Hey everyone! As many of you may know, I'm in the process of writing my latest eBook called Top 5 American Monsters as a free thank you to all of my awesome newsletter subscribers! Here's the first monster featured in my book: The Jersey Devil! If you like this blog, be sure to sign up for the GhostQuest.net newsletter to get your free copy!!
Deep in the woods of southern New Jersey lies a vast area of dense forest and swampy marshlands known as the Pine Barrens. Although the first European settlers arrived in the colony of New Jersey in 1609, the Pine Barrens were only sparsely settled due to the sandy, acidic, and poor nutrient quality of it’s soil; thus the nickname, the Pine Barrens. Even today, despite it’s close vicinity to the sprawling metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and New York City, the Pine Barrens still remain rural and largely uninhabited.
In 1978, the United States Congress passed legislation that designated 1.1 million acres of the Pine Barrens as a nature reserve called the Pinelands National Reserve, and five years later in 1983 the United Nations designated the area an internationally recognized biosphere reserve. These actions helped to seal the Pine Barrens’ fate as one of America’s largest and most mysterious uninhabited areas, with over 1,700 square miles of undiscovered woodlands and marshes.
It’s here in the Pine Barrens that one of America’s most infamous legends was born. In 1735 at a location known as Leeds Point, a New Jersey colonist named Deborah Leeds and her husband Japhet received news that Deborah was pregnant with their 13th child.
Upon learning that she was pregnant, it’s said that Deborah cursed her unborn child, saying “let this child be the devil.” Whether or not this curse was intentional or just a product of frustration is unknown, but it appears the devil was indeed listening. Later that year Deborah gave birth to one of the most infamous monsters in American folklore; The Jersey Devil.
According to legend, it was a dark and stormy night when Deborah Leeds went into labor with her 13th child. Several midwives showed up to help deliver the new baby, and by all accounts the birth was routine and uneventful. However, after delivering the newborn baby – a boy – it’s said that the child began to thrash around uncontrollably.
The baby began to emit a loud, piercing, inhuman screech, which sent feelings of dread into the hearts of the awestruck midwives. As moments passed, the thrashing boy began to transform, becoming more and more fearsome until at last the metamorphosis was complete.
Standing before the Leeds family was a monster, described as being tall and reptilian with hooves and the head of a goat, leathery, bat-like wings, a forked tail, and brightly glowing red eyes. According to legend, the devil spread it’s wings, let out another screech, and promptly escaped by flying up the chimney and out into the dark night.
Over the following weeks and months, settlers of the Pine Barrens began reporting a variety of mysterious activity believed to be related to the Jersey Devil. Farmers began noticing livestock animals frequently going missing, or being found in fields bloody and mutilated. Children began to go missing, and were often found mutilated and decomposing in the woods, with deep claw marks and wounds that appeared to be caused by a mysterious, unidentified animal. Some farmers even claim to have witnessed their livestock being carried away into the night by a large, bat-like creature with glowing red eyes.
In 1740 a local minister was brought to the Pine Barrens to attempt to perform an exorcism. Although many claim that sightings of the Jersey Devil drastically decreased at this time, it’s estimated that thousands of people have reported encountering the devil since.
In 1800, a United States Naval Officer named Stephen Decatur claimed to encounter the Jersey Devil while visiting the nearby Hanover Iron Works. It’s said that while testing out a new cannon on the firing range, Mr. Decatur saw a strange, flying beast in the air above. Without thinking twice, he took aim at the creature and fired. While some claim that Mr. Decatur missed his mark, others claim his shot hit the beast, which continued to fly without appearing to be affected.
In 1820 a man named Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother to the French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte, reported encountering the Jersey Devil while hunting in nearby Bordentown, and in 1840 a string of mysterious livestock killings was blamed on the devil.
In January of 1909, thousands of residents across the state of New Jersey reported witnessing the mysterious flying creature, causing mass widespread panic. Schools and businesses were closed, and hundreds of police officers were dispatched to investigate claims throughout the states of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. The nearby Philadelphia Zoo even put out a $10,000 reward for anyone who was able to kill or capture the beast. After hundreds of newspaper articles were published about the sightings, the mysterious beast was given an official name: The Jersey Devil.
By the end of January, things had returned to normal, with very few sightings of the Jersey Devil reported over the following months. Although 1909 was considered by many to be the peak of the Jersey Devil hysteria, several credible reports have made headlines in the years since.
In 1925 a local farmer claimed to have shot and killed the Jersey Devil after he found it killing and eating his livestock. According to legend, over 100 people showed up to attempt to identify the creature’s remains, but were unsuccessful in doing so.
On the evening of July 27, 1937, residents of Downing, Pennsylvania called in dozens of reports of an unidentified flying beast with glowing red eyes, which were published the following day by a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Bulletin.
In 1951 a group of young boys in Gibbstown, New Jersey reported encountering a creature in the woods matching the description of the Jersey Devil, and in 1960 in nearby Mays Landing locals claim to have found a set of unidentified animal footprints that were said to belong to the devil.
Having been talked about for almost 300 years, the Jersey Devil is one of the most prominent and well-known urban legends in the United States, with people today still claiming to encounter the enigmatic beast.
Brian Weaver is the founder and creator of GhostQuest.net, one of the internet’s largest databases for haunted locations, urban legends, and folklore tales throughout the United States. He grew up in rural New Hampshire, where he attended college for Computer Science.