Bell Witch

You'd have a difficult time finding a Middle Tennessee native who hasn't heard of the Bell Witch. This spirit hounded the Bell family, eventually running off Betsy Bell's fiance and killing the patriarch of the family!

John Bell was an affluent settler in rural Robertson County, TN. He owned a farm and had several children and slaves. In 1817 the Bell Witch made her first appearance. Many people linked the Bell Witch to a local eccentric named Kate Batts, whom many in Adams believed to be a witch. She was very strange in her manner. John Bell had some business dealings with her in which he sold her a slave. She then accused him of overcharging her interest and he was tried for this offense. Shortly thereafter, he was excommunicated from the Red River Baptist Church, and she claimed to have placed a curse on him.

Shortly thereafter, the haunting began. It began when John Bell saw a bizarre animal in his garden. He fired a shot at it, but it disappeared. The Bell children were also seeing strange animals in the woods near their home. The Bell household began to experience loud noises such as the rattling of windows, and the house shook. At first they believed they were earthquakes, but when no one else reported these strange occurrences, this theory was put to rest.

John Bell was a private man, and so he decided to keep these occurrences a secret. He was also ostracized by some in the community stemming from his expulsion from church. Many people might think that God was "gunning for him," and thus make his situation in the community worse. However, about one year after the noises began, John Bell became ill. At this point he was forced to tell his friend James Johnson about the problem. Johnson and his wife agreed to stay at the Bell house for a night, and they too reported the same things the Bells had experienced.

It was only a matter of time before word got around Adams about the situation on the Bell farm. People came from miles around to investigate and almost all reported mysterious circumstances. Even future President Andrew Jackson came to investigate. He was later quoted as saying "I would rather fight the entire English Army then to have to face the Bell Witch again." It wasn't long before the witch began to talk. Once she started, she never stopped. She would state how much she hated John Bell, and even threatened to kill him. She was also mean to John's daughter Betsy, who was seeing a local man named Joshua Gardner. She tormented Betsy, but also did nice things for her at times too, such as bring fruit from the Caribbean, which had never been seen before in rural Adams. It was as if she actual cared from Betsy, but abused her only to prevent her from marrying Joshua for Betsy's own protection. She never said why she did not want them to marry, but she said she had good reason.

Betsy Bell was finally forced to break off her engagement to Joshua. She did this on the banks of the Red River, a haunt of the Witch. The Witch was overjoyed by this news. Betsy would eventually marry her former teacher Richard Powell, who had fallen in love with her when she was his student and wanted to marry her when she got old enough. He was about ten years her senior and many say he was a student of the occult.

In 1820 the Bell Witch made good on her threats to kill John Bell. On December 20, John Bell became sick after ingesting a strange liquid. When some of the liquid was given to a cat, the cat died almost immediately. The witch bragged about her deed, saying that she was glad to have done it, and sang loud, obscene songs at John's funeral.

Despite the cruelty the witch bestowed on John Bell, she was actually nice to his wife. She had a deep admiration of her, and treated her well. She also respected John Bell, Jr., who told her in no uncertain terms how he felt about her. This earned him her respect, and she did not torment him.

The Witch left the home in 1821, saying she would return again in seven years. True to her word, she did, but this time she did little to torment anyone. She only stayed a short amount of time before leaving again, stating she would return again in 107 years (1935). Did she return? No one knows. Some people believe she never left Adams at all, and is still there today. Indeed, there are many strange things that occur in the town even today.

Everyone who visited the Bell farm agreed that something "wasn't right" about it. Given the testimony of such reliable witnesses, such as doctors, preachers and even Andrew Jackson, evidence does seem to indicate something was wrong in Adams. What was it? Your guess is as good as mine!

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©2002-2005 John Norris Brown. Part of John Norris