The Jersey Devil is a monstrous aberration, born of the Devil and mortal flesh. For over two hundred and fifty years, the Devil has haunted the wooded Pine Barrens of New Jersey in this form.
Unexplained Entity, Cryptid, Demon (possibly)
The 13th Child, the Leeds Devil (original name)
Carnivorous (although the Devil is fond of including the flesh of human children in its diet)
The Jersey Devil is fond of kidnapping children and travelers who wander too close to the Pine Barrens, mutilating livestock, and invading homes in search of human prey.
The Pine Barrens, New Jersey (but the Jersey Devil has been seen as far away as New York)
A truly hideous monster, the Jersey Devil has a lithe but powerful body that is covered in black fur, cloven hooves, and a thin neck. Atop its neck is a hideous head combining the worst features of a horse, goat, and dog. It's eyes are burning red, and they glow in the dark.
Like a horse, the Devil has large, round nostrils, while two goatlike horns shoot from the creature’s forehead, just above its twitching ears. Within the black maw that is the Jersey Devil’s mouth are extremely sharp fangs and teeth, and from its black gums and curled lips, it drools like a dog. It has two relatively short but powerful forelimbs, tipped with sharp claws that rend flesh on the slightest brush. It has two leathery, batlike wings that span approximately two feet. As it flies through the night sky, its body is sheathed in an eerie yellow aura. It also has a mournful, terrifying cry.
A supernatural demon, the Jersey Devil possesses supernatural strength, speed, and aerial agility. It is seemingly invulnerable to harm, withstanding even a cannonball through its body with no apparent effects. The Jersey Devil is able to fly, and its wings are deadly weapons, as the creature has been seen using its wings to cut through the trunks of trees with ease. The Jersey Devil is able to become invisible at will, allowing it access to even the most heavily guarded homes or livestock. Its fetid breath can curdle milk, and has been known to kill the entire fish population in a lake with only a single breath. Along with its rank breath, the Jersey Devil is able to breathe fire, using it to injure or blind attackers or potential prey. The Devil is constantly surrounded by an evil aura that causes bad fortune to befall all witnesses.
It may have other supernatural powers that it may yet have to display. To debate, some people believe that the Jersey Devil may or may not have supernatural powers, but it is highly likely that they are wrong.
Since the Jersey Devil is seems to be immune to most weapons, it is nearly impossible to destroy the Devil. However, it may in fact be weak against holy symbols, such as a crucifix or the Bible. Traveling with a bright lantern may be a good idea, since light might dissuade the Devil from attacking.
If one knows anything about the Pine Barrens, he might know about its demonic resident. Deep in the heart of South Jersey lies a huge span of dark, desolate woods. These trees give off an eerie feeling- as if one is constantly being watched. The plants are so dense it is often times hard to follow a path, and one never knows what kind of wildlife is concealed in the brush. You have no idea where they are, but they know exactly where you are... Herein lurks the Jersey Devil.
The legend of the Jersey Devil has existed for over 265 years, since before the birth of our country. It has terrorized, puzzled, and intrigued New Jersey's population since the 1700's. It is a mystery that has been passed down from generation to generation and still remains unsolved. Two centuries after the legend's origin, we still only have myths, theories, and horrifying recounts of sightings.
So what is the legend? The story begins in 1735 when a Mrs. Leeds of Smithville was pregnant. This was to be her thirteenth child, and Mrs. Leeds was feeling old before her time. As her labor began one stormy night, she cursed the unborn baby during a fit of painful contractions, saying, "Let this child be a devil!" Mrs. Leeds soon forgot her curse when the midwife placed a beautiful baby boy in her arms. Suddenly the baby's body started to mutate, and Mrs. Leeds watched in horror as the baby's face elongated to resemble a bat or horse, and long, dark wings sprouted from his shoulder blades. His legs grew long and thin and his pudgy feet hardened and formed into hoof-like extremities. Fear gripped all in the room as long claws grew from the baby's fingertips and his blue eyes yellowed. The creature before them now showed no resemblance to the baby it had been just moments before its transformation. The cry of an infant in the next room caught the creature’s attention. Rushing to the room, it scooped its baby brother out of his crib, opened its mouth impossibly wide, and swallowed the infant whole. The beast then proceeded to slaughter and devour its remaining brothers and sisters, as well as the midwife. Looking back on its mother, the beast let out an ear-piercing scream and then turned, burst through the roof of the cabin and flew off into the night.
That is the most common and widely accepted version of the legend, however there are several variations to the story. Let's start with the name Leeds. There are two names of the Jersey Devil's mother- Mrs. Leeds and Mrs. Shrouds. Carrie Bowen, a local of Leeds Point, once asserted that the name was Shrouds, and the actual house that the creature was born in was the Shrouds house. According to Atlantic County historian Alfred Heston, both names are possible.
Heston's research showed that both a Daniel Leeds and a Samuel Shrouds lived in Leeds Point around the time of the legend. Heston also discovered that Shrouds had lived directly across the river from the Leeds house. This fact adds to another variation- perhaps the Jersey Devil had been an illegitimate child who was cursed by the townspeople before birth.
The father of the Jersey Devil has always been a disputable topic. Some do not believe that either Mr. Leeds or Mr. Shrouds was the actual father. In fact, they do not believe the Jersey Devil has a human father; they believe the creature to be a product of Satan himself, mixed with human flesh to give it a body.
Another variation of the story of the Jersey Devil's creator is that it was the direct result of a curse from a gypsy. This variation states that Mrs. Leeds/Shrouds had denied food to a starving gypsy, who then placed a curse on the pregnant woman. Still another variation says that Mrs. Leeds/Shrouds could have been involved in witchcraft (there are even reports of a witch trial held around this time period in Mt. Holly, NJ). It is also believed that locals could have cursed the Jersey Devil’s mother because she fell in love with a British soldier, and because of the time period (before revolutionary war) was shunned.
There are also several variations on the events of the Jersey Devil's birth. Some say that the creature was born as a devil and never resembled a human. Other variations also say that before the Jersey Devil flew off into the Pine Barrens, it killed and ate all people present in the cabin. It has also been said that (assuming it did not kill all in the room) the Jersey Devil would return to its home for years and sit perched on a fence. After a while, Mrs. Leeds/Shrouds, not knowing what to do with her deformed child, "shooed" it away, and it never returned.
The other variations of the legend involve the date and location of the birth. Instead of 1735, it has been dated as 1778, 1850, 1855, 1857, 1859, 1873, and 1880 (setting it later in time would disqualify several sightings so 1735 is most widely accepted). The birthplace also differs. Besides the commonly accepted Leeds Point, it has been placed in Estellville, Pleasantville, and Burlington. Leeds Point has remained the most popular birthplace due to the fact that it has a physical supposed birth house out in the middle of the woods.
It is believed that the Jersey Devil may have had a name. Smith J. Leeds is the supposed name of the baby that became the beast. While on an excursion to Leeds Point, I found a gravesite with the name of Smith J. Leeds, belonging to someone who had died within two years of birth. The rumor of the name has never been proven.
Regardless of which legend is believed, all versions have a common result- a winged creature set free to roam the Pine Barrens for the rest of its lifetime. Immediately, the creature decided to do what every baby does, regardless of its species- it decided to explore its surroundings and make itself known.
The Jersey Devil began to roam New Jersey boldly as soon as it was born. Immediately, the Pine Barrens were explored and the residents were terrified. They could not believe their eyes as an unknown winged serpent appeared all around the Pine Barrens, seemingly unaffected by human presence.
The first five years after its birth were so horrific that in 1740 a bold clergyman decided to exorcise the Jersey Devil, banning it from the humans. The people of the Pine Barrens received instant relief as the sightings suddenly ceased. The legend lived on, and was passed down from each generation with a warning that the exorcism would only last for 100 years, and that those who live in the Pine Barrens in the 1840’s should be prepared for the creature’s return.
During the exorcism period, only two sightings were recorded. These two sightings do not contradict the exorcism - it was humans who encountered the beast in the woods, not the beast that found them. In both cases, no harm befell any humans or their possessions.
Both sightings came from highly reputed figures during that time period. The first, which occurred sometime between 1800 and 1820, involved naval hero Commodore Stephan Decatur. Decatur was visiting Hanover Iron Works, where he was testing cannonballs to ensure high quality. One day, while out in the Pine Barrens, Decatur noticed a strange creature flying overhead. He immediately fired a cannonball through the beast, and was shocked when the creature continued flying, completely unaffected by the gigantic hole the cannonball had created through its wing. The second sighting was made by the former King of Spain and brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte. Joseph Bonaparte resided in Bordentown and believed to have seen the Jersey Devil while hunting between 1816 and 1839.
In both cases, the Jersey Devil did not seek out any human contact. It was merely observed while existing peacefully in the Pine Barrens. The people of New Jersey experienced no strange losses of livestock, and all seemed peaceful and calm during the Jersey Devil’s exorcism. This would all change. In 1840, the Jersey Devil reappeared with a vengeance, right on schedule. The Jersey Devil’s first act was a raid on livestock, and as a result many people lost a large amount of sheep and chickens. 1841 was a continuation of this raid, but this time the Jersey Devil left more evidence - during its livestock theft it screamed chillingly and left unidentifiable tracks. All attempts to locate this creature were unsuccessful.
The return of the Jersey Devil brought panic along, and the residents of the Pine Barrens were once again gripped with fear, just as their ancestors had been 100 years before. In 1858, W.F. Mayer of New York was visiting Hanover Iron Works (the sight where Decatur had seen the creature) and noticed how odd the Pine Barrens residents acted. They seemed constantly nervous and uneasy. When Mayer commented on a storm, one resident mentioned something about seeing a Devil, and was hushed by other residents, fearing that the Devil could be listening. Mayer also noticed that no resident of the Pine Barrens would ever dare to venture outside after dark.
In 1859 the Jersey Devil was seen in Haddonfield, and then remained unseen until the winter of 1873 - 1874, where it was seen periodically in Bridgeton and Long Branch. The creature continued to raid livestock and was believed to "carry off anything that moved". In 1894 the Jersey Devil made appearances throughout New Jersey, visiting Smithville, Long Beach Island, Brigantine Beach, Leeds Point, and Haddonfield.
In 1899 the Jersey Devil raided Vincentown and Burrsville, and then decided to expand its horizons and head for New York. The creature made its first out-of-state appearance in Spring Valley, New York, where a resident was repeatedly losing sheep and hearing "ungodly" screams. At one point, the resident spotted the thief, and described it as a "flying serpent". This resident’s report would be the first Jersey Devil sighting ever to be published in the newspapers.
The creature remained in New York for a brief period, where it was sighted at Hyenga Lake (rumors had it that a strange creature that could fly, swim, and run became a frequent visitor). Eventually, the Jersey Devil decided to return to its home state, but not without leaving strange tracks in New York’s marshes.
By the turn of the century, the Jersey Devil’s existence became a common belief in New Jersey and its bordering states. The people believed that an eerie, supernatural creature lived in the Pine Barrens. The people also believed that the sightings and tales would soon die out, and that the legend of the Jersey Devil had run its course. Soon they would realize that they were sadly mistaken.
The 1900's started off with a major bang for the Jersey Devil legend. In 1909, the largest batch of Jersey Devil sightings ever recorded occurred, in which the Jersey Devil was seen by over 100 people in the time span of a single week. This week, January 16th through January 23rd, has been justly named Phenomenal Week. During this time, a wide range of people throughout the Delaware Valley spotted the winged beast. Some sightings were seen by large groups of people at once; other sightings were made by residents who were awakened in the middle of the night to strange noises in the darkness.
The huge amount of sightings caused New Jersey to enter State of Emergency precautions, with all residents instructed to be in their homes before dark and to secure all animals at night. Newspapers were filled with detailed sighting accounts, although many articles seemed mocking in tone. The people of the area were terrified - especially those living deep in the heart of the Pine Barrens.
The Jersey Devil became New Jersey's Official Demon in the 1930's, recognizing the history of the legend and its importance in New Jersey history. This creature is also the namesake of the state's hockey team, the New Jersey Devils.
During the early 1900's, however, the legend was scarred by the marks of scam artists attempting to make money off of the people's fear. One man in particular went to extremes to create a very elaborate hoax. This man obtained a wild kangaroo, painted stripes on its fur, attached "wings" to its shoulder blades, and kept the creature in a dimly lit cage, charging all curious visitors a fee to take a peek at what he claimed to be the Jersey Devil. When the visitors approached the cage, a man sitting behind the kangaroo (armed with a long stick with a nail in one end) would smack at the creature, causing it to lunge forward and shriek in pain - frightening all who saw. Eventually, the man came clean on his hoax, and since then the Jersey Devil has not been taken as seriously as it had been before.
At one point, the charred remains of a strange creature were found somewhere in the Pine Barrens. These remains were unidentifiable by the Department of Wildlife and Conservation - they had no record of any such creature on file. Some believed these remains were those of the Jersey Devil, and thought the legend was finally put to an end. But once again, the Jersey Devil returned.
In 1951 - 1952, the Jersey Devil came back to New Jersey for the Gibbstown - Paulsboro invasion. This invasion, though on a smaller scale than Phenomenal Week, caused quite a stir in the area and sent many people into a panicked state. Posses were formed, who attempted to track the creature. Yet still no dog would follow its trail, and instead they whimpered and turned away. Because the legend was no longer taken seriously, mass hysteria was blamed for the cause of the uprise. Around this same time, newspapers started refusing any sightings accounts, believing that they were just attempts at gaining recognition and attention. The Jersey Devil legend was beginning to die. Sightings still continued to trickle in, and have remained steady throughout many years. Sightings as recent as this year have been reported. None of the above theories can give a definitive answer to what the Jersey Devil was or is, but the sightings prove there is something out there. The people of New Jersey have definitely seen something out there lurking in the Pine Barrens, and it hungers once again for the taste of flesh and fear…
The Field Guide to North American Monsters: Everything You Need To Know About Encountering Over 100 Terrifying Creatures In The Wild (W. Haden Blackman), pages 83-87 for most of the above information.
Thanks go to Laura K. Leuter for graciously giving me permission to borrow the Legend for the History part from her Devil Hunters website. This is HER work, and it should not be used without her permission. The rest of this research belongs to me.
You may find an excellent article on the Jersey Devil here: The Jersey Devil, by Dr. Bob Curran