The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature that is said to haunt the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, USA. It is believed to be cloven-footed, to stand on two legs and to have the face of a horse as well as giant wings and a hideous scream. With numerous alleged sightings, the Jersey Devil story has struck fear into the heart of many a New Jersey citizen and has even been featured in movies such as The Last Broadcast.
There are various myths surrounding the origins of the Jersey Devil. One of the most popular stories concerns a Mrs Leeds of Estelville, New Jersey, who was upset at the news of her thirteenth pregnancy and is said to have cried out 'may it be a devil!'. They say the child was born hideously deformed with a tail and wings.
Another tale names the mother of the creature as a 'Mother Leeds' of Burlington, New Jersey, who was reputed locally to be a witch. She claimed that the father of the baby was the devil himself. The child was allegedly born normal, only to change later into a winged, hoofed creature and to fly off into the Pine Barrens.
The third most popular story marks the location of the creature's birth as Leeds Point, New Jersey, to a Mrs Shroud after she made the wish that if she ever gave birth again that the child would be a devil. Legend says she got her wish. There are many other stories, but the one thing that seems to connect them all is the name of 'Leeds'.
Belief in witchcraft and evil forces was strong in this time and many people thought a deformed child to be the offspring, or at least the work of, the devil. It is possible that perhaps something as simple as religious belief and ignorance is the basis of the Jersey Devil legend.
Sightings and Occurrences
It was about three feet and half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse's hooves. It walked on its back legs and held up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn't use the front legs at all while we were watching. My wife and I were scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the window and say, 'Shoo', and it turned around, barked at me, and flew away.
- Mr and Mrs Nelson Evans of Gloucester, New Jersey.
There have been many sightings and occurrences allegedly involving the Jersey Devil. The following is only a small selection.
Few records still exist of documented sightings of the devil before 1909. Of the ones that do exist, the following are best known.
The former King of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte,1 claimed to have seen the devil in Bordentown, New Jersey on several occasions between 1816 and 1839 while out hunting. Between 1859 and 1894 the creature was seen numerous times in and around areas of New Jersey including Leeds Point, Haddonfield and Long Branch, apparently carrying away anything that moved.
The largest-scale appearance of the Jersey Devil is said to have occurred on 16 January, 1909. During the course of a week, it is said to have left cloven footprints all over South Jersey and Philadelphia, being sighted by over 1,000 people. Six years previously, author of American Myths and Legends, Charles Skinner had stated his belief that the legend had run its course and the new century would hear no more of the creature.
Contrary to Skinner's theory, reports of the Jersey Devil carried on. One instance was reported, where tracks were found along with loud shrieks heard near May's Landing in 1960. Also in 1960, merchants in Camden offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil. Their intent was to build a zoo especially to showcase the creature. The reward is to this day unclaimed and the legend continues to baffle. Perhaps if you visit the Pine Barrens of New Jersey you may find out the truth for yourself.