Folklore surrounding the Jersey Devil–America’s original cryptid–dates back over 250 years. Historical evidence point toward Daniel Leeds as the source of origin. A Quaker and barrel maker who emigrated to America in 1677, Leeds instigated disharmony as a forward thinker.
But some believe the Jersey Devil is a real creature roaming South Jersey. Others are adamant something dark and evil occupies the area. Regardless, as the Leeds Devil morphed into the Jersey Devil, tales of this creature have haunted the Pine Barrens and it’s residents for over two and a half centuries.
This blog post focuses on the physical or paranormal creature, not the man.
Jersey Devil Profile
The following description is based on a variety of supposed eye witness accounts and is taken from A Guide to Sky Monsters: Thunderbirds, the Jersey Devil, Mothman, and Other Flying Cryptids.
Wingspan: Four to five feet.
Physical Description: Three to four feet tall. Head of a horse; body of a kangaroo; bat wings; serpentine or forked tail; feet of a goat. Some accounts say it has the head of a ram and the face of a monkey. On the ground or rooftops it hops like a bird. Emits a high, piercing scream.
Demeanor: Eats livestock, flies at people. Said to be pure evil.
Supernatural Powers: Some people believe the Jersey Devil is responsible for the bad things that happen in and around the Pine Barrens and that he has the ability to harm people without them knowing it.
Location: Pine Barrens, New Jersey.
We’ll add the Jersey Devil profile to our Cryptid and Creature Design page. There, you can access other original creature designs.
Jersey Devil History
To explain more on how the Jersey Devil became America’s original cryptid, we’ve excerpted a few paragraphs from A Guide to Sky Monsters: Thunderbirds, the Jersey Devil, Mothman, and Other Flying Cryptids. (Sources cited at the end).
Early 19th Century
“To learn more about the secluded way of life in the Pine Barrens, New York journalist, W. F. Mayer toured the region in 1858. A year later, he recorded the first written account of the Leeds Devil in the Atlantic Monthly. Apparently, during his visit in the Pine Barrens, a storm was moving toward them, and he quoted a woman who had said, ‘[This storm] will be like the one the night I seed the Leeds Devil.’ Standing nearby, a local man told
Mayer about the Leeds Devil. The man said in 1735, Mother Leeds gave birth to a dragon-like creature that haunts the area. ‘Little children did be eaten and maids abused.’
No further written accounts about the Jersey Devil appeared until the late 1800s, when rumors emerged of a distraught mother who had cursed her child while giving birth saying, ‘Let it be the devil.’ The unwanted infant is said to have morphed into a hideous creature and flown out into the night. In an 1893 article in the New York Sun, a railroad engineer claimed a monkey-faced Leeds Devil attacked his train.
At the Turn Of the Century
In the early 1900s, Francis Bazely Lee (1869–1914), a clerk for the New Jersey Supreme Court, began compiling Leeds Devil sightings and stories while working on genealogical records. He kept the information separate and to himself, but in 1905, John Elfreth Watkins, an acquaintance of Lee’s, published some of his findings in an article he called, ‘Demon of the Pines.’
That same year, Watkins published a different story that claimed Mother Leeds was a witch, her husband the devil, and their child dragon-like. These stories came on the heels of American Myths and Legends (1903), a book by Charles Montgomery Skinner, who offered the classic Leeds Devil description in his book. He wrote that Mother Leeds was a Quaker and a witch who gave birth to a creature with wings like a bat and feet like a pig. Another writer, Arminius Alba, wrote an article for the Trenton Times in 1905 that described a monkey-like creature who lived with the family for several years before flying up the chimney. This version included a Captain Leeds and his wife, who was a local gossip and sorceress. These stories paved the way for the creature’s major media appearance in 1909.”
What Is the Meaning?
The pressing question is why did these stories emerge? Who were they intended for? There appears to be a deeper underlying meaning that entwines with Daniel Leeds and his desire to make a difference in the new country with less than honorable tactics. But there’s more:
By the middle of the 19th century, iron furnaces in New Jersey had closed, people moved on. Those who loved the remote area stayed and lived off the land’s natural resources. In virtual isolation, the vast miles of remote forest so near Philadelphia, New York, and other large cities also enticed poachers, moonshiners, and bandits to take up residence. It didn’t take long for newcomers to label the locals “Pineys” and dismiss them as an uneducated, primitive, and superstitious people.A Guide To Sky Monsters: Thunderbirds, the jersey devil, mothman, and other flying cryptids by t.s. Mart and Mel cabre
The Jersey Devil–America’s Original Cryptid–tells a far deeper story of how hate and intolerance can breed a monster that hurts people and cripples a society. If you’d like to know more, click on the book cover above or on any of the highlighted book titles. Thank you for reading, and remember:
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” –Benjamin Franklin
P.S. In our book, learn the role Benjamin Franklin played in creating the Leeds Devil. Fact: Both Benjamin Franklin and Daniel Leeds published rivaling Almanacs. Who do you think was the more shrewd business man?
- W. F. Mayer, “In the Pines,” Atlantic Monthly 3 (May 1859): 560–69.
- The Engineer Quit His Run,” The New York Sun, January 22, 1893, p. 6. https:// chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030272/1893–01–22/ed-1/seq-18/#date1=1893&index=1&rows=20&words=Devil+Leeds&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1893&proxtext=Leeds+Devil&y=16&x=24&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1.
- Brian Regal and Frank Esposito. The Secret History of the Jersey Devil (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press): 86. The authors discuss the John Elfreth Watkins article, “Demon of the Pines,” Washington, DC, Evening Star (September 2, 1905).