American Folklore

American Folklore: New Jersey

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One of the original thirteen British American colonies, New Jersey was the third colony to ratify the U.S. Constitution after the American Revolution. This makes it the third official state in the union. It was inhabited for nearly three thousand years prior to the arrival of Europeans by the Lenape Native American people, who lived along the state’s coast. Dutch and Swedish explorers were the first Europeans to settle there permanently, beginning in the early 1600s.

England later wrested control of the region from these early European settlers, named the area New Jersey after the largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey, and granted it a colonial charter. It was a location of several important and decisive battles in the American Revolution. Naturally, all of this interesting history has helped New Jersey develop some fascinating folklore. Here are some of its highlights.

The Treasure of Captain Kidd

New Jersey was a popular place for pirates in the 1600s and 1700s. Even the politicians were in on the game, accepting bribes of gold and money by pirates to look the other way, and to even buy goods from pirates. Many popular and well-known pirates visited New Jersey, including Blackbeard, Captain Morgan, and William Kidd.

Kidd was originally a hired privateer working for the English crown. His job was to capture other pirate ships or French trips that were working against the interests of England. Kidd eventually decided it was more fun to become friends with the pirates he encountered, though he did keep capturing French ships, at least at first. Kidd’s crew grew tired of this attitude, and they mutinied against him.

Kidd took this opportunity to become a pirate himself, and he spent a good amount of time as a real one. After a while, he was arrested in Boston, where he was tried as a pirate and later executed. However, before this, he bragged that he had an enormous treasure hidden with a value of about $20 million in today’s money. Kidd claimed the treasure was located on Gardiner’s Island in New Jersey. A search ensued, and about $1 million of modern money’s worth of the treasure was found. The rest is still missing, but the legend is not. In fact, Kidd’s treasure is still hunted by eager treasure hunters, hoping to be the ones to find the haul.

The Devil’s Tree

A creepy tree exists in Bernard’s Township, New Jersey that cannot be explained. It is a regular tree in appearance, except for looking slightly sinister. However, legend has it that a local farmer murdered his family once upon a time, then hung himself from the tree. Since then, it has been attempted to be cut down multiple times, with no success. This is because a various variety of terrible things have happened to anyone who has tried to cut down the tree. Also, the tree is said to be warm to the touch, so much so that no snow will stay on the ground around it, melting immediately upon landing.

The Sea Serpent of Sandy Hook

Shrewsbury River in Sandy Hook, New Jersey is the site of a mysterious river monster called the Sandy Hook Sea Serpent. It was first reported as a sighting in the 1800s and was even written about in Scientific American. Scientists who studied the sightings believed the monster was a giant squid.

While there have been many reported sightings of the monster over the past century and a half, the most famous one came from a group of merchants who had their tale recorded in a local newspaper, The Red Bank Register. Four merchants were returning from a picnic when they saw something strange in the river. All four of them saw it, and described it as snake-like, having the head of a bulldog and bristles like a cat on its upper lip. It roared when it came out of the water, and swam away toward Hartshorne’s Cove, then vanished. While the monster is still presumed to be in the river, and sightings still sometimes are reported, no one knows exactly what it is.

The Jersey Devil

No tale of New Jersey folklore would be complete without a mention of the infamous Jersey Devil. It is the most famous monster in New Jersey history. Located in Pine Barrens, this monster has inspired books, movies, and even video games about it. No one knows exactly what it is, and sightings still occur every now and then. One of the most interesting parts about this legend is a story commonly believed to reveal the creature’s origins.

In colonial times, there was a woman in Pine Barrens called Mother Leeds. She had given birth to twelve children and found herself pregnant with a thirteenth. She was definitely not pleased at the idea of having more children, and cursed it before it was born, proclaiming out loud that she wished this next child to be a devil. The child was born looking normal but soon transformed into a monstrous creature. The creature killed Mother Leeds’s midwife and left the house through the chimney. It is apparently immortal, as it walks the Pine Barrens region to this day.

The Spook Rabbits of Harmony Township

Anyone who has imagined the existence of killer bunnies in the world will be pleased, or possibly disturbed, to know that they are said to actually exist in Harmony Township in New Jersey. Known as the Spook Rabbits, these bunnies are bloodthirsty monsters who prowl on the hunt for their prey. Adding to their unusual nature is the fact that they are supposedly impervious to bullets, much like Superman.

The Spook Bunnies were first reported in 1891 when a group of hunting dogs came back from the woods to their owners with bloody scratches on their faces and bodies. The mystery was afoot, and a hunting columnist from New York investigated the incident. He believed the thorny underbrush and shrubbery of the area to be the culprits behind the dogs’ injuries. However, the locals believed it was the Spook Bunnies. To this day, extreme caution is urged to anyone going out into the rural and wooded areas of Harmony Township, as the Spook Bunnies are believed to still live out there.


About the author

Ancestral Findings

Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been involved in genealogy research for over 24 years. The excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Check out, Why He Loves Genealogy and follow his photography podcast.

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