The Jersey Devil – American Folklore? Or Unknown Species?

By
Marcus Lowth
Published Date
February 19, 2018
Last Updated
September 30, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
16 min read
Posted in
Cryptozoology, Strange Beasts

The legends of the Jersey Devil stretch back hundreds of years, and like many such legends are a mixture of half-truths, twisted perspective, and blurry recollections. Sightings of this apparently mythical creature continue today, however, leading some to suspect there may be more to the accounts than just mere stories.

A burning city with a superimposed image of a devil-like creature

Sightings of the Jersey Devil continue today

While the origins, and indeed the vast majority of descriptions of the Jersey Devil have their roots in the practicing of dark arts, the summoning of demonic entities, and claims of The Devil himself, it is entirely possible, if such a creature does exist, it is one that has, as unlikely as it might be, avoided detection and study from the modern world. Indeed, perhaps it is even some kind of humanoid who once called the open plains of New Jersey home.

Many features of the Jersey Devil sightings also come up in the equally bizarre Spring Heeled Jack sightings of the mid-nineteenth century to the early-1900s, in England, predominantly in London. Such things as leaping or flying ability or strange claw-like feet. Even more bizarre are details of flames or a strange glow in accounts of each of these strange creatures. Might there be a connection, or are the sightings simply a testament to overactive imaginations?

Before we look at the origins of one of America’s strangest and most enduring legends, check out the video below. It looks at the basics of the Jersey Devil legends.

Jane Leeds And The Origins Of The Jersey Devil

One of the first accounts on record, and the one most associated with the legends of the Jersey Devil goes back to the Pine Barrens area of south New Jersey [1] in 1735. There, a lady by the name of Jane Leeds announced she was pregnant with no less than her thirteenth child. To all who would listen she would say “the Devil can take this one!”

According to the legend, this thirteenth child had the shape of a human, but the look of a reptile. Details state the child was born with claws, a tail, and horns. It would grow exceptionally quickly with some accounts stating up to twenty feet in height. It would leave the Leeds’ household through the chimney and vanish. The legends and stories of the Jersey Devil – at the time often called The Leeds Devil – began to thrive soon after.

However, it is likely that the use of the Leeds name is due to the writings and ideas of one of the pilgrims to the new world of America. Daniel Leeds, who records show arrived in Burlington, New Jersey in 1677. Like many of the new immigrants, Leeds was a member of the Society of Friends – more commonly known as the Quakers. Born in Leeds, Yorkshire in England in 1651, the twenty-four-year-old was a devout follower of his religion.

He was also a man with interests in pagan rituals and beliefs, [2] who himself had “visions” from an early age. It was these interests and Leeds’ own background which would ultimately lead the Quaker community to turn on him. In doing so, particularly as their community would submit to the industrialization of the coming decades of the once open countryside, they had sewn the seed of the legends that would follow.

Politicly Armed Folklore

Daniel Leeds was well educated in such ancient arts as astrology and methods of what we would call today, alternative healing. At the time, the Quaker population increasingly regarded these teachings of Leeds’ as being black magic and even Satanic. Leaflets were regularly distributed around Quaker settlements and into the wider populations. Perhaps Leeds’ loyalty to the British also put him at odds with the locals.

Furthermore, the Leeds’ family crest was of three “dragon-like” creatures, which only further aroused suspicions and, in the minds of the settlers, strengthened the links between Daniel Leeds and what future generations would call the Jersey Devil.

An apparent exorcism in 1740 claimed to banish the creature from the area for one-hundred years. The legends, however, would continue throughout the centuries and into modern times.

Upon the discovery of bog iron in the New Jersey region, the population rapidly grew as industries gave birth to communities, towns, and eventually cities. There would also be an increase in sightings.

In 1800, Commodore Stephen Decatur – a naval hero of his time – would visit the Hanover Iron Works to test the cannonballs the plant produced. While doing so one particular day he would report a “strange winged creature” flying over the firing range. Another sighting came from the brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte in the early 1820s, who claimed to see the Jersey Devil while hunting game in the region.

The stories and claimed sightings spread through the populations around New Jersey. Claims that farmer’s sheep had been “snatched from their pens” or that the beast would prey on children out after dark would lead to many people hanging lanterns on their doorsteps in hopes of keeping the Jersey Devil at bay.

A picture of woman with a devil instead of her shadow

Is there a real paranormal connection to the legends of the Jersey Devil?

The 1899 Jersey Devil Wave

There were several intriguing encounters throughout 1899 in the New Jersey region, many of which are documented in the book Monsters of New Jersey: Mysterious Creatures in the Garden State by Loren Coleman. In fact, some reports even came from as far away as New York, where one resident, [3] a local farmer, reported blood-curdling screams in the middle of the night before discovering several of his sheep missing the following day.

In Woodbury, New Jersey on the evening of 16th going into the 17th January, a gentleman who was walking out of a hotel suddenly “heard a hissing” sound. As he looked around, he noticed a strange white creature flying over the road. As it flew, the hotel guest noticed glowing eyes looking at him and would later state that it “moved as fast as an auto”.

A depiction of the Jersey Devil

A depiction of the Jersey Devil

On the same evening in Burlington, local resident Joseph Lowden, along with the rest of this family, noticed a strange noise, like “some heavy body trampling in the snow in the yard”. More chilling, though, was when this strange creature – whatever it was – began moving around the house, doing several laps before attempting to gain entry through the back door. After several tense moments, it suddenly left. When the Lowden family investigated outside, they could see strange, beast-like footprints in the snow all around their home.

Another resident from Gloucester City also noticed bizarre footprints in the snow. He would follow them, through several gardens before they appeared to stop after entering a junkyard.

Just over 24 hours later on the morning of 18th January back in the Burlington area of the city, the Lowdens would discover more of the disturbing footprints outside their house. This time, instead of going around the house, they were impressed into the snow near the garbage can. When the family inspected closer, they could see rubbish and half-eaten thrown away food had been emptied on to the ground, as if someone, or something, was searching through it.

As news spread around the town, residents began to treat the incident of the Lowden family seriously. Many would bolt their doors and windows long before dark, refusing to go outside.

The following evening, another batch of encounters would unfold.

The Unnerving Encounter Of Mr. And Mrs. Evans

In the early hours of 19th January, at a little after 2:30 am in Gloucester City, Mr. and Mrs. Evans were in bed when the most bizarre of noises dragged them from sleep. Each of them sat up and turned their attention to their bedroom window. Much to their surprise, sitting upon the roof of their shed, was the Jersey Devil.

Mr. Evans would later state that the creature was around three feet high and had “a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse”. What’s more, its long neck stretched to a back that contained “wings about two feet long”. It also had crane-like legs upon which it stood upright, with two “short front legs with paws”.

He would eventually open the window in an attempt to scare the strange creature away. When he did so, however, it would turn to face him before barking and flying away. After reporting the sighting, two hunters would trail the apparent tracks of the creature for several miles. According to the route it appeared to take, it was able to leap high enough to jumper over fences five feet high.

Several similar incidents would unfold in the days that would follow.

Reports Increase Daily Across The Garden State

As the 19th January went on, more and more sightings of strange footprints, and on some occasions, even the creature itself were reported. One such sighting in Camden, for example, resulted in a report claiming that the creature was “something like a possum, the size of a dog, with a shrill bark” before “flapping its wings and taking off into the air”.

In the town of Swedesboro, another report surfaced of a bizarre creature with something similar to antlers or horns on its head. Another discovery of strange footprints came from Glassboro, which were described as being “dog-like” with three toes.

The following day on 20th January, a policeman in Burlington would report a menacing figure whose “eyes were like blazing coals”. On the same day, in Pemberton, Reverend John Pursell would report a creature that he had “never seen anything like” previously. Other sightings came from nearby Haddonfield and Collingsworth.

A depiction of the Jersey Devil

A depiction of the Jersey Devil

There was also an incident in Moorestown. Local resident, John Smith, would not only witness the strange monster-like creature, but he would give chase to it before it seemingly vanished into thin air in a nearby pit. He would later describe the creature as being around three feet high with “long black hair over its entire body”. He would elaborate that it had “arms and hands like a monkey” a face “like a dog”, hoof-like feet, and a tail.

A little later on the same day in Springside, a trolley car operator noticed a bizarre figure crossing over the tracks ahead of him. He would later describe it as being like a “winged kangaroo with a long neck”.

A little later that evening, Joseph Mans would discover the dead body of his puppy, seemingly the victim of an animal attack. He would also discover strange footprints around the buildings which housed his chickens.

A “Beast Of Fur And Feathers”

The following day, at around 1 am on 21st January in Camden, several members of the Black Hawk Social Club heard a most bizarre sound outside. When the noise came again, this time much closer at the back window of the club, one of those inside turned to see a monstrous-looking creature staring inside at them. The creature remained where it was for several moments before it turned and disappeared, making the chilling screaming sounds as it did so.

Around an hour later in Haddon Heights, a trolley passenger witnessed a similarly bizarre creature through the window. They soon alerted the other passengers, who all turned in the same direction and saw a strange flying creature overhead. When the car came to a stop, the winged figure appeared to circle them from above before unleashing a terrible hissing noise and flying off into the distance.

The conductor of the trolley would later state the creature appeared similar to a “kangaroo” with a “long neck” and a head that was “hideous”. Even in the darkness, the creature appeared black and its wingspan was relatively wide.

A depiction of the Jersey Devil

A depiction of the Jersey Devil

Another appearance of the Jersey Devil was reported a short time later in Trenton when the horse carrying William Cromley suddenly went into a panic. When he climbed down from the cart, he witnessed a “beast of fur and feathers” which appeared to be as large as an average dog and had “large, sparkling eyes”.

A little while later, also in Trenton, Mr.Weeden was brought from sleep by the sound of what he thought was someone trying to break into his home. As he approached the front windows, he was suddenly aware of the sound of wings flapping outside his house. Upon opening the front door a short time later, he saw “hoofprints” on the ground outside. Further investigations by the local council would discover similar prints around the entire town.

A Sheer State Of Panic Throughout New Jersey

While these sightings and encounters were happening, regular reports were coming from farmers in the region claiming their poultry and other livestock were suffering attacks from something during the night. Even trolley cars ran with armed guards in case further sightings of the Jersey Devil occurred.

In Burlington at a little after 6 am, a local resident saw a birdlike, feathered creature in an alley near her home. From her perspective, it appeared as though the strange creature was about to jump into the air. She remained where she was for several minutes, so frightened she couldn’t even scream. She would eventually find the strength to turn and run back into her house to awaken her youngest son as he was the only other member of the family still at home. Although the creature had gone by the time they returned to the alley, there were several hoofprints in the snow that had recently been made.

Several other sightings came a short time later from Mount Holly. Job Shinn would claim to have seen a creature with “a horse-like head, long hind legs with claws, and big wings”. Even more disturbing, when it landed it walked as a human would. William Cronk, on the other hand, would spot a similar-looking creature flying over the top of his home and garden.

A picture claiming to show the Jersey Devil

A picture claiming to show the Jersey Devil

In Westville, two women who were attending a meeting when they happened to turn their attention to the snowy scene outside the window. However, what they saw shocked them both. On the snow-covered lawn outside, was the Jersey Devil. They watched for several moments before the figure flew off into the air.

A short time later in the West Collingsworth region of the state, two men saw a strange creature sitting on the roof of a friend’s house. They at first believed it to be an ostrich but after the fire service aimed a stream of water toward it they realized it was, in fact, the Jersey Devil. What made the incident even more disturbing was the fact that instead of fleeing, the creature turned and flew toward the witnesses. The crowd that had now gathered began to throw anything they could find at the winged aggressor until it eventually did turn and head into the distance.

Mary Sorbinski was inside her house when she could suddenly hear the desperate cries of her dog. As she rushed outside, her eyes fixed upon a bizarre creature attacking her beloved pet. She managed to chase it away with a broom, but not before the dog suffered a nasty bite to its side. Mary would call the police notifying them of the attack.

Patrol officers arrived at the property shortly later, by which time a large crowd of around one-hundred people had gathered. All around them were sounds of screeching and howls. Above them, shadows of something flying through the clouds were seen.

The officers would attempt to shoot the creature, but all of their bullets appeared to miss their target. Shortly after, the noise ceased, and the creature was gone.

A Sudden Stop

The day after Sorbinski’s encounter came even further sightings. At a little after 2 am on the 22nd of January, the residents of a home awoke to hear something moving around on the roof. Only two hours later, Louis Strehr – a local policeman – would see a creature similar to the Jersey Devil seemingly drinking from a horse trough. As many others had described it, it had the “head and body of a kangaroo, antlers like a deer, and bat wings”.

Indeed, things became so bad that many schools in the area were temporarily shut, as did many offices. And those that remained open found that many of their employees rang them with sudden illnesses that forced them to stay at home.

What is also interesting – although we won’t delve into them here, is that the state of Pennsylvania also experienced sporadic sightings during the opening weeks of January. And while there is no proof that it was the same creature that was terrorizing New Jersey, it is highly like that it was. Of course, it is equally likely that there was, and perhaps is, more than one of the Jersey Devil creatures.

Whatever the case, the regular, almost daily sightings of the Jersey Devil in the opening weeks of 1899 suddenly came to a stop. They would, however, begin again, although much less regular, as the 20th century began.

The 1909 James Sackville Sighting

While walking his usual patrol beat around New Jersey one evening in January 1909, James Sackville, a young police officer, claimed to see the Jersey Devil come out of an alleyway and into the street in front of him. He would withdraw and fire his revolver towards the creature, but according to his report, it would “spread its wings” and disappear into the night sky.

Although the Sackville sighting wasn’t common knowledge among the local population, a flood of sightings soon came in.

Shortly after Sackville’s sighting, a report would come from the postmaster of Bristol, a town in Pennsylvania on the border with New Jersey, E.W. Minster. According to Minster, an “eerie, almost supernatural” sound awoke him at shortly after 2 am. It appeared to be coming from the banks of the Delaware River. Upon looking out of his window he could see a strange creature, like a “large crane” flying over the icy water. It seemed to have a strange glow to it and made the sound again, confirming to Minster it was the sound that had awoken him. Shortly after, it would vanish.

On 19th January, Nelson Evans and his wife would report a large creature on their roof. The description was bizarre, to say the least, with features of a horse, a dog, and a crane, as well as huge wings.

Several days later, in the middle of the day, Mrs. White claimed to see the creature “huddled in the corner of the yard” while she retrieved clothes from the washing line. Her screams brought her husband to the door, who claimed he could see “spurting flames” coming from the creature. It would leap over the fence of the garden and disappear.

Shortly after, came another sighting. One witnessed by hundreds.

The Sightings Continue Into A New Century

Although much more sporadic the sightings continued throughout the 1900s. In 1927, while changing a flat tire on his taxi cab, a driver would witness a winged-creature leap onto the roof of his vehicle and pound it violently. He climbed into his car and drove away as fast as he could.

In August 1930 at the Leeds Point and Mays Landing, multiple berry-pickers witnessed a strange creature flying over and through the fields. In 1951 a report would come from a group of children of seeing the Jersey Devil in Gibbstown. Several more sightings came in later the same evening in the same area.

In 1993, forest ranger, John Irwin claimed to be driving alongside the Mullica River. Out of nowhere, a six-foot winged creature stood in the road in front of him. After remaining still for several moments, what Irwin is certain was the Jersey Devil turned away from him. It ran into the forest at the side of the road.

The Jersey Devil - Picture By Dave Black

The Jersey Devil – Picture By Dave Black

The 1972 Greentree Road Incident

Sightings of the Jersey Devil would continue into the latter decades of the 20th century. In 1972, for example, on a street named Greentree Road that went through several towns in the southern part of the state, a woman traveling toward the town of Glassboro, Mary Christianson, would suddenly notice a bizarre creature in her rearview mirror.

She would later state that the creature had a horse-like head and legs similar to a goat. However, more worryingly, it stood upright as a human would, with a pair of leather-like wings spanning each side. Christianson would guess that the bizarre animal was around 25 feet from her vehicle at the time of the sighting.

Little else is known of the sighting, other than Christianson left the area, and the creature, behind with alacrity. Local media would pick up on the incident, though, and it remains in circulation online and among like-minded researchers.

Although many sightings of the Jersey Devil are around the Pine Barrens region of the state, if this sighting is credible and accurate, it would suggest once again that this strange creature – whatever it might one day prove to be – can perhaps travel further distances than we might currently think.

Chilling Jersey Devil Encounters Of The 1980s

If we return to the Pine Barrens area, though, we can examine one of the most chilling incidents involving the Jersey Devil of (relatively) recent times.

The first of these occurred in 1980 in the Wharton State Forest, which is pretty much the center of the region. On the day in question, a forest ranger, Alan MacFarlane, received a call to attend a farm that sat close to the forest. When he arrived there, he discovered that all of the farmer’s pigs had been butchered during the night.

Even more disturbing was the fact that each of the back of the pig’s head had been gnarled at and eaten. What’s more, most of the unfortunate pigs had deep scratch marks on their backs. This appeared to MacFarlane that something beastly had clawed to their backs while eating the brains of the pigs. Especially as no other part of the body contained any wounds whatsoever.

What is particularly chilling about this incident, one that MacFarlane claimed was one of the most morbidly intriguing he had ever witnessed, is that it remains unexplained and unsolved. It is perhaps one of the more credible cases for some kind of strange and aggressive animal roaming around the New Jersey woodland.

A picture claiming to show the Jersey Devil

Does this picture show the Jersey Devil?

Several years later, another unnerving incident was reported. On the day in question, a group of friends, who were camping in the Pine Barrens woodland as part of a dirt bike riding holiday, were riding around the woodland. Suddenly, and for no reason, each of their bike engines suddenly stalled bringing their vehicles to a stop.

At the same time, each of the group heard a fear-inducing scream coming from the woodland around them. Although it appeared to be a considerable distance away, it was something not human, but not like any animal any of them had heard before.

Initially, the men forgot about their bikes and ran from the scene back to their campsite. They would return a little later to retrieve the bikes, with some of them opting to leave the forest and return home. Those that remained, would hear the terrible screaming sounds later on during the night. Whether those cries belonged to the Jersey Devil remains open to debate.

Around the same time, the owner of the Smithville Inn, Fran Coppola, had her own encounter with the Jersey Devil. As she was emptying rubbish outside, she suddenly noticed a large shadow pass over her from above. When she turned her attention to the sky, she could see a large, winged creature above her. Although she didn’t manage to capture a picture of the strange, winged figure, she would go on record with her belief that what she witnessed was indeed the Jersey Devil.

Sighting Along Route 9, Galloway, New Jersey, 2015

In October 2015 Dave Black would claim to have witnessed the Jersey Devil making its way across a New Jersey golf course. Furthermore, Black managed to snap a picture of the elusive beast.

He would speak of his encounter to NJ.com, [4] claiming to be driving past the golf course along Route 9 in Galloway when something strange captured his attention. Black turned to what he at first thought was a llama.

He kept the strange creature in his sight for a few moments. It was then that it “spread out leathery wings and flew off over the golf course!”

Black would make it clear that he was not seeking any kind of monetary compensation for the picture. He was looking to see if anyone could explain the sightings in “a more rational way!” When pressed on the issue Black would insist the picture was not a hoax.

The “wings” of the creature are clearly visible, as are what appear to be horns on its head. Some explanations of it being a piñata suspended on strings, however, appear to fall short. No strings are visible, and furthermore, there would appear to be nowhere to attach them to.

He offered he had considered the picture might show a small land mammal, possibly captured by a large owl. Black, however, has his own thoughts. He would state, “I think I saw a large, flying mammal, about the size of a deer!”

It does appear, as bizarre as the picture looks, that Black’s photograph is genuine. Whether it is one day proven to be a hoax or not, only time will tell. The Jersey Devil, if only in people’s minds, is apparently alive and well.

Check out the short video below. It features NJ.com in search of the Jersey Devil.

Legend? Factual Accounts? Or A Mixture Of Both?

So, what should we make of the legends of the Jersey Devil? As we have seen, like all legends, they are a mixture of both fact and hearsay. Recorded information and the differing retelling of accounts.

There are several interesting points of the legends to consider though. Perhaps not least, the similarities to the previously mentioned Spring Heeled Jack sightings of 1800s London.

Although they do not match the many descriptions from sightings over the years, it is also interesting that descriptions of the Jersey Devil at birth were of a reptilian. While this description is likely describing the likeness of “The Devil”, given the number of sightings of reptilians, it is still something worth noting.

Also, the connection to old Pagan rituals and esoteric knowledge is interesting. Such thought outside the “accepted norms” of the Quaker society was frowned upon. This is much the same in any social set-up. Those who operate beyond these boundaries are seen as “crazy”, “eccentric”, and at worst, “evil!” Was the Jersey Devil a way to keep the population in line?

Or is it possible that the Jersey Devil – whatever it might be – has been native to this area long before the pilgrims and settlers came ashore from Europe? Perhaps this strange creature that befuddled and terrorized the local population was connected to Daniel Leeds for no other reason than to label him and his ideas “evil”, and in so doing, providing an “explanation” for the worried masses, as well as issuing a warning to others who might choose to indulge in such evil practices as Daniel Leeds.

Whatever the real truths under the stories, the sightings continue. The video below looks at some of the most interesting sightings of the Jersey Devil.

 

References

References
1 The Jersey Devil of the Pine Barrens, Anthony Perticaro, Strange Mag http://www.strangemag.com/jerseydevil1.html
2 The Jersey Devil: The Real Story, Brian Regal, Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 2013 https://skepticalinquirer.org/2013/11/the-jersey-devil-the-real-story/
3 Monsters of New Jersey: Mysterious Creatures in the Garden State, Loren Coleman and Bruce Hallenbeck, ISBN 9780811 735964 (page 13-35)
4 Is the Jersey Devil in Galloway Township?, Kelly Roncace, NJ.com, October 12th, 2015 https://www.nj.com/entertainment/2015/10/is_the_jersey_devil_in_galloway_township_paranorma.html

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

Read Marcus' full bio.

You can contact Marcus via email.

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