horse,” “flying death,” “kingowing,” “woozlebug,” “flying horse,” “cowbird,” “monster,” “flying hoof,” and “prehistoric lizard.”

Saturday, January 16th was the first day that sightings started being reported. A lone sighting in Woodbury, NJ, and two in Bristol, PA started off the furor. The Woodbury sighting, reported by Thack Cozzens, was quick – he just saw the Devil crossing the road near the Woodbury Hotel. He described it as moving faster than an auto, with two spots of phosphorescence for eyes. In Bristol, one sighting was made by Patrolman James Sackville, later chief of the Bristol Police Department. He described the beast as being winged, but hopped like a bird, with features of a “peculiar animal.” It’s voice was like a terrible scream. The creature fled after Sackville started firing his service revolver. Immediately after, E. W. Minster, the postmaster of Bristol reported seeing the Devil flying across the Delaware River at two o’clock in the morning.

Monday found Burlington in an uproar. Hardly a yard was untouched by them. The contents of many trash cans were strewn about and half devoured. Many people attempted to capture the devil, and the woods were filled with steel traps. Dogs would refuse to follow the tracks of the Devil. Posses combed the woods, shouting “If you’re the devil, rattle your chains.”

The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans awoke to ungodly sounds in their back yard. Peering out their bedroom window, they watched as the Devil perched atop their shed. Evans told the press:

“It was about three and a half feet high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and it’s back legs were like a crane, and it had horse’s hooves. It walked on it’s back legs and held up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn’t use the front legs at all while we were watching. My wife and I were scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the window and say, ‘Shoo’? and it turned around, barked at me, and flew away.”

More tracks appeared throughout Burlington and Gloucester counties. This time the descriptions varied. Some claimed the Devil to be the size of a dog, while others claimed it had antlers, and still others claimed it had three toes and was dog-like.

An unidentified policeman in Burlington was sure he saw a Jabbwerwock Wednesday morning. It’s eyes were like blazing coals, he claimed. It had no teeth “and other terrible attributes.”? The Leeds Devil was seen in Collingswood by a posse as it flew towards Morristown, where John Smith saw it near the Mount Carmel cemetery. He chased it unit it disappeared in a gravel pit. Later in the evening, the beast frightened riders of a trolley car in Springside. The driver, Edward Davis, reported that “It looked like a winged kangaroo with a long neck.”

The next sightings happened early Thursday morning, the 21st of January. It’s first stop was the Camden area, where it appeared to the Black Hawk Social Club at 1 a.m. It again frightened passengers on a trolley, circling above the tracks, hissing ominously. Fortunately, it kept with it’s pattern of not attacking humans, and was off into the night. The Devil then flew North to Trenton, where it made tracks in the park and several yards. The Devil also tried to enter the home of Trenton councilman E. P. Weeden, but was foiled by a locked door. Many residents elected not to venture outside of their homes until they were sure the threat of the monster was gone. So frightened were local residents that ministers noted an increased attendance at their churches.

Many poultry farmers also reported missing large numbers of chickens. Further adding mystery to this, chickens were soon found dead with no markings on them. Farmers speculated either choking or fright. They all agreed on one thing – that the Jersey Devil was at the root of the problem.

The monster didn’t limit it’s activities to New Jersey on Thursday, either. He was seen running up the Chester Pike in Leiperville, Pennsylvania running along on it’s hind legs faster than an automobile. This time the devil had skin like an alligator, and was about six feet tall. The Devil didn’t stay for long in Pennsylvania – William Wasso, a trackwalker for an electric railway company, watched as the Devil sniffed the center rail. He then saw the devil touch the rail with it’s tail, and explode, melting the track for twenty feet in either direction. Finding no trace of the creature, Wasso believed that it was dead.

The Devil, however, has a history of being impervious to harm. Commodore Stephen Decatur, a captain in the Revolutionary Navy, was in Batsto testing some ordinance when he spied the Devil flying overhead. He ordered the cannon to be fired at it, but the shot passed right through the beast. It flew away unharmed.

Friday saw the Devil back in Camden, observed by another policeman who described him to be a Jabberwock. By this time, the strain of the events of the week had taken their toll on the citizens of the area. Schools closed, and theater performances were canceled. The Devil was seen in Mount Holly, where William Cronk spied him from his window while eating his supper. The Devil was supposedly captured in the barn of C. C. Hilk in Pennsylvania. Two farmhands had locked him in there while he was riding on a wagon driven by one of the farmhands. Many curious people crossed the Delaware to see the beast, but in it’s usual fashion, it was nowhere to be found.

The Jersey Devil was also not the only strange being to appear this Friday. Dan Possack of Millville had a struggle with “one of the strangest freaks of nature, or a monster straight from the bad place.”? While Dan was doing his chores he heard someone in the backyard walking around, calling out to him. When he turned around, he beheld a “monster beast-bird” about 18 feet high. The visitor demanded to know where the garbage can was, asking in perfectly good English. Dan, terrified, ran towards the barn, but the bird caught up with him. It wrapped it’s sinewy and red beak around Dan’s body. Dan began hitting it with a hatchet that he kept in his belt. He was astonished to see that he could chop splinters out of the body, much like he could out of wood. While he was chopping, the beast whispered something in Dan’s ear, and with a mighty blow, Dan set the hatchet square into the monster’s face. Out popped an eyeball, and with a scream of pain, the assailant took in a long breath, filled it’s body like a balloon, and floated into space.” Mass hysteria was certainly gripping the area.

What is It?

Many theories abound as to what the Leeds Devil was. Many were proposed in seriousness and in jest. Some believed that it was a prehistoric creature trapped in a submerged limestone cave. With plenty of air and a constant supply of food (fish) life could continue, separated from the rest of the modern world. The caves could have been opened by seismic activity. The Grand Banks area is known for earthquakes – could one of these opened up the cave that held the Devil?

Or could it be Mrs. Leeds 13th child? Was there really ever a Jersey Devil? According to Rutgers University Folklorist Angus Gillespie, no. Gillespie tells of the first written tale of the Devil, found in the diary of a woodsman named Vance Larner. Stories of the beast Larner say gradually emerged into the Leeds Point myth. Why Leeds? The Leeds, like many early Pines settlers, had been around the area for ages, and many people carried the surname. It might have been easy to pick the Leeds name. The stories of the Devil haunting the woods might have also been devised to discourage federal agents from sweeping the area looking for contraband – something hard to sneak into New York or Philadelphia, but relatively easy in the Pines. It may also have been the perversion of a mothers warning – “Don’t be out late or the Jersey Devil may get you!.”

Nonetheless, the Jersey Devil in recent years has been quiet. He made a brief appearance in the 1950’s, and aroused many curious citizens to thrash around the bushes of Leeds Point. Maybe he’s silent now because his name has been commercialized. Countless bars and taverns bear his name, as well as a potent drink and a hockey team. Maybe the ever encroaching population that replaces more and more trees with modular homes and Sport Utility Vehicles has driven the devil farther and farther into the woods.

Yet there are many people who refuse to go into the pines, be it daylight or night. The pines are an eerie place, physically separated from civilization only by a few miles, but lost in an age of its own.

“Where stunted pines of burned over forest are revealed in darksome pools, the Jersey Devil lurks”? wrote the late New Jersey historian Henry Charlton Beck. Maybe he’s is right.

Sources

Beck, Henry Charlton, Jersey Genesis: The Story of the Mullica River, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1963.

McGloy, James & Miller, Ray Jr. The Jersey Devil Middle Atlantic Press, Wilmington, Delaware, 1976.

Mother Leeds Curse, World & I Magazine, November, 1995, Vol. 10, Issue 11, p202

A Haunted Place, House Beautiful, November 1994, Vol. 136, Issue 11, p20

Claim They Have Seen “Leeds Devil”?, Asbury Park Evening Press, January 22, 1909, p2

An Awful Struggle, Asbury Park Evening Press, January 22, 1909, p2

What Mysterious Tracks Are These?, Asbury Park Evening Press, January 20, 1909, p2