The Jersey Devil, An Iconic Cryptid

Written by Kelly Wilson

In the Southeast part of New Jersey, bordering the coast, is a 1,100,000 acre area referred to as the “Pine Barrens”. The area get’s it’s name from the sandy, acidic, nutrient poor soil. The settlers that moved to the area were unable to get their crops to do well here, hence the name.

The “Barrens” take up 22% of New Jersey’s land area and include much of the counties of: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean. The area may have poor soil but it’s sandy composition has made it a natural aquifer and is said to have some of the purest water in the Nation. This area has beautiful scenery and many opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, hunting, fishing and many other activities. Having said that, none of these features and attractions are what make this area famous, the fame (or rather infamy) of the area comes from a being, a creature, that is said to make it’s home here for the last 260 or so years,The Jersey Devil.

The origins of this cryptid go back to the days when the area was still a British colony with the first mentions of it in writings in 1735 when the area was simply known as Burlington. How the “Devil” came into this world are theories that are as varied as a person can imagine but there are three things that are constant in every version, the name Leeds, its description and that it lives in the Pine Barrens.

The most popular legend is that a woman called “Mother Leeds” had twelve children and while pregnant with the thirteenth she cursed it to be a devil. When the child was delivered it either came out or quickly transformed into it’s current form. The “Devil” was described as having a horses head, horns, leathery wings, small arms, spindly hind legs, cloven hooves and a tail. In some versions Mother Leeds took care of the child until her death, upon which it turned to living in the Barrens, and in other tales it assaulted those in the birthing room and then made it’s escape up the chimney to the Barrens. There are other legends as well. One is that a Mrs. Shroud gave birth to the devil-child (the name Leeds coming from Leeds Township she lived in), and another is that a young girl fell in love with a soldier and had a curse placed on her because of it that led to the Devil.

In 1856 the Atlantic Monthly did an article on the Jersey Devil but other than that records are scarce about sightings through the 1800’s. A couple of notable people did report witnessing the creature though, these were well known, powerful and influential people that had reputations to uphold and not prone to wild tales. Commodore Stephen Decatur, who was a Naval Hero at that time, claimed to have seen it while firing cannonballs. He even went so far as to say that he fired the cannon at the Devil and hit it but it seemed to have no effect and the creature continued on it’s way. Joseph Bonaparte, who was the former King of Spain and the brother of Napoleon, claimed to see it while out hunting on his property. There is also a report that during the Civil War it was seen and fired upon with canons but remained unharmed.

In 1909 it was reportedly seen by over 1000 people, not only in the area of the Barrens but also in nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware. They are said to have not only seen the creature but found cloven hoof prints in the snow, some of which would end abruptly in the middle of a field or other open space. One witness described what they saw,

” It was about three feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long and its back legs were like those of a crane and it had horses hooves. It walked on its back legs and help up two front short legs with paws on them…”

There have been countless reports of sightings since then from people of all walks of life. There have been investigations and t.v. shows in search of the Devil and for the most part they have not provided any new answers or evidence. Then in 2015 two people came forward with what could possibly be evidence of the mysterious Jersey Devil.

Dave Black was driving home when he saw what he thought was a Llama running in and out of a wooded area beside the road. The “Llama” then came out of the treeline, spread it’s wings and flew off across a golf course. Mr. Black managed to get a photo and he claims it is unaltered in any way but he also admits that it could be an animal that got swooped up by an Owl or other bird and the photo is the bird carrying away it’s prey, decide for yourself.

Emily Martin was driving home one evening and had a similar encounter. It was in October so she doesn’t rule out a Halloween prank but says that her video footage (from which the pic is taken) is unaltered. She described the creature as “red with a long neck and horns, it got on it’s hind legs and flew away”, you decide.

Neither of these people have tried to use their encounters for monetary gain or any purpose other than to try and identify what it is they saw. There are many people who are reliable and honest who claim to have seen it, police officers, businessmen, officials as well as countless regular people who have good reputations and integrity (I know one person, myself, who says she has seen the Jersey Devil). There will always be hoaxers but they shouldn’t cause every sighting and piece of evidence to be dismissed out of hand.

This creature has been a part of the folklore of the area almost from it’s very beginning and in all that time no-one has ever claimed it has attacked any one. It has landed on top of cars and appeared right in front of people which is enough to cause a person to panic but there are no reports of it actually causing harm to a person (except the assaults on it’s day of birth) but i’m sure it it wanted too it would have no problem doing so. It has actually gotten a place of acceptance by the State of New Jersey, in 1938 it was designated as the country’s only State demon and in 1982 when New Jersey got it’s own hockey team it named it after their most infamous resident, the New Jersey Devils.

If you’ve had an encounter with the Jersey Devil let us hear about it.

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