Monday, October 31, 2005

Jersey Devil 

As someone who grew up in South Jersey, I was always somewhat scared of the legendary Jersey Devil. I once even thought I spotted the devil itself, in the Pine Barrens. However, today their are reports that the Jersey Devil MAY have come from the great imagination of Ben Franklin:
Two hundred and seventy-five years ago, Franklin likely wrote the fictitious story of a Burlington County witch trial conducted after neighbors saw sheep dance and sing.

Soon after, colonists concocted a story of a witch who gave birth to a devil child. In some versions the witch is from Burlington County.

Some historians theorize that the Pennsylvania Gazette story was taken as fact and set the stage for the myth's creation. The story appeared Oct. 22, 1730, and is as plausible an explanation as any for why colonists conceived the terrifying tale of the Jersey Devil, a horse-headed, winged, cloven-footed creature that devoured livestock and caused mayhem.

The Gazette story was not signed, but historians are almost certain Franklin wrote it. He ran the paper, after all. He enjoyed ghostwriting and once asked the Pennsylvania Assembly to scrap a law against witchcraft.

The witch-trial story, which takes place in Mount Holly, the seat of Burlington County, was a hoax. It may have been rooted in fact, but records are lost to history.

Franklin's satire of a group of 300 who "were gathered together to see an Experiment or two tried on some Persons accused of Witchcraft" pokes fun at supernatural beliefs. Some readers may not have gotten the joke.

Gentleman's Magazine, an influential English general-interest magazine circulating in the colonies, picked up the story in 1731. It printed an account of the trial as fact, according to historian John Bach McMaster

Honestly, if it was created by Franklin or not, I wouldn't want to wander around the Pine Barrens at night. A lot of bad things happen there.

Happy Halloween!


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