It’s been a good while since I’ve delved into the world of cryptids but it’s still a topic that I have a deep fascination for. With so many various cryptic creatures out there to discuss, it can be difficult to pick apart fantasy from reality. One of the most intriguing cryptids, in my opinion, is the Jersey Devil, with centuries of history and years of sightings!
The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature said to inhabit the pines of New Jersey. It’s been described as having hooves, a forked tail and having bat-like wings with a head similar to that of a goat or horse, oftentimes with horns. The creature was first featured in 1735 in a story involving a Pine Barrens resident by the name of Jane Leeds (also known as Mother Leeds). She had bared twelve children and upon discovering that she was pregnant with her thirteenth, she cried out in frustration, cursing the child, stating that it would be the devil.
On the night of its birth, her family gathered as the child was born normal but then it changed into a being described as the Jersey Devil. After using its forked tail to beat everyone in the room, it fled through the chimney and flew to the pines of Jersey.
Another version of the story states that Jane was a witch and that the cursed child’s father was the devil himself. Other versions state that an exorcism was attempted to drive the Jersey Devil away from the Pines.
These tales have truth to them as Mother Leeds was later identified as Deberah Leeds and her husband was Japhet Leeds (their home pictured above). He wrote about their twelve children in his will in 1736. They resided in Leeds Point, apart of what is now Atlantic County, New Jersey, the focal point of the Jersey Devil story.
Brian Regal (historical scientist at Kean University) has theories on the story, through extensive research. He believes that rather than Mother Leeds being a single person, it involved an entire religious-political colony in Southern New Jersey, with disputes becoming the center of gossip and folklore. These stories evolved over the years, morphing into the legends we know today. He theorizes that by the 1700s and early 1800s, the legends became just another ghost story, being tossed around in the Pine Barrens, New Jersey area. But is it something as casual as a spooky story or is there some real truth behind it this cryptid?
Pictured above is one of the most debated and widely circulated photo of what many believe to be the Jersey Devil finally captured on camera. But of course, this isn’t the only sighting as people have reported spotting it since the early 1800s. The older brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte claimed to have seen the creature on his Bordentown estate while hunting in 1820. A couple decades later, in the 1840s, the Jersey Devil was blamed for many livestock killings, some accompanied by screams with tracks left behind.
Later in 1925, a Greenwich farmer shot a being said to match its description as something was coming after his chickens. He took a picture of the corpse and over 100 people compared it to the cryptid.
Then in 1951, a group of boys from Gibbstown, NJ claimed to have spotted a monster, perfectly identical to the JD. In the ’50s and into 1960, reports became so common that during the same year, the city of Camden offered a reward of ten thousand dollars to whoever could capture the Jersey Devil, also offering to build a private zoo to hold it.
Hundreds more sightings arose in 1909 during the week of January 16-23. Camden and Pennsylvania police apparently fired at something similar to the Jersey Devil but without an effect. Another ten thousand dollar reward was rumored to be offered by the Philadelphia zoo, which of course led many to begin their search while others prepared a variety of hoaxes.
Hoaxes, Misidentifications, and Explanations
As with every legend and people that have strong belief, there will be another side, one filled with skepticism. Skeptics believe that the Jersey Devil is nothing more than an animal misidentification and an old, exaggerated tale for children’s entertainment. Others go as far to interpret common footprints (mostly from horses) as JD footprints. A man along with an animal trainer attached fake bat wings to the back of a kangaroo in an attempt to fully disprove the myth. Seems a little far-fetched to me but sure, bat wings on a kangaroo, why not? Many believed him when he claimed that he had found the devil and it was displayed in a museum. He finally admitted to his hoax…twenty years later.
The Jersey Devil has since made its mark on modern media, having been featured in movies (The Barrens in 2011, TMNT in 2007), TV shows (Legend Quest, Monsters and Mysteries in America, Lore, and the X-Files) and even in video games, one being The Wolf Among Us. Six Flags Great Adventure even announced in 2019 that Rocky Mountain Construction would build a Jersey Devil Coaster. Its safe to say that the Jersey Devil is pretty popular! And it will likely continue to be popular for years to come, enticing and intriguing many across not only New Jersey but the world!
Have you or someone you know come in contact with the Jersey Devil? I’d LOVE to know! Comment below and as always, thank you for reading!