The Jersey Devil, sometimes called the Leeds Devil, is a creature said to live in the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey. The creature is often described as a flying biped with hooves. The story of its exist has been around for over 260 years. There are apparently over 2,000 eyewitnesses reports and its sighting has been responsible for the closing of schools and factories at times when it was at its peak.
The origin of the creature lies in a legend concerning a Mrs Jane Leeds who came from a poor family in the Pine Barrens of Jersey. In 1735 she was pregnant with her 13th child and she said to friends and relatives that the “Devil can take the next one”, and supposedly he did. When the baby was born it was said to be a deformed monster. It supposedly grew to more than 20 feet long, with a reptilian body, a horse’s head, bat wings and a long, forked tail. It then escaped up the chimney (or out of a window depending on the version of the tale) and began haunting the Pine Barrens. Some said Mrs Leeds was a witch and the father of the child was the devil. Another legend says a young girl fell in love with a British soldier during the Revolutionary War and the people of Leeds Point cursed the girl. When she gave birth to a child it looked like the devil. In 1740 a priest was brought in to exorcise the devil from the area and for years it was not seen.
Alfred Heston, the local historian for the area, believes that the Jersey Devil could have been born to either the Leeds or the Shrouds families. Mr Heston discovered that a Daniel Leeds had land in Great Egg Harbour in 1699 and the family home was in Leeds Point.
Sightings of the devil started again when it was seen in the 1800s.
Joseph Bonaparte, former king of Spain and brother of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte, reported seeing the Jersey Devil in Bordentown between 1816 and 1839 when out hunting.
In the 1840s a strange creature with a piercing scream and odd hoof-like footprints was reported to be killing livestock in the area around the Pine Barrens.
On January 16th 1909 it was seen by many people:
Thack Cozzens of Woodbury reported seeing a flying creature with glowing eyes. John Mcowen heard and saw the creature on the banks of a canal. Policeman James Sackville fired on a strange creature as it flew away. E. W. Minister, Postmaster for Bristol, also reported seeing a bird-like creature with a horse head and a piercing scream. Mr and Mrs Nelson Evans of Gloucester were awakened by a strange noise and on looking out of the window, Mr Nelson watched what he claimed was the Jersey Devil for 10 minutes.
On January 19th 1909 a Burlington police officer and the Reverend John Pursell of Pemberton reported seeing the Jersey Devil. Reverend John Pursell was quoted as saying “Never saw anything like it before.”
On January 20th 1909 it was seen by members of by the Black Hawk Social Club and also seen by a trolley full of people in Clementon. 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 beat the Jersey Devil with a broom until it dropped her dog and flew off into the night.
Then on January 21st 1909 Camden police officer Louis Strehr witnessed the Jersey Devil drinking from his horse’s trough.
The next documented sighting was in 1927 when a cab driver on his way to Salem got flat tyre and whilst he was fixing it, an upright-standing creature landed on the roof of his cab. The creature shook the cab violently and the cab driver ran away. When he returned it had gone.
In August 1930 berry pickers at Leeds Point and Mays Landing reported seeing the Devil in the fields eating blueberries and cranberries. It was reported again two weeks later in the north.
In November 1951 a group of children were allegedly cornered by the Devil at the Duport Clubhouse in Gibbstown. The creature left without causing any harm.
In 1960 a group of people near Mays Landing were scared by strange cries and screams. State officials tried to calm the nervous residents but no explanation could be found for the strange sounds. Harry Hunt, who owned the Hunt Brothers Circus, offered $100,000 for the capture of the creature.
In 1961 a couple were parked up along a road in the Pine Barrens when they heard a loud screeching noise outside. Suddenly the roof of their car smashed and the screeching sound was now right on top of them. The couple fled but later said when they returned they saw an unknown creature flying along the treeline 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 shepherd found with its throat ripped out.
In 1987 in Vinland, another German shepherd 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 tracks.
In 1993 a forest ranger named John Irwin was driving along the Mullica River in southern New Jersey. He found the road ahead of him blocked by what looked like the Jersey Devil. He described it as being about six feet tall with horns and matted black fur. Irwin stated that he and the creature stared at one another for several minutes before the monster finally turned and ran into the forest.
More recently, in 2004 on a snowy winter night the Winkelmann children were playing outside when they were scared by a creature and headed indoors. Later that night Mrs Winkelmann and her 11-year-old son headed outside to unplug Christmas lights and they noticed a two-legged winged creature in the trees above. The woman and her child ran back to the house as the creature landed on their roof. For the rest of the night the entire family stayed safely locked inside the house. The next morning when they went outside they noticed footprints on the roof and took pictures as evidence to prove the story was real.
This site: http://www.njdevilhunters.com/ claims to be official jersey devil hunters site includes reports of sightings up to 2003.
So myth, reality or mistaken identity? It has certainly been around a long time.