Purported to be the thirteenth child of witchy Mother Leeds, the Jersey Devil emerged as a bouncing kangaroo-shaped, bat-winged baby in 1735 in the in the Leeds Point section of what is now Atlantic County in New Jersey. Before flying up the chimney, the critter killed the midwife. Then it flew circles around the town and finally disappeared into the forest.
That’s one version of the legend.
Sightings have been reported since then with a lull after a clergyman exorcised the beast in 1740. Reports of misshapen flying beasts come from a variety of people including Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) who claimed to see the beastie around 1820.
Witnesses describe the thing as covered in fur, having two legs, bat wings, and a dog-shaped head. It emits ear-splitting shrieks as it flys . Dragon-like is another way it is described.
Nineteen hundred and nine was a busy year for the creature when reports rolled in from Pennsylvania, Delaware, as well as New Jersey. It attacked a trolley car, a social club, and various farmers. Police fired shots at a strange flying beast with no effect. All the sightings at this time actually prompted school closings (Where was the Jersey Devil mumblety—five years ago when I could have used a day off?)
Now this all sounds like a nice Colonial ghost story, possibly brought on by ergot poisoning, ale flagons made of lead, inbreeding, or any of a thousand other bad choices made by colonials in the 18th century. A certain number of sightings in later years turned out to be hoaxes.
BUT. . . .
The Native American name for the area is Popuessing which means place of the dragon. Swedish explorers called the place Drake Kill—with drake being a word for dragon and kill referring to a channel or river.
Sporadic sightings continue with over 2000 reported encounters with the Jersey Devil.