Many areas of the country have their own myths and legends. In New Jersey, the Jersey Devil is theirs. While it seems like it might be something pretty scary, it’s become something of a pop-culture icon. The local hockey team is even named for this cryptic creature.
Also known as the Leeds Devil, it dates back all the way to the time of the Native Americans. The Indian name for the area was Place of the Dragon, and Swedish explorers later named it Drake Kill. However, a 1735 story is what most people in New Jersey believed to be the origins of this beast. Mother Leeds, a witch whose husband was supposedly the devil, had 12 children. She claimed that if she had another it would be a devil. That 13th child was born a normal baby, but quickly changed form. It grew cloven feet and wings, killed the midwife, then flew up through the chimney. Five years later a priest exercised the demon, and so the creature was not seen for another hundred years.
History shows that Mother Leeds may be Deborah Leeds. Her husband listed 12 children in his will. That meshes with the story that the 13th child was the devil. But many people believe that the story is just made up by some of the settlers. The Pine Barrens, where the creature disappeared, was a desolate place where many people sought refuge when they didn’t want to be found. Some of these people formed groups, and were called the pineys. Many of these became bandits known as pine robbers. It was natural to imagine beasts and demons arising from this area. Especially since the reputation of the bandits was less than wholesome.
There’s a humorous story about the Jersey Devil. An outdoors man by the name of Tom Brown Jr. spent many seasons living in the wilderness. More than once people he met would become terrified thinking he was the Jersey Devil. This often happened after Tom covered his body with mud to keep off the mosquitoes. Seems like the mud worked better to repel people than bugs.
Some people believe there’s a more scientific explanation to the Jersey Devil. Cryptozoologists believe that it possibly is a creature with wings and cloven hooves. Others hold that it is the sand hill crane, a native bird with a 7 foot wingspan.
Whatever it is the Jersey Devil remains an integral part of the New Jersey mythology. Google next time you’re in Jersey, ask someone to show you this amazing creature. They probably won’t. But it might be fun while looking for it.