The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature that
is said to haunt the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. 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
Few records still exist of documented sightings of the devil
before 1909. Of the ones that do exist, the following are best
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.