The History of The Jersey Devil

Did you know there are kangaroos in America? You read that right: there’s a special kind of kangaroo roaming around New Jersey – but this one is not the Australian boxing type.

The creature we’re talking about has the shape of a kangaroo, wings of a bat, and –for some odd reason- hooves of a cow; it looks like the drawing of a five-year-old and terrorizes both kids and grownups alike.

Such a terrible creature can only be called a devil – and that’s its name: The Jersey Devil. A nightmarish-looking beast that terrorizes the living but might not be all too real. In fact, one of the founding fathers might be behind it all.

The Jersey Devil – myth or monster? It’s time to find out.

What is the Jersey Devil?

Have you ever seen an animal with the body of a kangaroo, the hooves of a cow, the head of a horse, horns, and hilariously small hands? Well, I certainly haven’t – but the proud people of New Jersey have.

That’s the Jersey Devil, a creature so weird-looking and of such weird design that it proves there’s a creator (and he has a sense of humor). Unfortunately, it’s not all jokes with this beast: when it opens its mouth, a blood-curdling scream comes out.

Even though we’re talking about close to 300 years’ worth of folklore here, there’s not much information about what the Jersey Devil eats or does. People seem to escape right away when they see a devilish-looking animal instead of taking notes, for some odd reason.

This creature brings nothing but bad luck; whenever someone spots it, terrible things happen: failed crops, droughts, and even cows stop giving milk when the Jersey Devil flies by.

Location of The Jersey Devil

Most people claim the Jersey Devil lives in Pine Barrens, the place where television mobsters go to get lost in the snow.

Of course, that’s the Pine Barrens in New Jersey – otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about the Jersey Devil.

Is the deep end of the Pine Barrens the only place where you’re going to find a winged kangaroo with hooves? Well, not exactly. Several people have claimed to have seen this creature far away from the woods – and far from New Jersey itself.

Folks from Delaware and Maryland claimed to have seen this creature, but there’s hardly any proof of that being true.

Maybe, just maybe, the Jersey Devil felt like going on a vacation – or, perhaps, mass hysteria made its way to other states back in the early 20th century.

All in all, the only place where both men and women have constantly witnessed this creature is in New Jersey, deep in the woods.

Origins of The Jersey Devil

A curse from a mother

The first version that explains where the Jersey Devil comes from is not a feel-good story; in fact, it’s the complete opposite of that.

Sometime in the early 1700s, Jane Leeds (also known as Mother Leeds) found out she was pregnant with her 13th child. Understandably, this new pregnancy made her upset, as she only needed 11 for a soccer team, and she already had one too many for that.

When she went into labor, she cursed the child out loud, claiming the devil would only come out of her. And, sometimes wishes do come true: the legend says the Jersey Devil was born out of her – and flew away that very night.

A curse from a gypsy

The second possible explanation feels like a spinoff from the first. In this story, a gypsy is the one cursing someone – because every devil story needs a curse.

During the 1800s, a gypsy was walking around New Jersey, near the Pine Barrens, begging for food. She approached a girl and asked her if she had something to spare – and the girl promptly refused to give him anything.

The gypsy, who was shy on food but full of magic, cursed the girl – and her unborn child as well.

Sometime later, when she gave birth to her first kid, this woman saw that the Jersey Devil was born, fulfilling’s the gypsy’s curse.

Ben Franklin’s wit

Benjamin Franklin had enemies. Many enemies. The British Crown, for example. And a random almanac publisher too. You see, old Ben never shied away from a good battle.

Daniel Leeds, the almanac publisher we just talked about, loved two things: astrology and being a Quaker. Unfortunately, his fellow Quakers didn’t like astrology – and denounced him as evil incarnate.

In response, Leeds called Quakers anti-monarchists in an effort to save face. His second effort to save face was to convert to Anglicanism (because he liked The British Crown so much).

After a while, Leeds’ almanacs started to compete with Ben Franklin’s almanacs. And what did Franklin do to outsell Leeds? Well, he didn’t try to make a better product; instead, he badmouthed him and laughed at his love for astrology.

The almanac war continued for so long that Leeds died, and his son, Titan, inherited the competition. This time, Ben Franklin claimed to use astrology to predict Titan Leeds’s death.

After that date passed, Franklin refused to talk about Titan as a living person and instead referred to him as a ghost. That little joke, combined with the fact that Leeds Sr. and Leeds Jr. loved occultism and astrology so much, made people refer to Titan as the “Leeds Devil.”

And that story, combined with the fact that the Leeds family crest is a wyvern, something that looks like a creature with the shape of a kangaroo, and the bats of a wing, and you can guess where this is going – can’t you?

Old Ben turned Titan Leeds into the Jersey Devil because of almanacs! Somehow, the made-belief Franklin stories became true – because many people have seen this creature after that happened.

The Jersey Devil Sightings

  • 1820: An elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte claimed to have seen and shot at the Jersey Devil when hunting in New Jersey.
  • 1840-1841: In these two years, many people claimed the Jersey Devil was flying around and killing livestock. Several witnesses also claimed to have heard shrilling screams as the attacks took place.
  • 1909: One of the most important moments in the Jersey Devil’s story. On January 16 of this year, a newspaper published hundreds of stories related to this creature. Most of these were recollections of an encounter. Even local police were involved.
  • 1925: A farmer shot and photographed an unidentified animal that looked like the Jersey Devil.
  • 1937: Residents of Downingtown reported to have seen the Jersey Devil flying around their town.
  • 1950s: Residents of Gibbstown claimed to have spotted the Jersey Devil in their town. A few years later, people from that same town claimed they saw the body of what appeared to be the Jersey Devil.
  • 1960s: Several people heard what could’ve been the Jersey Devil; local merchants put up a $10,000 bounty that was never collected.
  • 1970s and onwards: The final sightings of the Jersey Devil happened in movies and TV. Many artists found inspiration in this phenomenon – at the same time, fewer and fewer people claimed to have seen it in real life as years went by.

Possible explanations

Real deal satanic ordeal

Although there isn’t a lot of evidence to point out that the Jersey Devil is real, you have to consider people have spotted it throughout 300-or-so years.

Maybe, just maybe, the winged devil is real – and it’s out there hiding in the dark spots of Pine Barrens. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to believe a devilish creature roams the woods where few people dare to visit.

You also have to consider we’re not talking about Big Foot or any other cryptid – we’re talking about a demonic entity here, not the kind that abides by the rules of nature. It might come and go as it pleases.

And, sure, you might ask for scientific evidence before you make up your mind, but consider this: only boring people ask for evidence.

One too many robbers to handle

Pine Barrens wasn’t a lovely place back in the 1700s.

In fact, it was full of criminals and all sorts of people who didn’t care about the law. There were plenty of people who wanted to live a normal life as well – but they couldn’t defend themselves from the criminals.

So, what did they do? They tried to outsmart the criminals. They started stories of their own, about demons roaming around Pine Barrens, harming bodies and snatching souls.

These rumors, fueled by the fact that many unidentified animals were roaming around the area, became bigger and bigger until they transformed into the Jersey Devil.

If this is true, this devilish creature isn’t inherently bad – but a protector of the people of Pine Barrens. What a twist!

People like to talk

Believe it or not, the most plausible explanation lies in people talking. Rumors fly – and people start to see demons flying in the sky soon after.

Mass hysteria was rather common back in the day. It’s hard to think about it nowadays, as one video proves or disproves everything we believe in.

In the 1700s and 1800s, social media was word of mouth, and things could get wild without much proof.

And, more likely than not, the Jersey Devil was the product of people making wild accusations and believing them as well. Or a satanic curse; either one seems equally possible.

Want more? Listen to our Podcast episode all about The Jersey Devil below!

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