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The Mystery Behind the Jersey Devil

Scotland has its Loch with its famous resident monster affectionately known as “Nessie.” In the Northwest, it’s Bigfoot, and in the remote Pine Barrens of New Jersey, joining this family of “mysterious monsters” is the notorious Jersey Devil.

For nearly three centuries, tales of the Jersey Devil have haunted this area of the Garden State. The dense Pine Barrens is home to miles of pine trees and murky swampland. If there ever were woodlands dark and deep enough to hide a mysterious demonic creature, this is it. 

The Jersey Devil is embedded in the state’s folklore. Some take sightings of the creature with deadly seriousness – while others embrace the state’s only “official demon” that also is also the namesake of its hockey team, with tongue a little more in cheek.

For the believers, the Jersey Devil is described as a kangaroo-like creature with the face of a horse, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a tail. For more than 250 years, this mysterious creature is said to prowl through the marshes of Southern New Jersey and emerge periodically to rampage through the towns and cities.

The Thirteenth Child of Mother Leeds

The origins of the Devil go back to 1735, and a Pines resident known as Mother Leeds, who is said to have birthed the creature. Leeds is the name of one of New Jersey’s earliest settlers, and many descendants of the Leeds family can still be found throughout NJ to this day. So, the tale has at least that much truth to it; there very likely could have been a “Mother Leeds” living in the Barrens in 1735.

In any case, as the legend goes, that year, Mrs. Leeds found herself pregnant for the thirteenth time. Mother Leeds was not living a wealthy lifestyle by any means. Her husband was a drunkard who made few efforts to provide for his wife and twelve existing children. 

Reaching the point of absolute exasperation upon learning she was with her thirteenth child, she raised her hands to the heavens and proclaimed, “Let this one be a devil!”

Mother Leeds went into labor a few months later, of course, on a “dark and stormy night.” Her children and husband huddled together in one room of their Leeds Point home while local midwives gathered to deliver the baby in another. By all accounts, the birth went routinely, and the thirteenth Leeds child was a seemingly normal baby boy. Mother Leeds had all but forgotten about the curse she had uttered previously regarding her unborn child.

However, soon after being born, Mother Leeds’s unholy wish of months earlier began to take horrific shape. It is said the baby started to contort and change right before her very eyes. Within moments it transformed from a beautiful newborn baby into a hideous creature, unlike anything the world had ever seen.

The wailing infant began growing at an incredible rate. It sprouted horns from the top of its head, and talon-like claws tore through the tips of its fingers. Leathery bat-like wings unfurled from its back, and hair and feathers sprouted all over the child’s body. 

Its eyes began glowing bright red as they grew larger in the monster’s gnarled and snarling face. The creature savagely attacked its own mother, killing her, then turned its attention to the rest of the horrified onlookers who witnessed its hideous transformation. It flew at them, clawing and biting, voicing unearthly shrieks the entire time. It tore the midwives limb from limb, maiming some and killing others.

The monster then knocked down the door to the next room, where its own father and siblings cowered in fear and attacked them all, killing as many as it could. Those who survived to tell the tale then watched in horror as the creature then gave an unholy screech, unfolded its demonic wings, and flew out the window and into the dense woodland beyond.

All throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jersey Devil was spotted sporadically throughout the Pine Barrens region, frightening local residents and any of those brave enough to traverse the vast undeveloped expanses of New Jersey’s southern reaches. Unearthly wails were often reported emanating from the dark forests and swampy bogs, and the slaughter of domesticated animals would invariably be attributed to the Phantom of the Pines or the “Leeds Devil.”

Over the years, the legend of the Jersey Devil grew, occasionally even overstepping the boundaries of its rural Pine Barrens haunt to terrorize local towns and cities. Possies were constantly formed to apprehend the Devil but to no avail. At one point, as much as $100,000 was offered for the capture of the Jersey Devil, dead or alive.

There have been countless stories describing the Devil’s escapades, raiding chicken coops and farms, destroying crops, and killing animals well into the 20th and 21st centuries. His presence has been seen and felt by many in at least fifty different towns when he emerges from his natural lair in the Pinelands and wanders throughout Southern New Jersey, sometimes intriguing and sometimes terrorizing the residents. 

One of the most recent sightings occurred in Galloway Township in October of 2015. Little Egg Harbor resident David Black said he was driving along Route 9 near a golf course when he saw what he thought was a llama walking in and out of the tree line on the side of the road. Suddenly, the creature spread its wings and flew away. He captured the beast’s image with his cell phone, and the photo went viral. A few days later, an area resident, Emily Martin, said she captured video of the same creature.

Regardless of what you may think of the video or of the Jersey Devil — whatever it may be, it is a cryptid creature as famous and as elusive as Nessie or Bigfoot, and the truth of its existence, like those others, lies somewhere in the dark and murky borders between fact and legend.  

You can also learn more, here.