The Jersey Devil

Drawing of the Jersey Devil from The Philadelphia Bulletin, 1909.

Hey, everyone! Heather here! Our sasquatch/cryptozoology expert, Shawn, is back again! This time, he’s written about a cryptid from his home state of New Jersey. Someday, we’ll plan a PGI trip to the Jersey Pine Barrens for a Jersey Devil excursion. Until then, enjoy Shawn’s article!

It has been awhile since I have written anything for our group. Or anything in general. I will claim to have spent the time reading up on cryptids and the metaphysical but that wouldn’t be exactly true either. The truth is I am so technologically challenged it is ridiculous. But all good things must come to an end so I am going to talk a little about a cryptid from my home state of New Jersey. Besides, poor Heather’s fingers are all blistered from the typing she does not just for us but her own projects as well. (Editor’s note: Awwwww, isn’t he the best?)

I grew up in New Jersey as the son of a minister. I know, I know. Spare me the jokes, trust me you have nothing new. Anyway, as such, we moved several times during my childhood. Not as much as some people, but we did move at least four times while I was living with my parents. The home I remember the most, where I spent the majority of my formative years, was in a small town close to the Delaware River in central Jersey called Sergeantsville. We lived there for nine years. Sergeantsville was an old town, established sometime in the mid- to late-1700s. It still had some historical buildings in the area, as well as historical legends. With such a long, storied history, there are many stories of Revolutionary War ghosts and ghosts in general. Some ghosts inhabited the local buildings, some were part of the land with older buildings long gone. Of course, all the ghost stories revolved around people, whether Natives and settlers clashing, accidents, or curses and witches. A few of these stories may very well be true, some are just stories made up to scare children into behaving and then grew into a life of their own to be told as true legends with many variations. While some may be investigated as actual paranormal events attributed to a location, there is one story that ranks right up there with Sasquatch. It’s the Jersey Devil.

According to the legend it all started in 1735 around what is now known as Leeds Point, New Jersey. As it is generally agreed upon, Mother Leeds (later potentially identified as Deborah) was about to give birth to her 13th child.  In a fit of exasperation, or some other emotion, she cursed the child to be a devil. I personally have heard two versions of this story. Version one relates that the child was born as a normal child and then changed into a vile creature. Version two claims that the child was born as the creature. But, both stories agree that the creature had the wings of a bat, a head like a horse but with horns, the legs of a goat, a tail like a dragon, and some say the forked tongue of a serpent. It then flew around the room screeching and growling unearthly sounds before flying up the chimney, into the night, and into infamy.

As the stories continues, the Jersey Devil was blamed for all manner of things: livestock disappearances, crop failures, sickness, and so on. Remember, this was the 1730s where people didn’t understand many things we take for granted. The Pine Barrens of New Jersey is a huge wilderness area today that is home to all types of wildlife. Back then, the Barrens would have been just another section of wilderness in the New World, indistinguishable except for the sandy soil and pine trees. It is an area rife with black bears, but back then bears weren’t the only predators. Wolves weren’t uncommon and mountain lions were also prevalent. This could explain the livestock disappearances, but this only explains once facet of the story.

There is recorded verification of Japhet Leeds, the Jersey Devil’s father, passing away in 1736. According to historical records, he had a will in which he specified 12 children. What of the 13th child? Was it stillborn? Was the story concocted to conceal some type of deformity that would throw the shade of witchcraft onto the family? These are all questions that may never be answered. But, while they are possible explanations for events then, what of the following events of more than 275 years? People have reported seeing tracks of cloven hoof prints that just disappear in the middle of a field. Those tracks couldn’t be those of a deer because they “appeared” to be bipedal and the trackway was too far from any terrain or cover that a deer could jump to, so it must have flown away. Late-night sightings, strange sounds, and unexplainable tracks all further the legend of the Jersey Devil. Is the Devil a scapegoat? Or is there something to it?  If you have read some of previous my blogs, I firmly believe in Sasquatch as a living being. So, do I believe in the Jersey Devil? Well, yes and no. I believe that for the stories and legends to exist, something had to be the catalyst. But what? For it to be perpetuated for over 275 years, there has to be some truth to the Jersey Devil’s existence.

If you’ve never heard a mountain lion scream, you would swear a woman was being murdered in the deep dark woods. At that time it would have been a witch. Rabbits may be all cute and cuddly, but it will terrify you to hear their death scream when one is being killed by coyote or foxes. That may explain the noises, but it doesn’t explain the sightings where people have been attacked in late at night, in remote areas, while camping, by a giant winged creature late. The range of the incidents extends past the Pine Barrens into parts of Pennsylvania as well. There has been more research done on Sasquatch than the Jersey Devil as a cryptid, save for several groups in New Jersey. If cryptids were rock stars, Sasquatch is clearly Elvis and The Jersey Devil is Buddy Holly. Both have similarities, but one became hugely popular while the other has few fans once they were out of the lime light. I guess I do believe there is something there, but what I do not know. Do I believe in the Legend? Definitely. If you are ever driving through southern New Jersey at night, keep one eye on the road, one eye to the sky and treeline, one hand on the wheel and the other holding your camera, and maybe you can catch a glimpse or a even a picture of the ever elusive Jersey Devil.

About Heather S. Dobson

I wish I was Wonder Woman, but I'm actually a wife, mother of three young ones, a writer, a paranormal investigator, and a lunatic. I'm also hoping to win a Nobel Prize in physics, but I guess that means I should get something above a BS in said subject and do more in-depth, life-changing studies besides "the sticking power of mac 'n cheese on smooth wallpaper." Alas...
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