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What is the Jersey Devil?

The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, with a history that dates back to the 1700s. Described as a winged beast with a goat-like head, it has become a fixture of local folklore and a symbol of mystery. But what truths lie behind these chilling tales? Uncover the secrets of the Jersey Devil with us.
G. Melanson
G. Melanson

The Jersey Devil is a creature reported to stalk Southern New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, also known as the Pinelands. Like its fellow cryptid, The Mothman, the Jersey Devil is described as a large, winged creature. However, it is said to have hooves, a long neck, and a face that somewhat resembles a horse. Reports have also placed the creature’s height at anywhere from three to seven feet (.9 to 2.1 m) tall.

The legend of the Jersey Devil is rooted in Native American folklore; tribes native to Pine Barrens referred to the area as “the place of the dragon.” In the early 1800s, naval hero, Commodore Stephen Decatur allegedly witnessed a Jersey Devil flying overhead and shot it with a cannon. The creature reportedly continued flying unaffected even though the cannon had punctured its wing. Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, also reportedly witnessed the Jersey Devil during a hunting expedition in 1820, near his New Jersey estate. Reports continued throughout the mid-1800s, when the Jersey Devil was blamed for attacks on livestock in and around Pine Barrens.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The most active period of Jersey Devil sightings occurred for exactly one week in January 1909, with thousands claiming they had witnessed and been terrorized by the creature. Among the reports that received nationwide attention were claims that odd footprints had been found in the snow which stopped abruptly, indicating that a creature had flown, walked, and taken flight again. Groups were assembled in the towns of Haddonfield and Collingswood to track the creature, while others claimed to have chased it off after it attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights. Since 1909, Jersey Devil sightings have become less frequent but continue to be reported into the new millennium.

The Jersey Devil is also sometimes referred to as The Leeds Devil, in reference to a Pine Barrens folk tale about the Leeds family. After giving birth to 12 children, Mother Leeds, who was supposedly a witch, is said to have claimed that if she were to have a 13th child, it would be the devil. According to the tale, she did give birth to a 13th child in 1735, which was born human before manifesting into the demonic Jersey Devil. Another variation on the myth is that Mother Leeds made a pact with the devil to give him her 13th child in exchange for her youth and freedom.

Some speculate that witnesses of the Jersey Devil have simply mistaken an ordinary Sandhill Crane for the creature. Others theorize that the Jersey Devil is a dinosaur which has survived the prehistoric period, as its description resembles that of a pterosaur species known as the dimorphodon.

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