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The History of the Jersey Devil

by Morgan Rupinski
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Every state has some type of folklore, mystery, or creature whose stories have been told for generations. Here in New Jersey, we have quite a few, but none are as infamous as the Jersey Devil. As we gear up and head into the “spooky season,” we thought this would be a great time to retell this story. Read on to learn more about the history of the New Jersey Devil.

jersey devil history new jersey

(Photo credits: Weird NJ)

The Legend

The legend begins with Jane Leeds, or Mother Leeds, a Pine Barrens resident who was a mother to twelve children. In 1735, Mother Leeds discovered she was pregnant with her thirteenth child. She cursed the child and cried out that the child will be the “devil.” 

Read More: A List of Historical Places to Visit in North Jersey 

Later that year, Mother Leeds went into labor. It was a dark, stormy night with her friends surrounding her in support. The thirteenth child entered the world appearing as a seemingly normal baby, but soon transformed into a monstrous creature with bat wings, hooves, a goat’s head, and a forked tail. The thirteenth child proceeded to growl and scream and beat everyone with its tail before flying up the chimney and into the night to inhabit the Pines. 

Sightings

There have been a number of reports and claims regarding sights of the Jersey Devil — most notably during a week-long period in January of 1909. The newspapers had published hundreds of claims from residents of Southern New Jersey and the Philadelphia area who said they encountered the Jersey Devil. 

During this time, one person claimed that they witnessed the Jersey Devil attacking a trolley car in Haddon Heights while other residents reported unidentified footprints in the snow. The Jersey Devil was even reported to have allegedly attacked a social club in Camden. These widespread reported sightings ultimately caused mass fear and panic resulting in schools closing and enforcing workers to stay home. 

It has been said during this wave of sightings that the Philadelphia Zoo offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the New Jersey Devil. Many groups of hunters took to the pines and countryside to search for the creature with no success. 


Outside of this period of hysteria in 1909, there are a number of notable sightings. In 1820, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s older brother, claimed to see the Jersey Devil while out hunting on his estate in Bordentown. During the 1840s, the creature was claimed to have killed many residents’ livestock and left footprints and screams in its tracks.

In Greenwich in December of 1925, a farmer shot a creature that had attempted to attack his chickens. Afterwards, he photographed the creature and claimed that he showed it to 100 people and no one could identify it.

Cultural Significance

The legend of the Jersey Devil lives on into the present day. The New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League obtained its name from this legend and the name was chosen by poll in 1982.

In June 2021, Six Flags Great Adventure opened its newest coaster, Jersey Devil Coaster. The ride is themed around the Jersey Devil and is located in the section of the park, The Pine Barrens. Jersey Devil Coaster was added to a list of the 10 most anticipated roller coasters according to USA Today

The Jersey Devil has also made it to the big screen. Its lore is explored in notable titles such as 13th Child, The X-Files, TMNT, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, The Barrens, and more. 

See More: Dogs in Hoboken: A Historical Timeline

A Night with the Jersey Devil by Bruce Springsteen was released on Halloween in 2008. The king of New Jersey himself added a note alongside the songs release: “Dear Friends and Fans, if you grew up in central or south Jersey, you grew up with the ‘Jersey Devil.’ Here’s a little musical Halloween treat. Have fun! – Bruce Springsteen.”

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