Mysteries, Oddities, and Everything Strange: Jersey Devil


Bridget Vaughan, Staff Writer

Whether it be through the newest roller coaster installation at Six Flags Great Adventure or the sole hockey team of our state, you have likely heard of the Jersey Devil. Most of these legends and creatures have been all across the world, whether it be a few states over or even a few countries. But the creature known as the Jersey Devil resides in our own state of New Jersey. This cryptid is one of the hallmarks of Jersey culture, and practically everyone in the state fears its presence as they explore the southern pine barrens that it supposedly calls home. But what exactly is this hybrid animal, and does it live up to all the legends that surround it?

Also known as the Leeds Devil, the origins of the strange being plaguing southern New Jersey are unclear. The legend begins in the 1700s, with a woman named Deborah Smith. She traveled from England to New York to marry a man known as Mr. Leeds, and the two lived in the pine barrens of New Jersey. After an intense and painful labor, she birthed a baby that eventually grew into the devil and fled into the woods beyond the house. The rumor claimed this child to be her 13th, a notoriously unlucky number in folklore. Other accounts tell of a family curse or a mother miserable she had to carry a 13th child, but the origin of the tale remains similar across the board. Some even claimed Mother Leeds to be some sort of witch or sorceress conjuring the devil herself in order to avoid another birth. 

Although the tale of Mrs. Leeds is the most well known of the Jersey Devil’s origin stories, there are countless others. One such story details a young girl who entered a relationship with a British soldier in the midst of the Revolutionary War, and the townsfolk claimed it to be treason, which later led to her firstborn child creating the devil. Another story explained a young girl passing a poor woman, and when she refused to provide the woman with any food, she was cursed, later giving birth to the Jersey Devil. Despite the differing beliefs, the Jersey Devil’s legend lives on.

What is the Jersey Devil, to be exact? Well, this mysterious creature has been attributed with varying descriptions, claiming its features to be similar to various animals. Many say it has a kangaroo-like structure, with a head resembling a goat, dog, or horse. It has wings like that of a bat or hawk, with horns, a tail, and chicken-like legs. This creature seems to be a hodge-podge of various descriptions, a freak of nature with countless species smashed together into one.

People have claimed the devil to have killed livestock and crops, insinuated droughts, boiled streams, and even ripped trees apart. The first recorded sighting came from Napoleon Bonaparte’s eldest brother, Joseph, as he was wandering the outskirts of his estate in Bordentown. From there, Jersey Devil fever grew, with footprints, animal attacks, and strange sights all being credited to the beast. In 1909, a navy commander practicing target shooting allegedly hit the creature after spotting it, but was unable to locate it in the swaths of pine trees in the area. In 1972, Mary Ritzer Christianson described a massive goat figure crossing the road behind her car during her trip from Blackwood to Glassboro. There was a massacre in 1980, when countless pigs were found dead and brutalized on a farm in South Jersey. A recent sighting in 2015 saw David Black traversing Route 9 when he encountered what appeared to be a llama. He attempted to approach the llama until it sprouted wings and glided off, leaving Black bewildered. 

Although most previous articles have concluded with a clear and concise explanation of what the creatures truly are, the Jersey Devil is shrouded in ambiguity. The Jersey Devil has terrorized over 50 South Jersey towns and scared the blues of residents for hundreds of years. At one point, there was a supposed $100,000 reward for capturing the Leeds Devil, dead or alive, but this never amounted to anything. Even credited officials like police and businessmen have described the strange activity of the pine barrens during their drives on the Garden State Parkway. There is no real or true evidence to discredit or support the existence of the creature.

New Jersey is chock full of unique culture, with the Jersey Devil only being a part of it. Whether it be fun t-shirts, urban legends, or simply tales passed from generation to generation, the Jersey Devil will live on in infamy among the New Jersey population. The Jersey Devil might not even be the craziest piece of New Jersey culture considering the various types of people throughout the state, but it sure is a far-fetched tale for anyone to enjoy. So, the next time you are adventuring down the Garden State Parkway and make a break into the miles of trees in the pine barrens, keep your eyes peeled. That deer you spotted might not be what you think it is.