In New Jersey folklore, the Jersey Devil (or Leeds Devil) is a legendary creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. The creature is often described as a flying biped with hooves, but there are many variations. The common description is that of a kangaroo-like or wyvern-like creature with the head of a goat, leathery bat-like wings, horns, small arms with clawed hands, cloven hooves and a forked tail. It has been reported to move quickly and often is described as emitting a “blood-curdling scream”
Mother Leeds’ thirteenth child
According to popular folklore, the Jersey Devil originated with a Pine Barrens resident named Jane Leeds, known as Mother Leeds. The legend states that Mother Leeds had twelve children and, after finding she was pregnant for the thirteenth time, cursed the child in frustration, crying that the child would be the Devil. During 1735, Mother Leeds was in labor on a stormy night while her friends gathered around her. Born as a normal child, the thirteenth child changed to a creature with hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings, and a forked tail. Growling and screaming, it killed the midwife before flying up the chimney and heading into the pines. In some versions of the tale, Mother Leeds was supposedly a witch and the child’s father was the Devil himself. Some versions of the legend also state that there was subsequently an attempt by local clergymen to exorcise the creature from the Pine Barrens, or that the creature proceeded to kill local children.
There have been many claims of sightings and occurrences involving the Jersey Devil.
According to legend, while visiting the Hanover Mill Works to inspect his cannonballs being forged, Commodore Stephen Decatur sighted a flying creature and fired a cannonball directly upon it, to no effect.
Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon, is also claimed to have seen the Jersey Devil while hunting on his Bordentown estate about 1820. During 1840, the devil was blamed for several livestock killings. Similar attacks were reported during 1841, accompanied by tracks and screams.
In Greenwich during December 1925 a local farmer shot an unidentified animal as it attempted to steal his chickens, and then photographed the corpse. Afterward, he claimed that none of 100 people he showed it to could identify it. On July 27, 1937, an unknown animal “with red eyes” seen by residents of Downingtown, Pennsylvania was compared to the Jersey Devil by a reporter for the Pennsylvania Bulletin of July 28, 1937. In 1951, a group of Gibbstown, New Jersey boys claimed to have seen a ‘monster’ matching the Devil’s description and claims of a corpse matching the Jersey Devil’s description arose in 1957. During 1960, tracks and noises heard near Mays Landing were claimed to be from the Jersey Devil. During the same year the merchants around Camden offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil, even offering to build a private zoo to house the creature if captured.