The Jersey Devil is a legendary
creature or cryptid said to inhabit the Pine Barrens in southern
New Jersey. The creature is often described as a flying biped
with hooves, but there are many variations. There are many possible
origins of the Jersey Devil legend. The aptly named Pine Barrens
were shunned by most early settlers as a desolate, threatening
place. Being relatively isolated, the barrens were a natural
refuge for those wanting to remain hidden, including religious
dissenters, loyalists, fugitives and military deserters in colonial
times. Such individuals formed solitary groups and were pejoratively
called "pineys", some of whom became notorious bandits
known as "pine robbers". Pineys were further demonized
after two early twentieth century eugenics studies depicted
them as congenital idiots and criminals. It is easy to imagine
early tales of terrible monsters arising from a combination
of sightings of genuine animals such as bears, the activities
of pineys, and fear of the barrens.
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.
Not surprisingly, the Jersey
Devil legend is fueled by the various testimonials of those
who believed to have encountered the creature, from pre colonial
times to the present day.
Many different descriptions have
been offered by alleged witnesses of the creature, which are
"I looked out upon
the Delaware and saw flying diagonally across what appeared
to be a large crane, but which was emitting a glow like a firefly.
Its head resembled that of a ram, with curled horns, and its
long thick neck was thrust forward in flight. It had long thin
wings and short legs, the front legs shorter than the hind."
— E.W. Minster, Bristol, PA. Sighted on January 16, 1909.
"It was three feet high long black hair over its entire
body, arms and hands like a monkey, face like a dog, split hooves
and a tail a foot long". — George Snyder, Moorestown,
NJ. Sighted on January 20, 1909.
"In general appearance it resembled a kangaroo.. It has
a long neck and from what glimpse I got of its head its features
are hideous. It has wings of a fairly good size and of course
in the darkness looked black. Its legs are long and somewhat
slender and were held in just such a position as a swan's when
it is flying...It looked to be about four feet high". —
Lewis Boeger, Haddon Heights, NJ. Sighted on January 21, 1909.
"As nearly as I can describe the terror, it had the head
of a horse, the wings of a bat and a tail like a rat's, only
longer". — Howard Campbell, who claimed to have shot
the devil near Atlantic City. Sighted on January 21, 1909.
While the descriptions vary, several aspects remain fairly constant,
such as the devil's long neck, wings and hooves. The creature
is often said to have a horselike head and tail. Its reputed
height varies from about three feet to more than seven feet.
Many sightings report the creature to have glowing red eyes
that can paralyze a man, and that it utters a high, humanlike
Don't hit the button unless
you need to!
HAVE BEEN WARNED!
The most popular version of the
Jersey Devil legend begins in the 18th century when Deborah
Smith from England immigrated to the Pine Barrens in southern
New Jersey to marry a Mr. Leeds, a rather vain man who wanted
several heirs to continue the family name. Consequently, the
new wife was continually pregnant. After bearing twelve healthy
children, she was dismayed to be pregnant with her thirteenth.
She cursed the unborn child, declaring a preference to bear
the Devil's child rather than another Leeds. Apparently, her
wish was granted as the new child had cloven hooves, claws,
and a tail. The horrific newborn proceeded to eat the other
Leeds children before escaping through the chimney to begin
its reign of terror. This version is contradicted by the fact
that Mother Leeds has descendants that, as of 1998, still lived
in Atlantic County New Jersey according to a New York Times
article dated April 26, 1998 (Section 14NJ, Page 8). There are
several variations of the Leeds tale, such as one claiming that
when Mrs Leeds became pregnant with her thirteenth child, she
remarked, "May it be a devil!" The belief that a deformed
child was the work of Satan or a curse was still common during
There is another account of the
Jersey Devil's origin known to local people in South Jersey.
It can be summarized as follows:
A South Jersey woman was expecting
her first baby, which she naturally hoped would be perfect.
But the newborn turned out to be the ugliest anyone had seen.
Distraught, the mother exclaimed, "This isn't my son. This
is the devil's son. May God give the thing back to him!"
She threw the infant into the river, where he drowned. To this
day, a rock at the riverbottom is said to be haunted by a malevolent
air-sucking devil who pulled many swimmers under the rock until
they drowned, after which the bodies would eventually rise to
It should be noted that this
description of an air-sucking entity sounds much like a distorted
account of a whirlpool, with the bodies rising to the surface
due to decompositional gases.
In contrast, Native American
legends depict the devil as a friendly protector of the Pines.
Sightings of the devil were believed to be signs of good fortune,
a view widely espoused by locals from the late 1700s until 1909.
In 1778, Commodore Stephen
Decatur, a naval hero, visited the Hanover Iron Works in the
Barrens to test cannonballs at a firing range, where he allegedly
witnessed a strange, pale white creature winging overhead. Using
cannonfire, Decatur punctured the wing membrane of the creature,
which continued flying apparently unfazed to the amazement of
In 1840, Aaron Roth was blamed
for several livestock killings. 1841 saw similar attacks, accompanied
by strange tracks and unearthly screams. The devil made an 1859
appearance in Haddonfield. Bridgeton witnessed a flurry of sightings
during the winter of 1873.
Joseph Bonaparte (eldest brother
of Emperor Napoleon) is said to have witnessed the Jersey Devil
while hunting on his Bordentown, New Jersey estate.
January 1909, however, saw the
most frenetic period of devil sightings ever recorded. Thousands
of people claimed to witness the Jersey Devil during the week
of January 16 – 23. Newspapers nationwide followed the
story and published eyewitness reports. Hysteria gripped the
entire state during this terrible week.
16th (Saturday) — The creature
was sighted flying over Woodbury.
17th (Sunday) — In Bristol, Pennsylvania, several people
saw the creature and tracks were found in the snow the following
18th (Monday) — Burlington was covered in strange tracks
that seemed to defy logic; some were found on rooftops, while
others started and stopped abruptly with no apparent origin
or destination. Similar footprints were found in several other
19th (Tuesday) — Nelson Evans and his wife, of Gloucester,
allegedly saw the creature outside their window at 2:30 AM .
Mr Evans gave a descriptive account as follows: "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 horse's hooves. It walked on its back legs and held
up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn't use the
front legs at all while we were watching. My wife and I were
scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the window and say,
'Shoo!' and it turned around, barked at me, and flew away."
Two Gloucester hunters tracked the creature's perplexing trail
for twenty miles. The trail appeared to "jump" fences
and squeeze under eight-inch gaps. Similar trails were reported
in several other towns.
20th (Wednesday) — In Haddonfield and Collingswood, posses
were formed to find the devil. They supposedly watched the creature
fly toward Moorestown, where it was later seen by at least two
21st (Thursday) — The creature attacked a trolley car
in Haddon Heights, but was chased off. Trolley cars in several
other towns began to maintain armed guards, and several poultry
farmers found their chickens dead. The devil was reported to
collide with an electric rail in Clayton, but was not killed.
A telegraph worker near Atlantic City claimed to have shot the
devil, only to watch it limp into the woods. The creature apparently
was not fazed as it continued the rampage through Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania and West Collingswood, New Jersey (where it was
supposedly hosed by the local fire department). The devil seemed
poised to attack nearby people, who defensively threw any available
objects at it. The creature suddenly flew away -- and reemerged
in Camden to injure a dog, ripping a chunk of flesh from its
cheek before the dog's owner drove it away. This was the first
reported devil attack on a living creature.
22nd (Friday) — Last day of sightings. Many towns were
panic stricken, with many businesses and schools closed in fear.
Fortunately, the creature was seen only a few times that day
and did not attack.
In addition to these encounters, the creature was seen flying
over several other towns. Since the week of terror in 1909,
sightings have been much less frequent, but did not end by any
means. In 1951 there was another panic in Gibbstown, New Jersey,
after local boys claimed to have seen a screaming humanoid monster.
As recently as 1991, a pizza delivery driver in Edison, New
Jersey described a night encounter with a white, horselike creature.
In Freehold, New Jersey, in 2002, a woman supposedly saw a huge
creature with batlike wings near her home.
There are currently several
websites and magazines (such as Weird NJ) which catalog sightings
of the devil.