Cryptid Casefile: The Jersey Devil
Type: Devil / Dragon
Appearance: Goats head • Hooves • Bat wings • Forked snakes tail • Horns • Clawed hands
Location: New Jersey / Pennsylvania, USA
Abilities: Flight • Super-speed • Agility • Fire-Breath • Bulletproof
In the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, some say there is a devil that lurks within its depths, waiting to strike. Long ago in the early history of America, the legend of this chimerical abomination was born. This is the story of the Jersey Devil...
Alternatively known as the Leeds Devil, the origins of this terrifying creature brings us back to a family living in 18th Century America. Jane Leeds, a Pine Barren resident and alleged witch in colonial New Jersey was the mother of 12 children. According to the legend, in 1735, Jane, who would become known as Mother Leeds got pregnant with her 13th child. Upon realizing this, she cursed this new pregnancy out of frustration for having to bear one more child and claimed this new baby would "be the devil."
On a stormy night, (which always sets the mood for something horrific) Mother Leeds birthed her 13th child into the world with her friends and family there to witness it. The child was born as a normal human, however within moments, eyewitnesses claimed this child began to transform into a hideous beast. It's head morphed into something resembling a goats head, while it sprouted bat-like wings out of it's back. And if that wasn't enough, a forked reptilian tail grew out of it's hind-quarters. This former human, now turned devil-creature began to growl menacingly and then let out a horrid scream. As it became self-aware, the creature began to whip its tail violently, beating on Mother Leeds and everyone else in the room. Satisfied with its assault, the devil scrambled to the nearby fire place, flew up chimney and out into the Pine Barrens and became lost to history – or so people thought.
Over the next 170+ years, sightings were few and far between and stories of this creature became part local folklore and legend. That was until the early 20th century when a major flap in sightings happened in 1909 between January 16th and 23rd. Interestingly the name "Jersey Devil" didn't become synonymous with a winged demon making its home in the Pine Barrens until these events.
During this time multiple newspapers reported hundreds of alleged encounters from all over the state of New Jersey. as the hysteria surrounding this paranormal event grew it spread to the surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. Schools, factories and businesses closed out of fear of this creature that thousands of people were apparently seeing. It was rumored that the Philadelphia Zoo offered a monetary reward of $10,000 for a sample of it's dung. This high reward prompted a variety of hoaxers to claim they caught the Jersey Devil, including a man and his animal trainer friend who purchased a kangaroo from a local circus and outfitted it with bat wings and fake claws. Surprisingly they maintained the hoax until 1929.
Some of these eye witnesses sightings were fairly compelling; one person claimed a flying devil creature "attacked" a trolley car in Camden, NJ. It was also reported that the Police in that town as well as Bristol, PA fired upon a strange flying creature, to no effect. Others reported bipedal mystery tracks in snow that were horse-like. Furthermore, others claimed to have seen the creature take on a human form, suggesting it could go incognito and disguise its true identity like a shapeshifter.
The officer in Bristol, PA who fired upon the Devil was James Sackville, a patrol cop. The story goes that Sackville on patrol in the twilight hours of Sunday morning. He heard some dogs barking and growling, and though that wasn't necessarily out of the ordinary, he decided to investigate. As he got closer he encountered a strange winged creature standing by a canal. Frightened by this beast, he drew his pistol and charged towards it, but the creature turned and hopped further down the canal and then took off into the air. Sackville managed to shoot off a couple rounds, but seemingly this had no effect on the creature as it vanished off into night sky. Whether or not he actually hit it, or just missed is not clear. Sackville was said to describe the Devil as being winged and having a bird-like hop. He also reported It had a terrible scream had very peculiar features for an animal.
Another account is that of Camden, NJ saloon owner, Frank Rouh. at 1:00AM noticed an "uncanny sound" emanating from outside the back window of his club. He turned around and saw a creature staring at him. Fearing for their lives, all of the patrons fled the saloon, leaving Rouh to fend for himself with only a large club as a means of self-defense. The Devil then ended the stare-down and flew off, making a blood-curdling screech as it did so.
One of the most unusual accounts from this period is that of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. White from Philadelphia, PA. at 4:00PM, Mrs. White reported seeing the Devil clearly in their backyard just crouching nearby. Mrs. White was caught off-guard by this and when the creature saw her it apparently stood up and spewed flames at her. She screamed in terror and fainted. Her husband, Mr. White heard the commotion and ran outside to see what was happening, and he too witnessed this fire-breathing beast, terrorizing them. Mr. White estimated the Devil to be around 6 feet tall. At this point, Mr. White, probably full of adrenaline, chased the Devil out of his backyard. It hopped the fence and made its way down the nearby alley, shooting fire at Mr. White before he broke off pursuit.
So is this story real? Is there actually a winged demonic creature making its home in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey? If you look at the historical documents and lore, there was indeed a family that resided in the Leeds Point area of Atlantic County, NJ in the 1700's. Deborah and Japhet leeds. The pair did have twelve children which could be an origin point of the story of the Jersey / Leeds Devil. Another man with the Leeds name around this time was, Daniel Leeds. He was a Pine Barrens resident who was a publishing rival of young Benjamin Franklin. Daniel Leeds wrote on the esoteric and was quickly censored by the Quaker community, branding him as the "Leeds Devil." There is also the fact that building a life within the Pine Barrens area is extremely difficult as the soil is not very arable. In fact it was considered inhospitable. Only the most desperate would settle in the region and these became known as the, "Pineys" - essentially a derogatory term to describe poor social outcasts of colonial society at the time.
There are also reports that highway men and British loyalist brigands would attack and rob travelers through the region. This negative reputation of this area and its residents surely made people stay far away from the lawless Pine Barrens. This coupled with the bad reputation of the Leeds family might have evolved into stories of a devil-beast that stalked the Pine Barrens, continually on the prowl for it's next victim. Despite a potential explanation for the legend, there are still alleged sightings in the 21st century as recently as 2009. If this creature is real, there doesn't seem to be a consensus as to what it could be, but some theories point to it being a type of pterodactyl species like Dimorphodon while others suggest it could be a dragon type creature. Moreover others note the similarity of its reported appearance to that of a Hammerhead Bat or even a Sandhill Crane.
In the end, the story of the Jersey Devil has captivated peoples imaginations for centuries. It may just be a story to scare children, but at the same time, there very well could be a creature lurking inside the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, waiting to make its next appearance.
• English settlers boogeyman folklore story to scare children
• Local disdain for the Leeds Family of Atlantic County, NJ in the 1700's
• Misidentified animals
• Simple Hoaxes