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The Secret History of the Jersey Devil

How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster

Legend has it that in 1735, a witch named Mother Leeds gave birth to a horrifying monster—a deformed flying horse with glowing red eyes—that flew up the chimney of her New Jersey home and disappeared into the Pine Barrens. Ever since, this nightmarish beast has haunted those woods, presaging catastrophe and frightening innocent passersby—or so the story goes. In The Secret History of the Jersey Devil, Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito examine the genesis of this popular myth, which is one of the oldest monster legends in the United States.

According to Regal and Esposito, everything you think you know about the Jersey Devil is wrong. The real story of the Jersey Devil's birth is far more interesting, complex, and important than most people—believers and skeptics alike—realize. Leaving the Pine Barrens, Regal and Esposito turn instead to the varied political and cultural roots of the Devil's creation. Fascinating and lively, this book finds the origins of New Jersey's favorite monster not in witchcraft or an unnatural liaison between woman and devil but in the bare-knuckled political fights and religious upheavals of colonial America. A product of innuendo and rumor, as well as scandal and media hype, the Jersey Devil enjoys a rich history involving land grabs, astrological predictions, mermaids and dinosaur bones, sideshows, Napoleon Bonaparte's brother, a cross-dressing royal governor, and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

About the Authors

Brian Regal is an associate professor of the history of science, technology, and medicine at Kean University. He is the author of Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Frank J. Esposito is a distinguished professor of history and education at Kean University. He is a coauthor of Victorian New Jersey: Photographs by Guillermo Thorn from the Kean University Collection.


"Essential for the cryptid-keeper's library. This secret history is a welcome and necessary text on the historicity of the Leeds/Jersey Devil."

- Sharon A. Hill, author of Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers

"Fascinating. An enchanting exploration whence monsters might come."

- Steve A. Wiggins, author of Holy Horror: The Bible and Fear in Movies

"The Secret History of the Jersey Devil can provide folklorists with historical context for understanding a legend and the behavior surrounding it."

- Daniel Peretti, Memorial University of Newfoundland - Journal of Folklore Research

"In this fine study of accounts about a monstrous creature inhabiting the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, Regal and Esposito show how the shape of the creature shifted to reflect changing times. Their detailed analysis shows how speculation about the New Jersey Devil played around the changing frontiers of scientific knowledge. It also demonstrates the relish for fantastic stories, the gullibility of believers, and the flair for hyperbole, satire, and exploitation of believers that seem to be irrepressible features of American life. Regal and Esposito even liken the conspiracy theories and manipulation of facts in our own time to the same proclivities that keep bringing the New Jersey Devil back to life."

- Amanda Porterfield, Florida State University - Journal of American History

"A thorough dissection of the American monster, [The Secret History of the Jersey Devil] is a fascinating look at almost every aspect of the Devil... Here [Regal and Esposito] not only untangle the various major threads that were braided into the Devil's biography, but also uncover the many murkier, more nebulous components that go into the gradual generation of a monster legend."

- J Caleb Mozzocco - Fortean Times


"Tracing the myth of the Jersey Devil from its origins, Regal and Esposito’s telling of this legendary monster’s story is as lively as it is well researched. Impressive and substantial; I have never read anything quite like it."

- Maxine N. Lurie, coauthor of Envisioning New Jersey: An Illustrated History of the Garden State

"Regal and Esposito show that the truth behind the Jersey Devil is far stranger—and more interesting—than fiction. Through meticulous research, this book uncovers the murky, myriad roots of this famous monster not in the pits of hell, but in centuries-old grudges, religious feuds, yellow journalism, hoaxes, and folklore. The Secret History of the Jersey Devil is an engaging and well-researched look at one of America's best-known legends."

- Benjamin Radford, author of Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore

9781421424910 : the-secret-history-of-the-jersey-devil-regal-esposito
Electronic book text
160 Pages
$24.95 USD
9781421436357 : the-secret-history-of-the-jersey-devil-regal-esposito
Paperback / softback
160 Pages
$18.95 USD

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