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Jersey Devil Sightings and the Story Behind the Legend

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With interests in science and nature, the author explores topics from a unique and sometimes controversial perspective.

A sketch drawn during the 1909 sightings outbreak.  Most witnesses report the Jersey Devil to have the head of a horse, bat-like wings, cloven hooves and short arms with fierce claws.

A sketch drawn during the 1909 sightings outbreak. Most witnesses report the Jersey Devil to have the head of a horse, bat-like wings, cloven hooves and short arms with fierce claws.

The Devil in the Pine Barrens

The Jersey Devil is among the lesser-known cryptids said to inhabit North America, but its story is perhaps the most bone-chilling. It is a terrifying creature that makes its home in the dense woodlands of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a foreboding forest where few are brave enough to venture too deeply.

Through the years it has allegedly killed livestock, other animals, and, by some accounts, even people. It has menaced humans to the point of madness, driven workmen from the woods, and stupefied law enforcement officials. Yet despite thousands of sightings spanning back almost three centuries, the Devil has never been captured.

Long before European settlers encountered the Devil, the local Native American tribes referred to the Pine Barrens as “the place of the dragon.” Accounts vary, but many witnesses say it walks upright on two legs with cloven hooves, has a head like a horse, nasty claws, a forked tail, and leathery, bat-like wings. Could this creature be what the Native Americans described as a dragon?

The Jersey Devil is most often spotted in the Pine Barrens, but witnesses claim to have seen it as far away as Pennsylvania, and even along the New Jersey coast. Sometimes, although the Devil is not actually sighted, there are reports of horrible screams in the night, then the discovery of strange tracks alongside dead livestock or pets the next morning. It is said to have the ability to fly, and, even though there are some accounts of it harming humans, in most cases it flees when confronted.

What is the Jersey Devil? Why is it here? Where did it come from and what danger does it pose to people? These are questions that have gone unanswered for nearly three hundred years.

The Jersey Devil Story and Legend

My first experience with the Jersey Devil story came as a teenager when I attended a college in eastern Pennsylvania. One night my roommate and I got around to talking about the Jersey Devil, a creature I had never even heard of. The story relayed to me was this:

A long time ago, deep in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, there lived a woman who had many children. When she found out she was pregnant again she cursed the child in her womb, as she did not want the burden of any more kids. When the child was born it turned out to be a demon. It flew up the chimney and into the woods where it has lived ever since, now known as the Jersey Devil.

My roommate went on to claim that the creature was well-documented by law enforcement and in the media, giving specific examples of Devil encounters through the years.

Even back then I was fascinated by the paranormal, so I began to seek out every Jersey kid I could find to learn more about the story. Most of them backed up my roommate’s tale and added their own stories of what they had heard about the creature.

It was all very interesting, but it seemed hard to believe there would be so many sightings of such a strange, unknown being. This thing was giving Bigfoot a run for his money.

Back then there was no internet to confirm anything I was being told, but nowadays I know what my college buddies had said was pretty spot-on. The Jersey Devil has been seen by thousands of people, and, yes, many accounts have come from police officers and other respected officials. And these are just the people willing to come forward.

The 1909 Sightings

The most concentrated outbreak of sightings occurred in 1909 when as many as fifty separate sightings or encounters were reported over a one-week period. These included:

  • At least three separate accounts by policemen, one of whom fired on the creature from close range.
  • A detailed story from a couple who watched the Devil for ten minutes through their bedroom window.
  • A group sighting by passengers of a trolley car.
  • A sighting by a Trenton, NJ, councilman.
  • The account of employees of the telegraph company, who shot the creature’s wing, only to have it escape.
  • The tale of firemen who blasted it off a rooftop with a hose, and were then charged before it flew off.
  • Many incidents of strange tracks were made by an animal that seemed to defy logic in its movements.

In the years since 1909, reported sightings of the Jersey Devil have continued on a consistent basis. It’s clear that people are seeing something strange in southern New Jersey. Is there any logical way to account for these sightings?

Is the Jersey Devil a Real Animal?

Some cryptozoologists contend that the Jersey Devil is in fact a rare but undiscovered animal. This is a perspective that a lot of people have trouble with, especially when they consider a populated state like New Jersey. How could a new species go undetected for so long with so many people around?

However, in contrast to the urban northern end of the state, the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey are largely wilderness. A quick look at a map reveals a great swath of forest where a small population of creatures could conceivably exist undetected.

In fact, many cryptozoologists reason that Bigfoot could conceivably thrive in populated eastern states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. If Bigfoot could remain hidden, why not something even more elusive?

Some cryptozoologists draw comparisons between the Jersey Devil and other known cryptids. For example, there are reports of strange Phantom Kangaroos in North America dating back a hundred years or more. The Jersey Devil is sometimes reported as resembling a kangaroo. Could these two creatures be one and the same?

El Chupacabra is another creature that shares some similarities with the Jersey Devil, particularly the reports of livestock attacks at night. But El Chupacabra has only become well-known in recent times and does not seem to have the same modus operandi as the Jersey Devil.

This is all speculation of course, but if the Jersey Devil is a real creature there must be more than one. The Pine Barrens seem to contain more than enough space for a small and rare population of unknown animals to exist. But what kind of animals?

We have to assume that the mingled-up, part-mammalian, part-avian, and part-reptilian descriptions of the Devil are born of fear and confusion. If the creature is real, it must logically fall into one classification of animal or another.

It may be a large and undiscovered species of bat. Or, perhaps it is a strange and elusive nocturnal bird of some kind.

Could Jersey Devil Sightings be explained by unexpected encounters with very large birds like the Great Blue Heron?

Could Jersey Devil Sightings be explained by unexpected encounters with very large birds like the Great Blue Heron?

Is the Devil a Supernatural Being?

Perhaps the real story behind the Devil can’t be explained by the natural at all. It turns out the tale I was told years ago might have a grain of truth to it, and allegedly involved a woman named Leeds who lived back in the 18th century, and did indeed have 12 children. By some accounts, she was a witch, and some say her husband was the Devil himself, but of course, these points can't be proven.

Whatever the case, the story says she gave birth to her 13th child in the year 1735 after having cursed it in the womb. It transformed into the Jersey Devil upon entering this world, attacked everyone in the room, and escaped into the forest.

Like all legends, it’s hard to know where facts end and myth begins with this story. There are some versions of the tale that call the woman Mrs. Shrouds, and there are those who point out that Shrouds was the maiden name of Mother Leeds.

Somewhere, lost back over almost 300 years of history, is the truth. Still, many say the actual physical birthplace of the Jersey Devil lies somewhere in the woods, outside of Leeds Point, New Jersey.

Of course, there are other versions of the Jersey Devil incarnation story. All seem to involve a curse and birth, and then out the monster comes. So many different stories tend to degrade the legend altogether.

There is also the possibility that the Jersey Devil legend is just a myth, or a fantastic, supernatural tale made up to explain an animal that early settlers couldn’t comprehend as a natural creature. Historically, we humans have had the tendency to make up folk tales to explain things we do not understand. But the fact remains that people are still seeing strange things in the Pine Barrens and surrounding areas. Supernatural or otherwise, there is something in the woods.

The huge Flying Fox is not native to New Jersey, but could an escaped zoo specimen account for Devil sightings?

The huge Flying Fox is not native to New Jersey, but could an escaped zoo specimen account for Devil sightings?

What Is the Jersey Devil Really?

It’s the cryptid so cool that a hockey team is named after it, but over nearly 300 years of history, nobody has yet gotten to the bottom of the Jersey Devil mystery.

Is the Jersey Devil an unknown animal, strange and frightening but made of flesh and blood nonetheless? Perhaps one day biologists will discover the creature, and make it known to the public, and centuries of superstition and horror stories will suddenly seem quite silly.

Or, perhaps the Devil is more of the supernatural than the corporeal world, a demon born of a witch’s curse and unleashed into the Pinelands of New Jersey to torment humanity until the end of time.

Until the Devil is cornered and captured we'll never know for sure. And, if past behaviors continue the way they have for three centuries, it doesn't seem likely that the Jersey Devil will be giving up its secrets anytime soon.

Though I’ve kept my eyes peeled every time I’ve traveled to Atlantic City, I’ve never had the fortune to personally witness the Jersey Devil. But there has certainly been enough eyewitness testimony through the years that my account is hardly needed.

There is something out there in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, something bizarre and terrifying, and those who have seen it know it is the Devil.

Is the Jersey Devil Real?


Diane Simon on January 20, 2018:

I might have encountered this creature. I did not see its eyes I was camping in the pine barrens with my sons. It was years ago. The thing was watching my sons and me. I felt it was hidding under the conner back of cabin. I felt a bad uneasy feeling I wouldnt let my sons wash dishes in the far set away sink. Feeling uneasy and a table cloth that I had hung was torn in shreds over night. I had heard loud shreeking sound. We were in our cabin. That was our 2nd trip to campground. I dont think it was a possumn or bear or cyhotees. My sons were scared too.scrtatching and wosh sound.l did not know of the Jersey Devil except the sports team. I heard the story of the Jersey Devil much after that happened. I dont know if little egg harbor had any sightings but this felt bad. I am feeling that I and my sons lived through or survived an encounter with an entity known as the Jersey devil. The neighbor campers were upset that we were using their sink. Not ours I felt like something was back by the other sink.I just told my kids dont go back there.I am glad I did.

G.W.H. on November 02, 2017:

Many folk think the "Jersey Devil" to be a joke. I tried for years to find someone that could relate to my story. The only reason that I send you this note is to assure you that the creature is real. Its tracks appeared in my yard in South Carolina in 2010. I tracked the large hoof prints across my yard and into a cleared road in the woods. It took several steps onto the clear snow and disappeared. It came back down about 200 feet. I took about five steps off the road and put one hoof on one side of a tree and one hoof on the other and urinated with a spray onto the base of the tree. It took several steps back onto the road and the prints were gone. I smelled the pee that had no odor. Wished I had thought to take a sample..Several things I remember. It had to fly, It had to be tall because it stepped over two fences. It had to be light weigh because the large hoof went into three inches of snow but did not disturb the mud below. My wife and I still talk about what we saw together but know that folks would not believe it. I posted pictures of the tracks on Facebook. Only my cousin responded because he took pictures of the same tracks at his house the same night...Just wanted to let someone know that this creature is real...It walked with steps about five feet apart. walked on two legs....I live a long way from N.J. so this creature could be anywhere..One more walked five feet from my window where I was watching TV.

Alexis on October 05, 2017:

The legend of the Jersey Devil has always fascinated me. When 2009 hit, I had a small inkling of hope that a rash of sightings would occur, but nothing. There used to be an active group in the Pine Barren's region that sought out the Jersey Devil, but it has since become defunct.

Sparkle on July 19, 2017:

when I was little we were told about the jersey devil. ther are many people who think it is real.but I have not yet found out if it is real or fake.doe's anyone know for sure?

MAUSIZU on June 09, 2017:

Great article!

Remember the xfiles epsiode called the Jersey Devil. I was a little bit let down when it wasnt a bat.

cryptid (author) from USA on September 21, 2015:

Very interesting Barry! I always like to think if I saw something like the Jersey Devil I would get out of the car to check it out, but that's easy to say until it happens!

Barry Willig on September 19, 2015:

My wife's niece saw the Jersey devil one night off of Madison Road near Buck Road in Upper Pittsgrove, near Elmer. It was night and she wouldn't get out of her car to investigate.