Devil in the Woods: Creature of the Pine Barrens

By Daniel Black

You are out in the Pine Barrens for a nice camping trip. After a fun filled day of activities, you return to your tent. After the sun goes down and the forest becomes quite dark, you begin to hear noises of almost innocent birds or mammals. They sound strange to you, but you shake them off and pretend they are nothing. As you prepare to sleep and lay your head down, you hear a spine-chilling wail almost like a coyote. It sounds close. Against you’re better judgment, you look out of your tent and see the source of the noise. Looking down at you with its cold eyes and menacing jaws, it watches you and unfolds its large bat-like wings. It, then, hisses at you, then turns and flies off into the night. You may not realize it, but these accounts happen quite regularly. What you just read is a typical sighting of the New Jersey Devil.

 The Origin of the Devil

 Although the above sighting of the Jersey Devil is just an general example, there are many other sightings that are very real and quite frightening. But what exactly is the New Jersey Devil and why is it called a devil? With cryptozoology, there are many theories for a variety of cryptids and the NJ Devil is no different.

One of the most popular legends of the Jersey Devil is the Leed’s story. It is the oldest known detailed account of the Jersey Devil. In 1735, Mrs. Leeds of Smithville was busy raising her twelve children. She became pregnant with her thirteenth child. At one point she then cursed the unborn child saying, “Let this child be a devil!” Months later when she was giving birth, the curse she said before had vanished from her mind when a beautiful baby boy was born. According to the myth, her curse become reality and the child became a bat-like, winged animal, known as NJ Devil.

 We will revisit the Leed’s Devil story later and apply some sense to what seems like a fairy tale. But regardless of the Leed’s story, sightings of this creature have continued afterwards and still do to this day. Sightings that each have their own unique story and have left the victims with a new definition of fear. But what exactly is the NJ Devil?

 Theories of the NJ Devil

Because the NJ Devil is a very popular being in the paranormal realm and cryptozoology, there are many theories. We picked the top 3 theories, the other theories fall into one or more of these three theories.

Crane Theory- A quite popular theory, the Sandhill crane was a very common bird in the Pine Barrens. It stands roughly 4 feet tall and with a wingspan of 6 to 7ft, this is a big bird. What is very interesting about the Sandhill crane is that it makes a loud screeching sound. Due to land development, the bird is a rare sight to see and it’s more common in the southern states like Georgia and Florida. Some problems with this theory are that the Sandhill crane is herbivorous and there have been many sightings involve the NJ Devil stealing and killing livestock. It also is known to harass people and animals. These are traits of a carnivorous animal. The NJ Devil is also said to be taller than the average Sandhill crane.

Pterosaur Theory- Apart from the Jersey Devil having many of the same characteristics as other possible living pterosaurs around the world, this theory would seem the most plausible and the sightings point to a pterosaur like creature. For some people, the idea of  a pterosaur living in the forests of New Jersey may seem very farfetched. But the Pine Barrens covers a very large, mostly uninhabited region. Most of South Jersey is covered in thick trees; an excellent hiding place for a small group of winged cryptids. The Jersey Devil may be a pterosaur for several different reasons:

  1.  Pterosaurs have bat-like wings and some have a diamond-shaped flange at the end of a long, skinny tail. The Jersey Devil is said to have a diamond-shaped flange on its long, skinny tail and huge bat-like wings.
  2. Recent video evidence about another possible pterosaur called the Ropen from New Guinea shows it giving off light or being bioluminescent. Whether or not pterosaurs did this remains unknown, but the natives of Papua New Guinea say the Ropen is a pterosaur. Some people have reported that the Jersey Devil glows or has a bioluminescence. Again, this is inconclusive, but seems to be a reasonable possibility.
  3. Pterosaurs are carnivorous, or at least to our knowledge. The NJ Devil has been known to carry off livestock and kill chickens and sheep. But, so far, no records show the Jersey Devil actually eating its kill.

Supernatural Theory- This theory is probably the most popular theory concerning the NJ Devil, but there is no science to back it up. Some people say that the NJ Devil is a supernatural being because it’s been around for roughly 300 years. This does not necessarily point to a supernatural being, but perhaps a colony of creatures that reproduce and continue to remain hidden. Proponents claim the NJ Devil is a supernatural being because it exhibits supernatural behavior; like being enveloped in a cloud of mist or mist always appearing when the creature comes around. The Jersey Devil is also said to escape every mean of capture and remain to avoid being caught on camera; thus proving that it is a supernatural being. There are a few things to consider about both of these points. First, the concept of eluding captured does not prove that the creature is supernatural. For example, many other well known cryptids have all avoided capture, yet they are not considered to be supernatural beings. For example, it was not until 1975 that the Megamouth Shark was discovered and cataloged. It was not until we captured it, that we knew that a 30 foot filter-feeding shark was lurking just below the surface. In this case, it is reversed, we know about the NJ Devil from sightings and personal accounts. It will only be a matter of time before we discover the true identity of this creature. It would seem that the Supernatural Theory is inconclusive and it would seem highly unlikely that the NJ Devil is a supernatural entity.

 Sightings of the Devil

In dealing with this subject, it would not be complete without including a statement from a witness. Below we have included an account of the creature given by a telegraph lineman in 1909. His report was this:

 “In an isolated spot in the Jersey Pines, about five miles from Pleasantville, at a place known as Beaver Pond, one of the linemen, Howard Campbell, was detailed on a piece of work a little distance from the rest of the men on duty. After walking a little way into the woods, his attention was attracted by something coming down the path toward him. He became so frightened by the unusual appearance of the thing that he straightway made for the nearest telegraph pole. Letting out several yells for help and losing his wits entirely by the time he reached the top of the pole, Campbell threw himself out on the mass of wires between the two poles and was lying there helpless by the time the rest of the gang, including myself, had arrived. Seeing the ‘Terror’ on the pole, I raised my gun and fired. One shot broke a wing and it fell to the ground, uttering hideous screams; but before anyone could collect his wits the thing was up and off with long strides and a sort of hop, dragging one wing, and then disappearing into the pine thicket. We got ropes and other tackle and helped Campbell down from his precarious position. As nearly as I can describe the terror, it had the head of a horse, the wings of a bat and a tail like a rat’s, only longer.”

 We should note that these people are gain nothing by telling their tales. Lastly, we should like to revisit  the first tale of the NJ Devil.

 The Leeds Devil Tale-Revisited

 As we know, the Leeds story is the supposed birth of the creature, is there any truth to this story? Do we have any proof that this even occurred?

 As the tale goes, Mother Leeds lived in a small house with her husband and her twelve other children. Investigators have confirmed that there was a Leeds family that lived in Leeds Pont at the time. Also, a local named Carrie Brown has pointed out that the actual name of the family is Shrouds, whether or not that is true remains a mystery. But a Shrouds family also lived in that location as well. And what is also very interesting is that the Shrouds house and the Leeds house are a river apart from one another. In other words, these two families probably knew each other. And when dealing with origins of monsters and cryptids, especially ones that have been around for roughly 300 years, exact locations and eye witnesses can become foggy, along with overall details.

 The Leeds account is so old and there’s no written account of it anywhere, so the story could have been manipulated and changed to better suit an audience.

 As I have stated before, this organization endorses the pterosaur theory because of the many similarities between the creature and pterosaurs themselves. So let’s look at the typical pterosaur. If the NJ Devil is a pterosaur, then this pterosaur has to be roughly between 5 and 7 feet when standing on the ground, though we need to allow for a margin of error. To be true to the account, the wingspan would need to be roughly 5 to 10 feet and the skin color would be dark brown or black. The resulting wingspread is not much bigger than a Turkey Vulture or a deer in height. Most  pterosaurs known to science are relatively small, not attaining a wingspan of no more than 4 feet.

 Closing Remarks

 For what we have found, there is something unusual in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Whether it is a missidentification of the Sandhill Crane, a remnant from a group of pterosaurs, a figment of an overactive imagination, or combination of the above – the question remains.  Could there be a small colony of these pterosaur-like creatures living in the depths of the Pine Barrens? So far the only photograph purported to be of the creature does not give enough  detail. The NJ Devil is arguably America’s oldest cryptid and it’s only a matter of time before we learn more of it’s true identity. So what is in the Pine Barrens? That is for you to decide. Just be watching the skies and have your camera ready!

2 Responses to Devil in the Woods: Creature of the Pine Barrens

  1. Jeff Albertson says:

    The Jersey Devil has been show to be a hoax by Ivan T. Sanderson.

  2. Jake Nalim says:

    The Jersey Devil sounds like a fascinating creature, and I would like to hear more about it.

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