Jersey Devil of Pine Barrens
The Jersey Devil of Pine Barrens is a tale of folklore that, for some beliefs, stems back to the Native Americans that inhabited the land hundreds of years ago. The only important information on the beliefs of the Native Americans is possible drawings of dragon-like creatures.
Described by many over the years as a kangaroo-like creature with either a horse or a goat’s head, bat-like wings, small arms with claws, legs with hooves, horns, and a devil-like tail.
Although there are variations of the beast’s description, common traits are it stands 7 to 10 feet in height, makes an unforgettable, bone-chilling growl, and a high-pitched scream.
This mysterious creature has roamed the land for well over 250 years prowling through the marshes and woods of southern New Jersey.
There are claims that, on occasion, this devil-like creature has gone so far as to rampage through the villages, towns, and cities.
Over the centuries, many claim the brutal killing of livestock, raiding chicken coops and farms, and destroying crops on their land. The beast leaves behind the annihilated carcasses as some sort of omen to the land dwellers.
Reliable people such as police officials, businessmen, and many others whose integrity goes beyond question report accounts of encountering the beast and strange occurrences revolving around this devil creature. Many believe the creature is immortal, roaming the earth frightening and intriguing people for all eternity.
Mother Leeds Devil Child
Popular folklore tells the origin of Jersey Devil in 1735 as the 13th child of Jane Leeds, known as ‘Mother Leeds.’ It is said that the child was not planned as her first 12 children, and in frustration, she unknowingly cursed the child, yelling, “Let it be the devil!”. One can only speculate why she would say this, and many believe that it had to do with Mother Leed’s practice of Witchcraft. Perhaps she indeed had the Devil’s Baby. You can imagine what others thought back in the 1700s when witches were being hunted and lynched for pagan practices with the devil.
Born a human child, the child quickly morphed into the devil creature, growling, screaming, and beating everyone with its tail. It then, expanding its wings, flew up the chimney and headed into the deep woods.
The locals referred to it as the Leeds Devil or Devil of Leeds but became simply the Jersey Devil along the way.
Daniel Leeds and Pagan Practices
One theory of the Leeds Devil is that the story is not based on one single person, such as Mother Leeds. It claims that it originated from colonial New Jersey religion-political disputes that became gossip and folklore among the local population. It is believed that these historical disputes evolved throughout the years, which resulted in the famous legend of the Jersey Devil. Benjamin Franklin and his rivalry with Daniel Leeds led to the family being described as ‘monsters.’ It’s a negative description of Daniel Leeds, not an actual creature that created the legend of the Jersey Devil.
In the 17th century, English Quakers began establishing settlements in Southern New Jersey, where the Pine Barrens are. Daniel Leeds was a prominent person of pre-Revolution colonial southern New Jersey. He was ostracized by his Quaker congregation after publishing an almanac in 1687 that contained astrological symbols and writings. The astrology in these almanacs was considered to be too “pagan” or blasphemous for Christianity. The almanacs were censored, and all copies destroyed.
Leeds responded to the censorship by publishing even more cryptic astrological Christian writings regardless of the congregation’s reaction. His fascination grew for Christian occultism, mysticism, cosmology, demonology, angelology, and natural magic.
In the 1690s, the dispute between Leeds and the Quaker community continued. Serving as councilor to Lord Cornbury, he was dismissed and marked evil.
Benjamin Franklin’s Ghost Jokes
Titan Leeds, the son of Daniel Leeds, inherited his father’s almanac business in 1716. The almanacs continued to use astrological content. Eventually, the almanacs competed with Benjamin Franklin’s famous Poor Richard’s Almanac. The competition got heated to the point that Benjamin Franklin satirically predicted Titan Leeds’ death in October that same year. Intending his prediction as a joke and a means to boost almanac sales, Titan Leeds took great offense and lashed back. He published a public admonition of Franklin as a “fool” and a “liar.”
Franklin responded by publishing a piece mocking Leeds’ outrage and humorously suggested that Leeds actually did die as earlier prediction stated. He said that Leeds was actually a ghost and writing as a ghost who came back from the grave to haunt and torment him. Even after Leeds’ actual death in 1738, Franklin continued to joke about Leeds being a ghost. With Daniel Leeds’ reputation as blasphemous and his occultism, this combined with Titan’s Ghost could easily contribute to the local folk legend of the so-called “Leeds Devil.”
The Leeds’ Family Crest
In 1728, Titan Leeds added the Leeds family crest on the masthead of his almanacs. The family crest depicted a wyvern, a bat-like winged dragon-like legendary creature that stands upright on two clawed feet. It may have influenced the popular descriptions of the Jersey Devil, and the use of the family crest on the almanacs more than likely contributed further to the bad reputation the Leeds’ already had.
The appearance of the wyvern on the crest instilled more animosity among local South Jersey residents towards royalty, aristocracy, and nobility with which family crests were associated. This may have helped facilitate the legend of the Leeds Devil and the association of the Leeds family with the devil and monsters.
The Jersey Devil Sightings and Encounters
In 1909 newspapers of the time published hundreds of claims of sightings and encounters of the Jersey Devil. They came in from all over the state of New Jersey. There are unconfirmed claims of the creature attacking a trolley car and a social club. The police supposedly fired at the beast to no avail. Some reports were odd footprints in the snow, and soon sightings of creatures resembling the Jersey Devil emerged. Reports came from throughout South Jersey and as far away as Delaware and western Maryland.
Vigilantes and hunters roamed the pine barrens in search of the devil. Rumor has it that the Philadelphia Zoo offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the creature during this time. You can imagine the hoaxes people pulled to win the prize money. One scam included a kangaroo with fake claws and bat wings!
Is the Jersey Devil of Pine Barrens real?
Many skeptics believe that the Jersey Devil is simply a tale based on the creative manifestation in the imaginations of the early English settlers. Possible explanations include stories of the bogeyman created by bored pine barren residents as entertainment for the children. The aftermath of the ridicule of the Leeds family. Misidentification of known animals and mere rumors based on negative perceptions of the local rural communities of the pine barrens who are known as ‘Pineys.’
The Pine Barren holds a fearsome reputation due to being inhospitable land. From the infamous Pine Robbers, who were known to attack and rob travelers passing through the Barrens. In the 1700s and 1800s, residents of the isolated Pine Barrens were considered outcasts of society. Poor farmers, fugitives, Native Americans, poachers, moonshiners, runaway slaves, and deserting soldiers were all included in the so-called Pineys. Some made up frightening stories about themselves and the Pine Barren to keep outsiders from entering the Barrens.
The Blue Hole and the Jersey Devil of Pine Barrens
Located deep in the Pine Barrens is a small but legendary body of water known as the blue hole. Not only is the hole said to be bottomless, but it is also said to be a frequent stop of the Jersey Devil. Some say the blue hole served as a portal to the outside for the devil, and he would travel through the underground caves to come out to the shore.
Children and adults alike were warned not to swim in the pool. Stories of unexplainable whirlpools pulling people down to its chilly depths. Some who were lucky enough to escape the pool’s grasp say it felt like the Jersey Devil himself pulling them under.
Whether myth or fact, the Jersey Devil is a creature one might not want to take the risk of encountering and carelessly or purposely wander deep into the woods of the Pine Barren.
New Jersey has a lot of folklore and many stories of ghosts and spirits, mysterious creatures, and haunted places. The Pine Barrens alone have tales of the paranormal, making it one of the top 10 most haunted places in the state. It is the only state with a devil as its mascot.