The following versions have been culled from various sources (see bibliography under books and links). I’m not attempting to delineate fact from fiction here, just an archival list of all the versions I’ve heard and read over the years. If you have a version that is not listed here, email it or send it to me. Don’t make it up, because that’s not the purpose of the listing. (Although I’m quite sure they were all made up.) I want the listing to be based on the legends that have been passed down verbally over the years.
Probably the most well-known version, outlined in The Jersey Devil, goes something like this:
In 1735, a woman named Leeds, who had already had 12 children, gave birth to a 13th. During labor she proclaimed, “May the Devil take this one!”. The baby, upon being born, turned into a monster with the head of a collie, the wings of a bat and cloven feet. It promptly flew out the window and has been haunting the Pine Barrens ever since, mutilating animals, scaring the locals and bringing bad luck.
The monster flew out the window, but would return every day to his mother’s doorstep. She kept shooing it away and eventually the Devil never returned.
The monster was the 7th son of a 7th son, born on the 7th day, at the 7th hour at the--- You get the idea. This numerical coincidence created the devil.
The devil was actually born in Estellville, NJ in Gloucester county, but flew to the swamps of Leeds Point.Version 1.9.1
The devil was born in Pleasantville, NJ in the 500 block of South Main Street.
Mrs. Leeds had a baby that was so deformed, it tore her open when it was born. The deformed baby was kept out of sight by the family, because it was so hideous. The birth was the result of Mrs. Leeds promiscuous lifestyle and the townspeople all shunned her.
The locals hated Leeds because she was kind of a slut. They branded her a witch and shunned her, which is why they concluded the birth of her deformed son was connected to Satan and witchcraft.
This is one of the more embellished versions of the story. I copped it from The Folklore and Folklife of New Jersey, but he is quoting one of the earliest versions of the story in print, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1859.
“There lived, in the year 1735, in the Township of Burlington, a woman. Her name was Leeds, and she was shrewdly suspected of a little amateur witchcraft. Be that as it may, it is well established, that, one stormy gusty night, when the wind was howling in turret and tree, Mother Leeds gave birth to a son, whose father could have been no other than the Prince of Darkness. No sooner did he see the light than he assumed the form of a fiend, with horse’s head, wings of a bat, and a serpent’s tail. The first thought of the newborn Caliban (the deformed slave from Shakespeare’s Tempest) was to fall foul of his mother, whom he scratched and bepommelled soundly, and then flew through the window out into the village, where he played the mischief generally. Little children he devoured, maidens he abused, young men he mauled and battered; and it was many days before a holy man succeeded in repeating the enchantment of Prospero (again, from Tempest). At length, however, Leed’s devil was laid--- but only for 100 years.”
The Devil ran amok until 1740, when a brave clergyman used bell, book and candle to exercise the Devil for 100 years.
This is the great Jersey Devil hoax of 1909. Jacob F. Hope and Norman Jeffries took advantage of public hysteria about the Jersey Devil. They offered a $500 reward for the capture of the monster, claiming it was a rare Australian vampire. After “capturing” the Jersey Devil, they dressed up a kangaroo in green paint, feathers and antlers and put it on display in Philadelphia for any sucker that would pay. For more details about the hoax, read The Jersey Devil, by James McCloy and Ray Miller, Jr.
The entire tale was “transported” to the U.S. either by Hessian or Slavic immigrants who eventually settled in the area. Since the Pine Barrens is notoriously hard to farm, the locals blamed all their trouble on an imaginary, Satanic monster.
The X-Files episode, which, to my knowledge, was complete fiction except for the use of the Jersey Devil name, implied there was no real monster. Primitive humans supposedly roam the Pine Barrens, hiding from the eyes of civilized man, while foraging for food. They were mistaken for the Jersey Devil.
Leeds was married to a British soldier during the Revolutionary War and the town cursed her, which is why her baby was a devil.
The father of the devil was the local minister, who was mistreated by the town. The baby was born as a devil to punish the townspeople.
In October of 1830, a man named John Vliet of Vienna, NJ, used some sort of mask to entertain his children on Halloween. The event became an annual ritual, which blossomed into the Jersey Devil story.
Around 1850, a woman refused food to a traveling gypsy, so the gypsy cursed her and she gave birth to the Jersey Devil.
The Jersey Devil was born along the Mullica River to a Jane Leeds Johnson and Jake Johnson in a house on Cale Cavileer’s Lane.
The New Adventures of Johnny Quest Episode: Well, I was a big fan of the old Johnny Quest toon, but this one has lost something in the translation. The characters have been put through the PC ringer. In this episode, Dr. Quest, Johnny, Haji and Bandit (Race Bannon is suspiciously absent.) investigate the Jersey Devil legend. The beginning of the episode, which I missed, apparently retold the birth of the devil fairly okay in flashback. However, when the Quests get to the Pines it's snowing big time and everywhere you look there are mountains! Ha, hahahahahaha! Mountains in South Jersey, give me a break. Anyway, the whole Jersey Devil legend quickly takes a backseat as the Quests get caught up in a 200 year-old feud between the descendants of the Red Coats and Minute Men, if you can believe that. In the episode, the devil is a real creature, about 5 feet tall, green with wings. The group gets caught up trying to recover the "real" Declaration of Independence and in the end, the Devil helps them recover it.