Jersey Devil

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Jersey Devil
(Leeds Devil)
Jersey Devil Philadelphia Post 1909.jpg

The Jersey Devil,
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 1909.
First reported Native American folklore
Country United States
Region Pine Barrens (New Jersey)

The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature or cryptid said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, United States. The creature is often described as a flying biped with hooves, but there are many different variations. The common description is that of a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a goat, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked tail. It has been reported to move quickly and often is described as emitting a "blood-curdling scream."[1][2]

The Jersey Devil has worked its way into the pop culture of the area, lending its name to New Jersey's team in the National Hockey League, and appeared on an early episode of The X-Files.

Origin of the legend[edit]

There are many possible origins of the Jersey Devil legend. The earliest legends date back to Native American folklore. The Lenni Lenape tribes called the area around Pine Barrens "Popuessing", meaning "place of the dragon".[3] Swedish explorers later named it "Drake Kill", "drake" being a word for dragon, and "kill" meaning channel or arm of the sea (river, stream, etc.) in Dutch.[4]

The common accepted origin of the story, as far as New Jersey people are concerned, started with Mother Leeds and is as follows:

"It was said that Mother Leeds had 12 children and, after finding she was pregnant for the 13th time, stated that this one would be the Devil. In 1735, Mother Leeds was in labor on a stormy night. Gathered around her were her friends. Mother Leeds was supposedly a witch and the child's father was the Devil himself. The child was born normal, but then changed form. It changed from a normal baby to a creature with hooves, a goat's head, bat wings and a forked tail. It growled and screamed, then killed the midwife before flying up the chimney. It circled the villages and headed toward the pines. In 1740 a clergy exorcised the demon for 100 years and it wasn't seen again until 1890."

"Mother Leeds" has been identified by some as Deborah Leeds.[5] This identification may have gained credence from the fact that Deborah Leeds' husband, Japhet Leeds, named twelve children in the will he wrote in 1736,[6] which is compatible with the legend of the Jersey Devil being the thirteenth child born by Mother Leeds. Deborah and Japhet Leeds also lived in the Leeds Point section of what is now Atlantic County, New Jersey,[7] which is the area commonly said to be the location of the Jersey Devil story.

Reported encounters[edit]

There have been many sightings and occurrences allegedly involving the Jersey Devil.

According to legend, while visiting the Hanover Mill Works to inspect his cannonballs being forged, Commodore Stephen Decatur sighted a flying creature flapping its wings and fired a cannonball directly upon it to no effect.[citation needed]

Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Emperor Napoleon, is also said to have witnessed the Jersey Devil while hunting on his Borden town estate around 1820.[8] In 1840, the devil was blamed for several livestock killings.[citation needed] Similar attacks were reported in 1841, accompanied by tracks and screams.[citation needed]

Claims of a corpse matching the Leeds Devil's description arose in Greenwich in December 1925. A local farmer shot an unidentified animal as it attempted to steal his chickens. Afterward, he claimed that none of 100 people he showed it to could identify it.[9] On July 27, 1937 an unknown animal "with red eyes" seen by residents of Downingtown, Pennsylvania was compared to the Jersey Devil by a reporter for the Pennsylvania Bulletin of July 28, 1937.[10] In 1951, a group of Gibbstown, New Jersey boys claimed to have seen a 'monster' matching the Devil's description.[11] and claims of a corpse matching the Jersey Devil's description arose in 1957.[12] In 1960, tracks and noises heard near Mays Landing were claimed to be from the Jersey Devil.[13] During the same year the merchants around Camden offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil, even offering to build a private zoo to house the creature if captured.[14]

Sightings of 1909[edit]

During the week of January 16 through 23, 1909, newspapers of the time published hundreds of claimed encounters with the Jersey Devil from all over the state. Among alleged encounters publicized that week were claims the creature "attacked" a trolley car in Haddon Heights and a social club in Camden.[15] Police in Camden and Bristol, Pennsylvania supposedly fired on the creature to no effect.[16] Other reports initially concerned unidentified footprints in the snow, but soon sightings of creatures resembling the Jersey Devil were being reported throughout South Jersey and as far away as Delaware.[17] The widespread newspaper coverage led to a panic throughout the Delaware Valley prompting a number of schools to close and workers to stay home. During this period, it is rumored that the Philadelphia Zoo posted a $10,000 reward for the creature's dung. The offer prompted a variety of hoaxes, including a kangaroo with artificial wings.[18]


Skeptics believe the Jersey Devil to be nothing more than a creative manifestation of the English settlers, Bogeyman stories created and told by bored Pine Barren residents as a form of children's entertainment, and rumors arising from negative perceptions of the local population ("pineys"). According to Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, folk tales of the Jersey Devil prior to 1909 calling it the "Leeds Devil" may have been created to discredit local politician Daniel Leeds who served as deputy to the colonial governor of New York and New Jersey in the 1700s.[19] Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand wrote that the spread of contemporary pop culture has overtaken traditional Jersey Devil legends.[20] Jeff Brunner of the Humane Society of New Jersey thinks the Sandhill Crane is the basis of the Jersey Devil stories, adding, "There are no photographs, no bones, no hard evidence whatsoever, and worst of all, no explanation of its origins that doesn't require belief in the supernatural."[21] Outdoorsman and author Tom Brown, Jr. spent several seasons living in the wilderness of the Pine Barrens. He recounts occasions when terrified hikers mistook him for the Jersey Devil, after he covered his whole body with mud to repel mosquitoes.

One New Jersey group called the "Devil Hunters" refer to themselves as “official researchers of the Jersey Devil", and devote time to collecting reports, visiting historic sites, and going on nocturnal hunts in the Pine Barrens in order to "find proof that the Jersey Devil does in fact exist."[22]

Popular culture[edit]

The Jersey Devil has become a cultural icon in the state, inspiring several organizations to use the nickname. In professional hockey, the Eastern Hockey League Jersey Devils played from 1964 through 1973. When the National Hockey League Colorado Rockies relocated to New Jersey in 1982, a fan poll voted to rename that team the New Jersey Devils.[23][24]

The New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing, stationed at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center within the Pine Barrens, is also nicknamed the Jersey Devils.[25]

American professional wrestler, Jason Danvers, portrays a character called "The Jersey Devil", a psychopathic member of a stable called "The Asylum". His outfit consists of a black and white wrestling singlet, long tights, and boots. He also wears full facepaint of a white face covering with black make-up over it that gives him horns and a "Joker"-esque, evil smile. He wrestles for WAW wrestling in Manchester, NH.[26]

Film and television[edit]


  • The novel Brigid's Charge by Cynthia Lamb, a descendent of Mother Leeds, the alleged mother of the Leeds (Jersey) Devil, answers the question: "Why was she accused?"
  • In the novel All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson, the fourth of his Repairman Jack novels, a rogue rakosh (a bipedal shark-demon, first introduced in Wilson's novel The Tomb) disappears into the New Jersey Pine Barrens, assuming the identity of the Jersey Devil.
  • The F. Paul Wilson short story The Barrens features a character who claims to be searching for the Jersey Devil.
  • The 1976 book The Jersey Devil and its 1998 sequel, Phantom of the Pines: More Tales of the Jersey Devil by James McCloy and Ray Miller Jr. tell the story of the Jersey Devil, and were the basis of the independent film, 13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil, Volume I.[31]
  • The 1989 horror novel The Pines by Robert Dunbar largely centered on the legend, as did Dunbar's sequel The Shore with both novels presenting the notion that a form of lycanthropic genetic disorder is responsible for the legend.
  • The 2005 book Tales of the Jersey Devil by Geoffrey Girard is a collection of thirteen original tales based on the Jersey Devil.
  • The 2012 YA book Jersey Devil, The Cursed Unfortunate (MuseItUp Publishing) tells a story featuring the Jersey Devil.


  • On October 31, 2008 Bruce Springsteen released a music video and free audio download single titled, "A Night with the Jersey Devil", on the official Springsteen website. On October 31, 2012, he performed the live premiere of the song at Rochester NY's Blue Cross Arena.
  • Kevin Welch wrote the song "Jersey Devil" on the 2004 album entitled You Can't Save Everybody by Kieran Kane & Kevin Welch with Fats Kaplin.
  • The Jersey Devil inspired the name of the Jersey Shore Death Metal band "The Son of Leeds".
  • Shane Speal plays a song on his cigar box guitar called "Mother Leeds". It is the opening track on his album, 12 Stones.

Video games[edit]

  • Sony published a video game called Jersey Devil for the PlayStation in 1998. One plays as the Jersey Devil, which looks like a horned and winged cartoon-like person wearing a purple outfit.
  • The popular children's computer game Poptropica featured the Jersey Devil along with the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Chupacabra on the Cryptid Island level. The creature is here depicted with the head and feet of a goat and the claws, wings, and tail of a dragon, and as laying large spotted eggs.
  • The video game Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia features an enemy named "Jersey Devil." This version flies and spits fire. Its description once a picture of it is taken reads, "Out of the pine barrens and straight to your neck of the woods."
  • The Jersey Devil appears in the 2009 Nintendo DS game Scribblenauts as an enemy that will attack the nearest creature in sight.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Jersey Devil, by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, Jr., Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-912608-11-0
  2. ^ "The Jersey Devil & Pine Barrens Folklore - New Jersey Pine Barrens - Pinelands Preservation Alliance". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  3. ^ "The Jersey Devil - Paranormal". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  4. ^ "devil". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  5. ^ Mallowe, Mike, "The Enduring Reign Of The Jersey Devil" The Bulletin (Philadelphia), October 30, 2008
  6. ^ Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State Of New Jersey, 1st Ser., Vol. XXX Ed. A. Van Doren Honeyman, (Union-Gazette, Somerville, N.J.)1918.
  7. ^ Rundstrom, Olive Conover, "Daniel Leeds and his Descendants", Atlantic County Historical Society Year Book, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 156 (1971)
  8. ^ S. E. Schlosser. "Joseph Bonaparte and the Jersey Devil". Retrieved 2010-01-05. 
  9. ^ Daily Times of Woodbury, December 15th, 1925, quoted in, Moran, Mark and Sceurman, Mark (2004). Weird N.J.: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Barnes & Noble. P. 107.
  10. ^ Laura K. Leuter (1937-07-28). "The Devil Hunters - Official Researchers of the Jersey Devil". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  11. ^ "CNBNEWS.NET: In 1909 the Jersey Devil was sighted in Gloucester". 2007-02-28. Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  12. ^ McNab, Chris (2007). Mythological Monsters. New York: Scholastic, Inc. ISBN 0-439-85479-2. 
  13. ^ "h2g2 - The Legend of the Jersey Devil". 2006-12-02. Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  14. ^ "Legend of the New Jersey Devil". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  15. ^ Moran, Mark and Sceurman, Mark (2004). Weird N.J.: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Barnes & Noble. PP. 104-5.
  16. ^ Moran and Sceurman(2004). P. 105.
  17. ^ "The New Jersey Historical Society". 2000-10-26. Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  18. ^ "The Jersey Devil Legend". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  19. ^ Dunning, Brian. "The Jersey Devil". Skeptoid #282 November 01, 2011. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  20. ^ Brunvand, Jan Harold (1998). American folklore. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-8153-3350-0. 
  21. ^ "The Devil Went Down To Jersey". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  22. ^ Barry, Dan (8 September 2008). "THIS LAND; In the Wilds of New Jersey, a Legend Inspires a Hunt". The New York Times. p. 14. 
  23. ^ Mifflin, Lawrie; Katz, Michael (1982-06-30). "SCOUTING; 'Jersey Devils' Wins Name Poll". The New York Times. 
  24. ^ "Jersey Devils - hockey uniforms". sportsK. Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  25. ^ "177th Fighter Wing [177th FW]". Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  26. ^ "The Jersey Devil". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  27. ^ a b Laura K. Leuter. "The Devil Hunters - Official Researchers of the Jersey Devil". Retrieved 2014-01-04. 
  28. ^ "Lou Diamond Philips vs. The Jersey Devil". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  29. ^ Sneider, Jeff (Sep 15, 2011). "'True Blood's Stephen Moyer takes on Jersey Devil". VanityFair. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  30. ^ "The Infamous Jersey Devil". The Travel Channel, LLC. Retrieved 20 September 2013. 
  31. ^ Rosen, Judith (Nov 18, 2002). "Jersey Devil Takes the Screen". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Weird NJ: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, Barnes & Noble ISBN 0-7607-3979-X
  • The Jersey Devil, by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, Jr., Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-912608-11-0
  • Tales of the Jersey Devil, by Geoffrey Girard., Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-9754419-2-2
  • A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, by Donald Culross Peattie, pp. 20–23.
  • The Tracker, by Tom Brown, Jr.
  • William Grimstein's Devil of Jersey, by Billy Staggs. ISBN 978-1-4343-0873-3
  • The Domestic Life of the Jersey Devil, or, BeBop's Miscellany by Bill Sprouse, Oyster Eye Publishing (2013). ISBN 978-0-9899522-0-0.

External links[edit]