What Are the Origins of the Jersey Devil?


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Beliefs about the origin of the Jersey Devil include an invocation of Satan during childbirth and a woman who fell in love with a British soldier. Both beliefs are based upon stories from the 1700s.

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The mother who invoked Satan was known as Deborah Smith Leeds. On a stormy night in 1735 during a painful birth, Leeds reportedly stated that if she had her 13th child, "may it be the devil." Some accounts have the satanic invocation spoken by a clergyman after she refused to convert from the Quaker faith. Accounts also differ as to if the child was born deformed or if it developed deformities during its life.

Another story involves British soldiers who came to southern New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. A woman became love-struck by a British soldier. During the Battle of Chestnut Neck in 1778, residents called her relations with him an act of treason. The residents cursed the woman, and when she gave birth to her first child, the baby was called the Leeds Devil.

The origin stories of the Jersey Devil all occur in the Pine Barrens region of southeastern New Jersey. There have been numerous alleged sightings, and a $10,000 reward for its capture, issued by Camden merchants, remains unclaimed.

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