What is the Jersey Devil? A Quick Look at the History of New Jersey's Most Famous Monster

What is the Jersey Devil? A Quick Look at the History of New Jersey’s Most Famous Monster

Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil originally referred to as The Leeds Devil, a cryptid that is believed to inhabit the Pinelands in New Jersey, has been haunting the surrounding areas since about 1735. Over the years, this creature has been reportedly witnessed by more than 2,000 individuals.


The Leeds Grave Marker

The Jersey Devil has terrorized, and amused, NJ towns through this time, even causing school closings, and keeping people from venturing outside their own homes. Is good ole JD a creation of Piney folklore, a left over dinosaur, an undiscovered species, a hybrid, a ghost or The 13th Child?

The legendary creature of southern New Jersey is described as a hoofed biped with wings. There are several descriptions of the Jersey Devil, the most popular one being a kangaroo-like creature with a horse’s face, a dog’s head, leathery bat wings, small arms and clawed hands, horns, a forked tail, and devilish cloven hooves. JD reportedly moves fast so as to avoid human contact, and freaking locals with his “blood-curdling scream”.


There are several different versions of the Jersey Devil’s origin story. The earliest dates back to the Lenape tribe where they called the Pine Barrens “Popuessing” which translates to “Place of the Dragon”. Later, the Swedes referred to this area as “Drake Kill”. Drake meaning dragon and Kill referring to a channel of a river.

JD's Pub

The most popular and widely accepted origin story is of Mother Leeds having 12 kids, and cursing her 13th one who became the Jersey Devil. On a dark and stormy night, poor Mrs. Leeds gave birth to a seemingly normal baby which, shortly afterwards, developed his monstrous attributes. The Jersey Devil screamed, killed the midwife, flying up the chimney, into the Pine Barrens where it currently dwells. Legend has it, back in 1740, a member of the religious community exorcised the Jersey Devil for 100 years. No sightings of JD were reported until 1890.

There is some real history behind the myth, with records existing of Deborah Leeds and Japhet Leeds (of Leeds Point, NJ) marrying and having 12 children. While visiting Hanover Mill Works to inspect the forging of cannonballs, Commodore Stephen Decatur claims he sighted the Jersey Devil, firing a cannonball at the winged creature to no avail.

In 1820 Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte also claimed to see the Jersey Devil near his Bordentown home.

The busiest period of Jersey Devil sightings ran from January 16th to the 23rd in 1909. Newspapers were bustling with headlines heralding encounters with the Jersey Devil. Widespread panic ensued when the Jersey Devil supposedly attacked a trolley car in Camden and Haddonfield, then a social club. Elsewhere, unexplained hoofprints were found in the snow. News coverage created pandemonium and schools were closed and factories shutdown. If I was going devil-hunting, I’d recommend doing it in January. The Philadelphia Zoo offered a reward of $10,000 to whomever could capture the Jersey Devil.

Chris Chaos in Jersey Devil House from photo shoot

An unidentified animal was shot and killed in December 1925 as it tried to kill chickens. The man from Greenwich showed the body to all that came to see it, but no one could determine the critter’s identity. On July 27th 1937, in Downingtown PA, residents spotted an animal with red eyes no one could identify. In modern times, roundabouts 1960 in Mays Landing, tracks were found and noises were heard, attributed to the Jersey Devil by locals. Once again, a bounty of $10,000 was offered to anyone who could bag JD, this time by Camden merchants.

Definitely a good idea, since most devil sightings are considered portents of bad luck, followed by wars and ships sinking off the Jersey shore.

Many skeptics that do not believe in the Jersey Devil. They argue it’s the product of over-active imaginations, or tall tale to scare children. Others, like Kean University’s Brian Regal, believe the legend was born of a politcal feud. The earliest recollections and referrals to the Jersey Devil dubbed it The Leeds Devil, in hopes of discrediting Daniel Leeds.

Out of all know cryptids, photos, videos, and physical evidence connected to the Jersey Devil are rare. Some common explanations of the Jersey Devil’s nature are: ghost, an inbred person with birth defects, or a mental disability. Also sand hill cranes, hammerhead bat, dinosaurs (specifically, a dimorphodon), or a true, undiscovered species.


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