|Other Names||Leeds Devil|
|Location||New Jersey, USA|
|Habitat||The Pine Barrens, a dense pine forest in New Jersey|
The Jersey Devil, sometimes called the Leeds Devil, a creature reported to dwell in the vast New Jersey Pinelands, is said to have haunted the area for over 260 years. The creature has been reported by over 2,000 eyewitnesses and been blamed for closing of schools and factories when sightings of the Jersey Devil where at their peak. The origins of The Jersey Devil are as mysterious as the creature its self, there are plenty of theories and legends of its birth but no one really knows for sure. One of the most popular legends states that a Mrs. Shrouds of Leeds Point, New Jersey, after finding out she was pregnant again, exclaimed that she wished this child would be the devil. The child was born misshapen and deformed, it was hidden from the public by the ashamed mother, however on the first stormy night the child began to flap his arms, all of a sudden the child’s arms turned into wings and it flew out of the house through the chimney never to be seen by the family again. Other local legends of the Jersey Devil include a story of a young girl who fell in love with a British soldier during the Revolutionary War, the people of leads point cursed the girl, when she gave birth the child was said to be the devil. Some others believe that the birth of the Jersey Devil was punishment from God for the mistreatment of a local minister by the people of Leeds point. Another, more popular, legend places the birth place of the Jersey Devil in Estelville, NJ. A Mrs. Leeds, after finding out she was pregnant with her 13th child, shouted, “I hope it’s the devil.” The child was born with horns, a tail, wings and a horse like head; it flew out the door upon birth. The creature visited Mrs. Leeds on a daily basis and every day Mrs. Leeds would tell it to go away, one day the creature stopped showing up. Yet another legend stats that in 1735, in Burlington, NJ the same Mrs. Leeds went into labor on a stormy night. The legend goes on to tell that Mrs. Leeds herself was a witch and the father of the child was the devil himself. The child was reportedly born normal, however shortly after birth transformed into a creature with hooves, a horse like head, bat like wings and a forked tail. The newly born devil proceeded to attack everyone in the room then flew up the chimney, circled the village and then headed off in the direction of the Pine Barrens. In 1740 a priest was brought in to exercise the devil from the area for 100 years, the creature was not seen again until 1890.
As different as all these legends may be, there are several similarities which tie the stories together. All the legends seem to agree that the name Leeds was part of the birth of the Jersey Devil, be it the mothers name or the birth place, most of the legends include the name. Alfred Heston, the historian for Atlantic County New Jersey, believes that the Jersey Devil could have been born to either the Leeds or the Shrouds families. Mr. Heston discovered that a Daniel Leeds opened land in Great Egg Harbor, NJ in 1699 and that the family home was located in Leeds Point. Mr. Heston also discovered that a Samuel Shrouds Sr. moved to Little Egg Harbor, NJ in 1735 and lived right across the river from the Leeds family house. Another interesting bit of information ties the Burlington legend in with the other legends. Professor Fred MacFadden of Coppin State College, Baltimore, discovered the mentioning of a Devil in writings from the Burlington area as early as 1735. Professor MacFadden also noted that back in the 1700’s the name Burlington was used to describe the area from the city of Burlington to the Atlantic Ocean, this would mean that Leeds Point and Esterville, the other reported birthplaces of the Jersey Devil could have been referred to as the same place indicated in the Burlington Legend.
The Jersey Devil is not limited to just legends of the creature however; sightings of the beast have been reported in the Pine Barrens and surrounding areas since the early 19th Century. There are few documented sightings which still exist from before 1909; however the ones that did survive are quite compelling. In the early 19th century, Commodore Stephen Decatur, a navel war hero, was testing cannon balls on a firing range when he saw a strange creature flying across the sky. Joseph Bonaparte, former king of Spain and Brother of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte, reported seeing the Jersey Devil in Bordentown, NJ between 1816 and 1839 while out hunting. In the mid 1840’s a strange creature with a piercing scream and odd hoof like foot prints began to kill live stock in the area around the Pine Barrens. Between 1859 and 1894, the Jersey Devil was sighted numerous times and reportedly carried off a large number of livestock and other small animals in Haddonfield, Bridgeton, Smithville, Long Branch, Brigantine and Leeds Point. The last reported sighting before the turn of the century was reported by George Saarosy, a prominent business man, while traveling the New York New Jersey Border.
In 1903, Charles Skinner, author of American Myths and Legends, claimed that the legend of the Jersey Devil had run its course and that New Jersey would no longer need to worry about it. The people of New Jersey went undisturbed by the creature for nearly 6 years, that is until the week of January 16th 1909. During this week the Jersey Devil would leave its tracks all over South Jersey and into Philadelphia, it was seen by well over 1,000 people.
It started on a Sunday morning, January 16th 1909 when Thack Cozzens of Woodbury, NJ, reported seeing a flying creature with glowing eyes flying down the street. In Bristol, PA, John Mcowen heard and saw the creature on the banks of a cannel. Patrol James Sackville fired on the creature as it flew away screaming. E.W. Minister, Postmaster for Bristol also reported seeing a bird like creature with a horse head, he reported that the creature also had a piercing scream.
On Monday Morning the residents of Bristol found strange hoof prints in the snow, two local trappers examined the prints and claimed that they had never seen prints like them before. The Lowdens of Burlington, NJ, found hoof prints in their yard and around their trash, which was partially eaten. Almost every yard in Burlington had sets of strange footprints in them. The prints where up trees, went from roof to roof, disappeared in the middle of the road and stopped in the middle of open fields. The same tracks were also found in Columbus, Hedding, Kinhora and Rancocas. A hunt was organized to the follow the tracks but the dogs refused to follow the trail.
On Tuesday the 18th one of the longest sightings of the Jersey Devil was reported by a Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans of Gloucester when they were awakened by a strange noise. Upon looking out the winder Mr. Nelson witnessed what he claimed to be the Jersey Devil for 10 minutes. Mr. Evans went on to describe the creature he saw that day:” It was about three feet and 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.” Shortly after that sighting, two professional hunters tracked the Jersey Devil for 20 miles in Gloucester, The trail that they followed jumped 5 foot fences and went under 8 inch spaces. That same day a group of people in Camden, NJ, witnessed the Jersey Devil, upon spotting the people the Jersey Devil reportedly “barked” at them before taking off into the air and flying way.
The very next day, Wednesday the 19th, a Burlington police officer and the Reverend John Pursell of Pemberton witnessed the Jersey Devil. Reverend John Pursell was quoted as saying “Never saw anything like it before.” Groups of people in Haddonfield found tracks that ended abruptly and in Collingswood, NJ, a group of people watched the Jersey Devil fly off towards Moorestown, shortly after, near Moorestown, John Smith of Maple Shade saw the Jersey Devil at the Mount Carmel Cemetery. George Snyder reported seeing the Jersey Devil shortly after Mr. Smith; their descriptions of the creature were almost identical. Later that night in Riverside, NJ, hoof prints where found on roof tops and also, sadly, around a dead puppy.
On Thursday, the 20th, the Jersey Devil was witnessed by the Black Hawk Social Club and also seen by a trolley full of people in Clementon, NJ. When local authorities took descriptions of the beast, the eye witness descriptions matched those of the witnesses from the day before. In Trenton, Councilmen F.P. Weeden heard flapping wings coming from outside his home, upon inspection he discovered strange hoof prints outside of his door. As the day went on Trolley drivers in New Brunswick and Trenton armed themselves to ward off attack, people in the town of Pitman filled local churches and all throughout Delaware Valley farmers where discovering their chickens strewn about their yards, dead, without a mark on them. The West Collingswood Fire Department even went as far as to fire their hoses at the beast. Later that night Mrs. Sorbinski of Camden heard a commotion in her back yard, upon inspection she discovered the Jersey Devil with her dog in its grasp, Mrs. Sorbinski, fearing for her dog’s life, began to beat the Jersey Devil with a broom until it dropped her dog and flew off into the night. After hearing the women’s screams her neighbors called the police, two officers arrived at her home where over 100 people had gathered.
On Friday, the 21nd, Camden police officer Louis Strehr witnessed the Jersey Devil drinking from his horse’s trough. Schools, mills and factories in Gloucester and Hainesport were forced to close because no one would leave their homes. A sketch drawn by Officer Merchant, of Blackwood, NJ, after an encounter with the Jersey Devil matched many eyewitness reports of the creature.
After that flurry of sightings the Jersey Devil was only reported one more time in 1909, however, since then the creature has continued to be sighted by people all over New Jersey. In 1927 a cab driver on his way to Salem suffered a flat tire, upon stopping to fix the flat an upright standing creature landed on the roof of his cab. The creature shook the cab violently, the cab driver ran from the scene, upon his return the creature was no where to be seen. In 1953 Phillip Smith reported seeing the Jersey Devil walking down his street. In 1961 a couple was parked in their car along a road in the Pine Barrens when they heard a load screeching noise outside. Suddenly the roof of their car smashed and the screeching sound was now right on top of them. The couple fled the scene but later returned to witness an unknown creature flying along the tree line making the same screeching noise. In 1966 the Jersey Devil was blamed for the death of 31 ducks, 3 geese, 4 cats and two dogs at a local farm, one of the dogs was a large German Shepard found with its throat ripped out. In 1987 in Vinland, NJ, another German Shepard was found torn apart and the body apparently gnawed upon, the body was located 25 feet from where the dog was chained up, around the body were strange unidentifiably tracks that no one could identify.
There are several theories as to the identity of the New Jersey Devil. One theory is that the creature is actually a Sand Hill Crane, which used to live in the south until driven out by man. The Sand Bill Crane weighs about 12 pounds, is about 4 feet high and has a wingspan of 80 inches. The crane normally avoids people but if confronted will stand and fight, it also has a loud scream which can be heard from a distance, this could explain screams reported by witnesses. One hole in this theory however is that the Sand Hill Crane does not eat meat, which does not explain the killing of live stock. It also does no explain accounts of the creature having a horse like head, bat like wings and a tail.
Some experts, like Professor Bralhopf, believe that the creature is actually a surviving species of Pterodactyl, a prehistoric flying reptile from the Jurassic Period. Supporters of the Pterodactyl theory believe that the creature could have survived in an under ground cavern. This theory does not seem likely, there are few caves large enough to support a large enough breeding population of Pterodactyls for it to have survived millions of years to present day.
There is a small group of people, including Jack F. Boucher, author of Absagami Yesteryear, who believe that the Jersey Devil is as some legends suggest, a deformed child. These people think that Mrs. Leeds gave birth to a disfigured child who she kept locked away in her house. Mrs. Leeds eventually grew sick and could no longer feed the child any longer, out of hunger the child escaped and raided local farms looking for food. Although this would explain the raiding of farms it would not explain the apparent incredible life span of the Jersey Devil. The child would have been 174 years old during the outburst of sightings in 1909 and certainly does not explain accounts of the creature flying.
One last, and less accepted theory is that the Jersey Devil is the very essence of evil, and a harbinger of war. The Jersey Devil has been sighted before the start of the Civil War, the Spanish American War, the Vietnam War and the First World War In 1939 before the start of World War 2, in Mount Holly, NJ; citizens were awakened by the noise of hooves on their roof tops. The Jersey Devil was also sighted on December 7, 1941, right before Pearl Harbor was bombed. Although no one can be sure exactly what the Jersey Devil is thousands of sightings would suggest that something very real haunts the New Jersey Pine Barrens.