History: The Jersey Devil

by Melissa Samuelson | Nov 8, 2004
History:  The Jersey Devil In the true spirit of the fall season, it’s almost impossible that any resident wouldn’t think of the scariest legend in our backyard, the Jersey Devil. Whether real or simply a myth, the Jersey Devil’s history has become a South Jersey staple and is considered one of the most famous legends in the area.

Although it’s unknown how the Jersey Devil came about, there have been thousands of stories over the 250 years that the legend has lived. It is agreed upon; however, where the Jersey Devil came from, the infamous Pine Barrens. There are a few famous stories circulating of the first sighting of the devil. One takes place at Leeds Point in 1735, where a woman named Mother Leeds gave birth to a deformed child. The mother cursed the child and confined him until he escaped and began terrorizing the town. Another story, still taking place at Leeds Point, tells of a British soldier who had a love affair with a girl from Leed’s Point. In the Battle of Chestnut Neck, the townspeople cursed the girl for allegedly being a “traitor” and when she gave birth to the child, it was considered the “Leeds Devil.”

Although the origin will always remain a mystery, actual sightings of the Jersey Devil have become documented pieces of South Jersey History dating back to the 18th century. The Jersey Devil was spotted numerous times in Haddonfield, Bridgeton, Smithville, Long Branch, Brigantine, and Leeds Point. He was also spotted by Joseph Bonaparte, former king of Spain and brother of Napoleon and by naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur.

In the 19th century, the Jersey Devil made its largest appearance ever with more than 1,000 people throughout South Jersey and Philadelphia documenting a sighting. On January 19, 1909, the Jersey Devil made its longest appearance of the week. At 2:30 am, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans of Gloucester were awakened by a strange noise. They watched the devil from their window for 10 minutes. A Reverend, a Police Officer, and the entire West Collingswood Fire Department sighted the Jersey Devil during this time. Hoofprints were strewed throughout the backyards of residents from Camden to Gibbsboro to Woodstown. The number of sightings slowed after 1909 but several have still been reported.

In 1927, the Jersey Devil was seen by a cab driver in Salem that stopped to fix a flat tire. The characteristic screams of the Jersey Devil were also heard in the woods near Woodstown in 1936. During the Invasion of Gibbsboro in 1951, the town residents spotted the Jersey Devil over two-days. Many instances included a mass slaughtering of animals while others included just a sighting.

Over the years, South Jersey-ans have formed several theories on the existence of the Jersey Devil and what type of creature it is. Some think it’s a bird, specifically a Sand Hill Crane. Some believe the Jersey Devil is a prehistoric creature that managed to survive underground for years. Others stick to the original theory that it is a disfigured child and some will swear that the Jersey Devil is the embodiment of the devil itself.

Despite the controversy and confusion of the origin of the Jersey Devil, it will always remain the best scary story to tell during Halloween or during a night camping in the Pine Barrens.

Information collected from Dave Juliano at TheShadowLands>/a>.

For more South Jersey History, visit our History page.

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Author: Melissa Samuelson


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