The New Jersey Pine Barren ghosts are believed by many, and many folklore tales surround this dense woodland. Creepy abandoned village remains lie deep in the woods, and others believe mysterious and unexplainable supernatural creatures.
Situated between New York and Philadelphia, the Jersey Pine Barrens is primarily rural, speckled with former mill and mining settlements ruins. In this heavily forested stretch of the state is an array of ghost towns and abundant ghosts. Many national publications have listed this picturesque spot as one of the most haunted places in America, not to mention New Jersey.
The First Settlers of the New Jersey Pine Barren
The Pine Barrens were inhabited initially around 1200 A.D. by the Lenni Lenape Indian tribe. Lenni meaning ‘genuine, pure, actual or original’ and Lenape meaning ‘original person’ or ultimately translated into ‘man.’ The Lenape had 3 clans: The Turkey Clan, the Turtle Clan, and the Wolf Clan. Each family had 12 sub-clans.
They had a matrilineal clan system meaning their kinship is traced through the female line. They were also matrilocal, meaning married couples remained living with the mother’s clan. The female offspring remained living in the mother’s house to gain social status and identity.
The most significant mentor to the male children was the mother’s older brother. Even more so than their own father, who generally was from another clan. The hereditary leadership was passed through the maternal lines, and women elders could remove leaders they disapproved of.
The women controlled the land, the houses, and the families. The father’s job was to provide the meat, clear the fields, build the houses, and protect the clan. When the Lenape males became of age, they would marry outside the clan, a practice known as exogamy. This meant a male from the Wolf Clan would marry a woman from either the Turtle Clan or the Turkey Clan. This would prevent inbreeding even if someone’s kinship was obscure or unknown. Their children, however, would not belong to the father’s clan; they would belong to the mother’s clan.
Within the marriage itself, men and women had comparatively separate and equal rights. They each controlled their own property and their own debts. This shows the woman’s power in the hierarchical structure.
With the 1758 Treaty of Easton signed, forcing the Lenape to move west, the Lenape clans settled in what today is known as Ohio. They were forced from their homes in the densely wooded barrens, leaving behind the dead and buried to roam the area in the afterlife. It’s no wonder many people claim the haunting presence of spirits.
‘Bloody John Bacon’ of the New Jersey Pine Barren
‘Bloody John Bacon’ is probably the most famous of the New Jersey Pine Barren Ghosts. One of the legendary Pine Robbers leaders, Bacon, and his gangs preyed on rebels and Tory’s alike until he died in 1783. Outlaws, they raided and pillaged others in the deserted land of the colonial-era New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Allegedly serving at one point in the Patriot Militia, he ultimately joined the Loyalists. However, he settled his wife and two sons in Pemberton and spent most of his time hiding and raiding, pillaging, and killing in the area between Cedar Creek and Tuckerton.
John Bacon’s raiding expeditions began with the plundering of the house and mill of John Holmes. Known for being somewhat wealthy, Bacon and his gang camped in the woods near the mill in the darkness, waiting for daylight. When they came forward, they put a bayonet to Holme’s body and demanded money. Fortunately, like many others, Holmes buried his valuables outside rather than leave them in the house. It was fortunate for them that his wife had some money on her person. The Refugees were satisfied with that and ransacked the house for any supplies they could use before retreating back into the woods.
The Raid of John and William Price
After the Holmes raid, Bacon immediately dispatched a detachment of the bandits to plunder the home of John and William Price. Bacon knew these brothers well for their help and care for others who suffered at the enemy’s hands and had an issue with this. John Price was fortunate to escape before Bacon, and his men showed up. All he was able to save was his Lieutenant’s commission. The robber’s loot included Price’s musket and drum. Heading back to the group, the Refugees amused themselves with the drum. When Bacon heard the faint drumbeat, he assumed the Americans were after him. He’d send some men to higher grounds and ordered them to fire as soon as the men making the sound emerged from the woods. Luckily for the approaching bandits, their comrade’s sharp eyes kept them from shooting when they recognized who was making all of the noise!
The Raids of Joseph and Reuban Soper
Bacon also had an issue with patriot Jospeh Soper and his son Reuban. They were both members of Captain Reuban Randolph’s militia. Bacon and his men visited the Sopers so soften the Sopers often slept in the swamps at night out of fear for their lives.
A shipbuilder by trade, one of Joseph Sobers employees was an Englishman named William Wilson. The latter acted as a spy for Bacon. Witnessing Soper being paid for a vessel, Wilson raced to tell Bacon about the transaction. Soper was suspicious of betrayal by Wilson, so he split the parcel into two, one large and one small, then buried each in separate places by his house.
When Bacon and his men raided his home later that day, Soper’s suspicions were confirmed. A man wearing a black mask covering his face assisted in the raid, and many believe this mystery man was Wilson. However, there was no legal proof of his involvement in the crime.
Joseph Soper and his son Reuben took refuge in the swamps leaving the women and children as the only ones in the house. The women were threatened and frightened, leading the bandits to the smaller of the two parcels. Apparently satisfied with the recovered money, Bacon simply cleaned out the house as he did many times before and left with the loot.
Bloody John Bacon’s Final Days
In 1782 John engaged in his most notorious act known as the “Massacre on Long Beach.” Bacon and his men attacked the (most likely) drunk and sleeping crew members and locals that had transferred goods from an abandoned cutter to a privateer galley called the Alligator. The Captain of the Alligator and his men managed to scare off the Refugees. However, not before killing all but 4 or 5 of them. Reuban Soper hid with his father in the swamp to elude Bacon, and his men were among the dead.
Now, from this point on, John Bacon was a marked man. A detachment of troops from the Captain Richard Shreeve of the Burlington County Light Horse. Pursuing their quest, they tracked Bacon down on April 3rd, 1783, at the house of a man named William Rose.
Among the troops was John Stewart, who peered through the window spying Bacon in a chair with his weapon between his legs. Stewart busted through the door startling Bacon, who reached for his gun. Before he could fire, Stewart wrestled him to the ground. Bacon cried out for quarter, and Stewart conceded. Cornet Joel Cook, brother of William Cook, whose brother William was killed by Bacon, managed to spear Bacon with his bayonet. Wounded, Bacon tries to escape, and Stewart shoots him.
John Bacon was dead and gone but may still reside in the area as one of the New Jersey Pine Barren Ghosts.
Most Famous of the New Jersey Pine Barren Ghosts
Of all of the stories and folklore about the ghosts and creatures that haunt the Jersey Pine Barrens, the most prominent one is the story of the Jersey Devil.
The Jersey Devil, also known as the Leeds Devil, is a legendary creature believed to inhabit the Pine Barrens. The animal is often described as a kangaroo-type creature with a horse or goat’s head, bat-like wings, horns, small arms and clawed hands, legs with cloven hooves, and a forked tail. It is said to move quickly and often described as letting out a high-pitched ‘blood-curdling scream.’
As folklore tells it, the originator of the Jersey Devil was a Pine Barrens resident named Jane Leeds. Jane was also known as “Mother Leeds” from bearing 12 children. Mother Leeds had 12 children and became pregnant with her 13th child in 1735. After discovering she was pregnant for the 13th time, she reportedly cursed the child in frustration, crying out that the child would be the devil!
When the child was born, it appeared normal but soon evolved into a devil-like creature. Growling and screaming and then beating everyone in the room with its tail, it flew up the chimney and headed towards the pines.
There are many other ghostly accounts of the Jersey Pine Barrens. The ghost of a small boy who was a hit-and-run victim roams the area looking for his killer. James Still, an African American doctor, is said to have been lynched for practicing medicine and lingers around to help people lost in the area or injured.
With all of the lives lost over the centuries in the areas of the Jersey Pine Barrens, one can only speculate that their spirits may carry on.
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