Name: The Jersey Devil
Alias: The Leeds Devil
First Reported: 1735
Location: The Pine Barrens, New Jersey
So the story goes, in the Pine Barrens lived the Leeds family – “Mother Leeds,” her husband, and 12 children. She bore all 12 children without suffering any miscarriages or stillbirths, which seemed impossible back in the eighteenth century. People called her a witch. Her husband rarely cared for his children, preferring the bottle to his family. When Mother Leeds learned of her thirteenth pregnancy, she cursed her unborn child. “Let this one be the Devil,” she shouted at the heavens.
One stormy night in 1735, Mother Leeds went into labor. Her caregivers and midwives helped deliver her newborn, while her husband and the other 12 children gathered in another room. Mother Leeds gave birth to her thirteenth healthy, seemingly-normal baby.
Suddenly, everything changed. Her baby immediately grew larger than a full-sized man, sprouted horns from its head, sharp claws burst through its hands, and leathery wings tore out of its back. Mother Leed’s thirteenth child morphed into a goat-like creature with piercing red eyes, hooves, and a long, forked tail. On that dark and rainy night, the Leed’s Devil was born.
After Mother Leeds’s terrifying childbirth, the tale splits, one version significantly more devilish than the other. In the first version, the Leeds Devil attacked everyone in the room except for Mother Leeds, killing her caregivers and midwives and letting out an ear-piercing, high-pitched screech. The creature darted up the chimney, flew into the Pine Barrens, and lived among the wildlife ever since.
The second version is similar to the first but entails more insidious intentions from the Leeds Devil. Instead of allowing Mother Leeds to live, the creature started its attack by killing its own mother. After tearing apart the caregivers and midwives, similar to the first version, the beast knocked down the door to find Mother Leeds’ husband and children, killing the husband and a few children, but also leaving a couple living relatives to tell its tale.
From January 16 to 23, 1909, hundreds of people reported sightings of the creature. There are some people that believe New Jersey wanted to capitalize on one of the most bizarre stories in the state’s history, and if true, it worked. During that week in 1909, New Jersey released hundreds of newspaper articles about The Leeds Devil, and thus, the term “the Jersey Devil” became part of its history.
While there are different descriptions of the Jersey Devil, it is a biped creature and features characteristics from varying animals.
The Jersey Devil has a kangaroo or wyvern-like body with a goat or horse-like head and glowing red eyes. Eyewitness accounts vary, but its head is often described as elongated.
Other Jersey Devil characteristics are more distinct, as the majority of reports agree – the creature features horns, two bat-like leathery wings, a pair of small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves, and a long, forked tail.
The Devil is said to have constructed this creature from an assortment of different animal parts. Its biped form and cloven hooves help it walk on its hind legs; its bat-like wings allow the creature to fly, catching prey from above with its clawed hands; and it emits a terrifying, high-pitched scream when provoked.
The tale of the Jersey Devil originated in the Pine Barrens, also known as “the Pinelands” or simply “the Pines,” of New Jersey, a heavily forested area that stretches across seven counties. This is still the most likely area to spot the cryptid.
Since the early 1700s, there have been sightings in Bordentown, Greenwich, Gibbstown, Mays Landing, and Camden, all of which are located in New Jersey, but it doesn’t end there. This terrifying cryptid seemingly remains close to home, but first-hand reports place the creature in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware as well. Throughout history, local law enforcement, the Philadelphia Zoo, and merchant around Camden repeatedly offered cash rewards for the Jersey Devil’s capture, but to no avail; it still roams the Pinelands.
Some believe that the Jersey Devil lives in the Blue Hole, a clear-blue lake located in the Pines. The lake has a 70-foot diameter and reaches a depth of nearly 10 feet. The cryptid is said to be especially active in this area with multiple mysterious reports of people drowning in the Blue Hole.
According to its origin story, the creature is a demonic entity, accidentally or purposefully summoned by Mother Leeds. One other demonic entity theory is that the Devil impregnated Mother Leeds and is the father of her thirteenth child, not her husband. This theory comes from the rumor that Mother Leeds practiced witchcraft and black magic.
It has been suggested that the Jersey Devil might simply be a hammerhead bat. The hammerhead bat possesses an elongated face and leathery wings, which are two key characteristics of the cryptid. This doesn’t explain the hooves, horns, or fork-like tail, but the human imagination is powerful.
There are, however, two distinct issues with the claim that one of New Jersey’s most terrifying cryptids is simply a hammerhead bat. First, the bat is native to equatorial Africa. Nearby zoos could’ve housed the animal and carnivals traveled through New Jersey. It’s possible a bat escaped and settled in the Pine Barrens, which are probably the most similar area to the African forests. Residents of New Jersey have also been known to keep exotic pets. It isn’t impossible for the bat to have been illegally shipped to New Jersey and accidentally or purposely released into the wild.
The second, and more compelling, concern is the size of the hammerhead bat. People reported the Jersey Devil at six to eight feet tall. The bat reaches a total length of 7.7 to 11.2 inches with a 27 to 38-inch wingspan. This animal is seemingly far too small to be the Jersey Devil.
Skeptics believe the Jersey Devil’s more likely mistaken identity is a sandhill crane. While the crane doesn’t possesses all of the crpytid’s characteristics, it does have a similar overall shape. Most importantly, it is native to New Jersey and screeches on occasion, similar to the Jersey Devil.
This theory is not without its flaws, though. The sandhill crane doesn’t have leathery skin, bat-like wings, horns, a fork-like tail, or hooves, and it is only three to four feet tall. Sandhill cranes are also herbivores, and multiple reports suggest the beast attacks and steals livestock, and on occasion, humans.
A Political Tool
Perhaps most intriguing, Brian Regal of Kean University theorizes that the Jersey Devil might be the manifestation of a religio-political dispute between the Leeds family, nearby Quakers, and Benjamin Franklin.
Despite being a Quaker, Daniel Leeds had a strong connection to the British Crown and acquired land in the Pine Barrens for his family. In the 17th century, English Quakers began moving into parts of Southern New Jersey. After reading Leeds’s 1687 publication of almanacs, the Quakers ostracized him, referring to the astrological symbols he used as too pagan. They censored and burned the books.
In spite of the Quakers, Leeds released his next publications, calling the Quakers anti-monarchists. Lord Cornbury, who the Quakers despised, endorsed Leeds, and the Quakers labelled Leeds a traitor for rejecting their beliefs.
In 1716, Titan Leeds, Daniel’s son, took over his father’s almanac business. His almanac directly competed with Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. The then-friendly competition grew more extreme in 1733 when Franklin ‘jokingly’ predicted Leeds death in October of that year. Offended, Leeds referred to Franklin as a fool and a liar.
Franklin didn’t stop there, though. He pretended as if Leeds had actually died that October, arguing that Leeds’s ghost wrote the later published almanacs. He referred to his ghost after Leeds’s real death in 1738.
Most importantly for the tale of the Jersey Devil, in 1728, Titan added the Leeds’s family crest to his almanacs – a wyvern, the creature that many people believe the Jersey Devil looks like.
According to Regal, Daniel Leeds personified as evil and Titan Leeds portrayed as a ghost, coupled with the extreme hatred directed at nobility in Southern New Jersey at the time, could have facilitated the myth of the Jersey Devil.
A few reported sightings popped up in the early 1800s. Commodore Stephen Decatur claimed to have shot the creature with a cannonball, but the weapon allegedly had no effect on the beast. Joseph Bonaparte also claimed to have seen the Jersey Devil around the same time period.
In 1840, several farmers blamed the Jersey Devil for killing their livestock. More attacks on livestock were reported the following year, along with reports of hooved tracks and screeching noises. While potential evidence did exist during that time, more accurate reports didn’t come into existence until much later.
The week of January 16 to 23 in 1909 encompassed the most active time for Jersey Devil sightings in history. During this span, hundreds of people claimed to have seen the creature and multiple reports were published in the newspaper.
The sightings of 1909 didn’t solely take place in New Jersey, though. Sightings occurred in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. The Camden and Bristol police forces claim to have fired upon the creature, but, again, to no effect. This coincides with Commodore Stephen Decatur’s report that his cannonball didn’t harm the beast in the early 1800s.
Since the sightings of 1909, the Jersey Devil has rarely been seen.
Pop Culture References
Two professional hockey teams have used the name the “Jersey Devils.” Originally a team in the Eastern Hockey League, the Jersey Devil found its way into the National Hockey League in 1982. The Colorado Rockies moved to Newark, N.J. and adopted the name.
Six Flags Great Adventure announced the new Jersey Devil Coaster on August 29, 2019. The roller coaster is a single-file train and holds 12 passengers. Featuring a height of 3,000 feet and reaching speeds of 58 MPH, it is the fastest, tallest, and longest single-rail roller coaster in the world.
The X-Files fifth episode of the first season is named “The Jersey Devil.” This episode featured a crazed woman rather than the traditional cryptid most think of today. It aired on October 8, 1993.
The Jersey Devil appears in the film TMNT, based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic books.
In 2002, Thomas Ashley and Steven Stockage created the film 13th Child, which was inspired by the legend of the Jersey Devil.
The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, an animated TV series in the mid to late-1990s, featured the main character searching for the Jersey Devil after a reported sighting. This happens in the 17th episode, titled, “The Spectre of the Pine Barrens.”
The Jersey Devil appears twice in the TV show Legend Quest. It first appears in the episode “The Jersey Devil,” and then multiple Jersey Devil-like creatures appear in Quetzocoatl’s army in the episode “The Serpent and the Egg.”
The animated TV series Extremely Ghostbusters features the Jersey Devil in an episode titled, “The Jersey Devil Made Me Do It.”
Mother Leeds’ 13th Child aired in 1972 by the New Jersey Network and featured a story about the Jersey Devil.
Lore, a 2015 podcast created by Aaron Mahnke, featured the Jersey Devil in its ninth episode of the first season.
The Jersey Devil is explained as a mythological creature in episode 22 of the anime series Star Twinkle Precure.
In the eighth episode of the second season of Monsters and Mysteries in America, the Jersey is discussed as the spawn of Satan in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
The Jersey Devil is featured in Book #67 of the Hardy Boys series, titled The Outlaw’s Silver.
Jersey Devil, a video game released in the late-1900s, was available for both PlayStation and Microsoft Windows.
The Wolf Among Us, a video game based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic book series, features the Jersey Devil.
The Jersey Devil can be found in an abandoned house in New Jersey on “Cryptids Island” in the video game Poptropica. The player must collect its egg shells for proof of its existence.
Bruce Springsteen, a native of New Jersey, released a song and video entitled “A Night With The Jersey Devil.”
Cryptozoic Entertainment released a Cryptkins blind box toy line, which included the Jersey Devil as one of its cryptids in 2018.