The Jersey Devil, a mythical creature or cryptid that is believed to inhabit the Pinelands in New Jersey, has been haunting the surrounding areas for more than 250 years. Over these years, the creature has been purportedly seen by more than 2,000 witnesses.
This creature has terrorized towns and has even caused schools and factories to be close down. Some people believe it to be a creation of the New Jersey Pinelands folklore, whereas some others vouch for the existence of Jersey Devil.
The legendary creature of Southern New Jersey is described as a biped that flies and having hooves. There are several description of the Jersey Devil, the most popular one is that it is a kangaroo-like creature that has a horse’s face, a dog’s head, leathery wings resembling that of a bat, small arms and clawed hands, horns, a forked tail and cloven hooves. It reportedly moves fast so as to keep away from human contact and emits “blood-curdling scream.”
The Origin of the Jersey Devil
Several versions of the story related to the origin of the legend exist with the earliest of them all dating back to the times of the Native Americans. The tribe Lenni Lenape called the area surrounding the Pine Barrens as “Popuessing” which means “the dragon’s place“. Later, the area was named as “Drake Kill” by Swedish explorers.
In Swedish, the meaning of the word “Drake” is dragon and “Kill” meant arm or channel of the sea, stream, river, etc.
The origin story that has been most accepted by New Jerseyans is that of the Mother Leeds. According to the story, Mother Leeds who had twelve children said that if she had one more child, it would be the Devil. Mother Leeds gave birth to her thirteenth child on a stormy night in 1735 when her friends were gathered around her. Mother Leeds was supposed to be a witch and the father of the child the devil himself. Though she gave birth to a normal child, it changed its form to a creature having hooves, bat-like wings, horse’s head and forked tail. The creature supposedly screamed, growled and killed the midwife and flew up the chimney towards the pines. It is believed that the demon was exorcised by a clergy in 1740 for 100 years and until 1890 the creature was not seen.
According to some people, Mother Leeds is Deborah Leeds probably based on the fact that her husband’s, Japhet Leeds, will which was written in 1736 had names of twelve children in it. This is considered to be compatible with the folklore as the Jersey Devil was born as the thirteenth child. Moreover, Deborah and Japhet lived in Leeds Point.
Sightings of the Jersey Devil
Commodore Stephen Decatur, on a visit to Hanover Mill Works for inspecting his cannonballs that were being forged, sighted a flying creature that was flapping its wings. He fired a cannon ball at the creature, but it did not have any effect on it.
Joseph Bonaparte, Emperor Napolean’s eldest son, reportedly sighted the Jersey Devil around 1820 when hunting in the Borden town estate.
In the year 1909 and during the period January 16 to 23, newspapers carried reports of several encounters with the Jersey Devil. This included an attack on a trolley car in Haddon heights and Camden, a social club and sightings foot prints on snow.
The widespread news coverage created panic in Delaware valley and schools to be closed. Most workers also stayed at home. Philadelphia zoo promised a reward of $10,000 for capturing the creature.
In December 1925, a local in Greenwich shot down an unidentified animal when it tried to steal chickens. He showed the animal’s dead body to about 100 people, but none of them could identify the animal.
Residents of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, reportedly sighted an unidentified animal with red eyes on July 27, 1937.
In 1960, tracks and noises that were heard around Mays Landing were claimed as that to be of the Jersey Devil. In the same year, a reward of $10,000 was announced by the merchants in and around Camden for capturing the creature.
Some Facts about the Jersey Devil
January is the most likely month in a year in which the Jersey Devil may be sighted.
The creature has been sighted in the towns of Burlington, Gloucester, Woodbury, Trenton, Eldora, Pemberton and Mays Landing.
The early legend about the Jersey Devil is that it will be sighted before shipwrecks as well as outbreak of war.
People who do not believe in the existence of the mythical creature are of the opinion that it is nothing but Bogeyman-type story that the bore English settlers of Pine Barren have created for entertaining children. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning opined that the folklores relating to the Jersey Devil before 1909, wherein it was referred to as the “Leeds Devil“, might have been created in order to cause discredit to Daniel Leeds, a local politician of the 1700s who was deputy to New York and New Jersey colonial governor.
According to Jeff Brunner, New Jersey Humane Society, the basis of the Jersey Devil stories is the Sandhill Crane. He said that no bones, no photographs, no hard evidence and worst of all, none of the explanations of its origins can be considered without a belief in the supernatural.
Tim Brown, author and outdoorsman, who has spent many seasons in Pine Barrens wilderness, said that on several occasions, young hikers misunderstood him as the Jersey Devil when he used mud to cover his body to keep away mosquitoes.
Cryptozoologists are of the belief that the mythical creature could be a rare unidentified species that is afraid of and wants to avoid humans. They support their hypothesis by citing the similarities in the appearance of the creature (though color and height may vary) and the ability of the species to endure for many hundreds of years. They are also of the opinion that the creature may belong to a pterosaur species such as dimorphodon.
A group based in New Jersey that calls itself Devil Hunters is devoting time to research the facts related to the Jersey Devil. Group members collect reports, visit historic sites and conduct nocturnal hunts in the Pinelands to find proof about the existence of the creature.