The History and Myth of the Leeds Devil
The Leeds Devil, also known by other names as the Pine Barren Devil and Jersey Devil, is probably considered in the third tier of demons and creature urban legends behind Bigfoot, Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, and Aliens in general.
There are various stories related to the legend dating back to the times of the Native American tribes living in the area but the most common urban legend is as follows: In 1735, Mother Leeds finds out she is pregnant with her 13th child and proclaims it to be The Devil incarnate. A stormy night ensues whereupon she suddenly goes into labor as her friends are gathered around her. Rumors swirl that she is really a witch and the father is actually The Devil itself. The child was conceived and initially appeared normal before altering its shape into that appearance of the creature we know now. It gave off a bloodcurdling shriek, killed the midwife instantaneously, then flew up the chimney and disappeared out of sight after circling the village and heading towards the pines.
Later additions have added/amended the story to include a local Clergy, which exorcised the creature for over 100 years in 1740 only for it to finally re-appear starting in the late 1890’s.Other variants of the story largely remain the same, just altering the area (Estelleville), date (as late as 1887), and number of the child (7).
Authors James McCloy and Ray Miller Jr added that the Jersey Devil either killed the entire Leeds family or several random children as its first meal in their book, “The Jersey Devil,” published as a hardcover in 1976.
According to 1918 documentation from the Union-Gazette, some believe that “Mother” Leeds is actually Deborah Leeds as her husband, Japhet, had named twelve children in his will in 1736 and they also lived in what was then the Leeds Point area of where the creature is now commonly sighted in Atlantic County, New Jersey.
Still another story from a 1997 New York Times Article has the birth of the Devil being a point of revenge after Mrs. Leeds refused to offer dinner to a traveling clergyman.
The most common description is one that is significantly similar to the Christian religious concept of the Devil from Hell. The creature is said to have two wings, horns atop its head, short arms with claws, long legs that end in cloven hooves for feet, and a tail that extends to finish in a barbed point or bifurcated cut.
Interestingly, the creature is largely described as being anywhere from 3 to 5 feet in height and yet fast enough to reach possible speeds of 25 to 35 miles per hour based on driven cars and its ability to keep up via flying. The Mothman was largely noted to be able to keep up with cars in excess of 60 to 70 miles per hour due to its ability to fly as well.
Areas of Sightings
The common area of sightings tends to plot itself around the Pine Barrens area in the Atlantic County of New Jersey including the towns: Mullica, Galloway, Hamilton, Hammonton, Buena Vista, and Egg Harbor Township.
With that said, the creature has been witnessed all over the state of New Jersey and even bordering into Pennsylvania.
In a November, 1960 News Article, the writer John Kolesar makes mention of residents hearing screams and seeing footprints in Dorothy, New Jersey.
The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has several sightings from 1999 in Burlington County, which distinctly make mention of the common phenomena associated with the Jersey Devil in its distinctive screams.
Such sightings have been near constant up to the present day. The New Jersey Devil Hunters Organization have detailed accounts of sightings by New Jersey residents from the 1950’s to the present.
Most Distinctive Sighting
The year of 1909 and particularly the month of January seems to be the most plentiful in regards to sightings of the elusive creature. Most interesting is that the sightings seem to range all over the state of New Jersey around similar times on the same day and yet the creature itself is able to reach up into the Pennsylvania area during this time period as well. Below I highlighted the key sightings. Take note of the multiple descriptions that all describe the creature in very common similarities despite being sometimes across the state from one another or even in differing states altogether.
– Bristol, Pennsylvania on January 17th: Police Officer James Sackville heard neighborhood dogs barking and turned to see a winged creature hopping in the shadows. Sackville drew his pistol after the creature emitted a horrible shriek and shot after it as the creature quickly flew into the woods before disappearing up into the night sky.
– Bristol, Pennsylvania on January 17th: Postmaster E.W. Minster awoke at around 2 AM and looked out across the Delaware River to see a creature flying that had a similar head to a ram with wings and short legs that uttered several cries as it flew.
– Gloucester City, New Jersey on January 17th: James Fleson finds eerie footprints in 8 different yards that trailed to a local junkyard.
– Burlington, New Jersey on January 18th: The Lowden family awakes to find footprints in their backyard around a trashcan. Further investigation turns up footprints on rooftops and inaccessible areas that a creature solely reliant on ground movement could not reach. Rewards were offered for capture of the creature.
– Gloucester City, New Jersey on January 19th: Mr. & Mrs. Evans awoke around 2:30 AM to see the creature perched on the roof of their shed for almost ten minutes. The creature is described as a head like a Collie Dog with a face of a horse, wings, had horse’s hooves, tail, and stood about 3 and 1/2 feet tall.
– Collingswood, New Jersey on January 20th: Creature is seen by a search party heading North from Collingswood to Moorestown.
– Riverside, New Jersey on January 20th: Joseph Mans makes plaster casts of footprints surrounding his killed dog. Footprints are also found on his rooftop in addition to the ground.
– Haddon Heights, New Jersey on January 21st: A trolley car of passengers sees the creature flying with them around 2 AM. Lewis Boeger, the conductor gave a description describing the creature as like a four foot tall Kangaroo with wings.
– Mount Holly, New Jersey on January 21st: Job Shinn spots the creature and describes it as having a horse-like head with legs that ended in claws and winged.
– Camden, New Jersey on January 22nd: Police Officer Louis Strehr witnesses a creature drinking from a horse trough and described it as the head and body of a kangaroo with wings and antlers like a deer.
The event of sightings seemed to start on January 16th and yet stop almost immediately on January 22nd. Some areas in New Jersey were so terrified of the Jersey Devil situation that they closed down schools, community citizens called out of work, and organized search parties were created to try and capture the beast.
Pop Culture Phenomena
The Devil has become so synonymous with the New Jersey region that it has lent its name to an Eastern Hockey League franchise, the Jersey Devils, from 1964 through 1973 and the NHL Franchise, the New Jersey Devils, including the forked tail signature of the creature. It also appeared as a background basis for an early Season 1 episode of The X-Files, appropriately titled “The Jersey Devil” and aired on October 8th, 1993.
Such monster/ghost shows as Paranormal State, Destination Truth, and MonsterQuest have also featured entire episodes centered around the search for the creature. Several television specials have included aid from the earlier mentioned New Jersey Devil Hunters group.