The Jersey Devil

The creature has a horse-like face with horns sprouting from the top of its head. It walks on two legs, ending with cloven hooves. The overall body shape resembles a kangaroo, though it also has wings like a bat. Some say it has a tail like a lizard; others say it has no tail at all. The monster is said to kill dogs, chickens and other small animals, as well as leave spooky cloven hoof prints in snow, and bellow a terrifying screech in the wooded darkness. A devil is said to haunt the wooded Pine Barren of southern New Jersey.

History of the Jersey Devil

For three centuries the tale of the Jersey Devil has fascinated and frightened people. According to the legend, in 1735 South Jersey matriarch Mary Leeds was giving birth to her 13th child at her home in the Pine Barrens when, out of exhaustion, she cursed the unborn baby. What happened next? The child was born with wings, hooves, a tail. Newspapers of the 1800s did occasionally print the Mother Leeds story as given in the legend, we seem to have a total lack of factual basis to anchor it to any real history.”

Sighting The Devil

Prominent citizens or government officials were among many who had witnessed sightings of the creature. They included businessmen, postal officials, and policemen who had seen or heard the creature and saw his tracks left in the snow. This marks the beginning of the change from local folklore to the Devil’s presence in regional culture.

Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and former King of Spain, was reported to have seen the Devil. The incident took place in Bordentown, New Jersey while he was game hunting in the nearby woods.

The Devil’s sightings have covered great geographic distances. – from Bridgeton to Haddonfield in 1859; to the New York border in 1899; and from Gloucester City to Trenton in 1909. Until this time, tales of the Devil were passed by word-of-mouth. However, published police and newspaper accounts during a famous week in January of 1909 took the story of the Devil from folk belief to authentic folk legend. Thirty different sightings in a one-week period told of the Devil sailing across the Delaware River to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Newspaper articles created a near panic in the region.

After the 1909 appearances, the scientific community was asked for possible explanations. Reportedly, science professors from Philadelphia and experts from the Smithsonian Institution thought the Devil to be a prehistoric creature from the Jurassic period. Had the creature survived in nearby limestone caves? Was it a pterodactyl or a peleosaurus? New York scientists thought it to be a marsupial carnivore. Was it an extinct fissiped? However, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia could not locate any record of a living of dead species resembling the Jersey Devil. 

The search was on. Superintendent Robert D. Carson, of the Philadelphia Zoo, offered a $10,000 reward for the Devil’s capture. The reward remains uncollected.

Daniel Leeds

In the 17th century, English Quakers settled in the Southern New Jersey area. Daniel Leeds was a Quaker and prominent figure in his community located in the Pine Barrens. He became increasingly ostracized by the Southern New Jersey Quaker congregation following his publication in 1687 of almanacs containing astrological symbols and writings. This type of writing was deemed “too pagan” or blasphemous, and the almanacs were censored and destroyed. 

Lashing out against this censorship, Daniel Leeds continued to produce his almanacs with increasingly esoteric astrological Christian themes and writings. He became more and more involved with Christian occultism, Christian mysticism, cosmology, demonology, angelology, and natural magic. Due to his interests and continued production of banned material he became an enemy of the association of Quakers in Southern New Jersey and he was dismissed as evil. Subsequently, Daniel Leeds’s son, Titan Leeds, began to include the Leeds family crest on the almanacs. The crest depicted a wyvern, a bat-winged dragon-like creature which stands on clawed feet – reminiscent of the description of the Jersey Devil.

Does is Exist

Brian Regal suggested that beyond the story of Daniel Leeds, the modern legend of the Jersey Devil was solidified and standardized in the early 20th century as the myth we know today. During the week of January 16 through 23, 1909, newspapers published hundreds of claimed encounters with the Jersey Devil all over the state of New Jersey. There were claims of attacks on a trolley car in Haddon Heights and a social club in Camden. Police in Camden and Bristol, Pennsylvania supposedly fired on the creature with no effect. Others saw footprints in the snow that resembled that of the beast. Sightings were reported as far away as Delaware and Maryland. Due to the influx of reported sightings and attacks panic spread throughout the state and surrounding area.

Schools were prompted to close, and workers were encouraged to stay home. Groups of hunters, certain of their skill, patrolled the countryside, and it is rumoured that the Philadelphia Zoo posted a $10,000 reward for the creature. One group, calling themselves the “Devil Hunters,” consider themselves the official researchers and authority on the Jersey Devil. They devote their time to collecting reports, visiting sightings, and going on hunts in the Pine Barrens to prove that the creature does, in fact, exist.

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