How do Quakers apologize for historic personal wrongs? How do Quakers learn from their historic wrongs that are part of their tradition and face similar challenges today? The new book, Brian Regal and Frank Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (2018) provides the historic context for these questions. provides a part of the historic context for these questions.
This book follows the story of real issues of religion, politics, citizenship, and social allegiances at the time of the formation of the United States. It was a robust and messy time. The story involves national origins, religious bigotry, land grabs, and combative publication failures and successes related to astrology involving Quakers.
Written by two professional historians, the authors carefully review the work of many amateur historians digressing down a path in fearful search of an unknown and fictitious monster, the Jersey Devil. The real story is different. For Quakers, this is an opportunity to reflect on the story of a Quaker establishment responding in mean spirit to an internal critic and publisher named Daniel Leeds. The Quakers lacked the trusted infrastructure for resolving the problem, as Quakers lack that infrastructure today. The Quakers sustained the public problem over decades out of fear and pride.
The book also follows the role of Ben Franklin in the controversy and leaves the reader with an impression of meanness in Ben Franklin. By contrast, the Franklin biography, Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) treats the conflict between the son, Titan Leeds, and Ben Franklin as an example of good-humored mischievous charm and without consequences, without any role of Quakers, and without the development of monsters.
This Jersey Devil book has two parts, the story of the real conflict and the building of a monster story when the real story was forgotten. The story, alive still today, begins with Quakers and their internal critic, Daniel Leeds. This conflict set the stage for creating the first monster, the Leeds Devil, to later become the Jersey Devil with the active help and neglect of Quakers. The final Jersey Devil itself began as a Leeds Devil as a consequence of Quaker ad hominem attacks on Daniel Leeds. It appears that lost memories appear to have cleaned Quaker hands, until this book. The almanac fight between the second-generation Titan Leeds and the new publisher Ben Franklin carried the Quaker animus into the next chapter of monster building.
The book is a clearly-presented, short 116 pages. The footnotes are interesting in themselves. The good index is gratefully augmented with an exhaustive bibliography. This book provides pictures (if you have never seen a Quaker-enabled monster)!
Consider this book as a provocative resource for Quaker education.
- What is the mechanism for the resolution for ancestral wrongs?
- How do Quakers manage ancestral guilt?
- Where do Quakers find trustable guidance for apology and healing?
- Brian Regal and Frank Esposito, The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster (2018
- W. Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003)