[TN] Ghosts of Tennessee

Tennessee has many ghosts and hauntings, but it may be best known for the Bell Witch.

The “Bell Witch” is actually a ghost.  That ghost even frightened off President Andrew Jackson. Fleeing, after the ghost threw furniture at him, Jackson said, “I wish no more dealings with that torment.”

The original Bell Witch may have been one or several spirits. Today, at least one of them lingers and terrifies people who visit the Bell Witch Cave. It was originally on the property of John Bell’s farm.

My reports about the Bell Witch:

Bell Witch – a true ghost story

Bell Witch – the murders

Bell Witch – an American haunting  – What happened to the family

Bell Witch – references and resources – Useful links and recommended reading

Bell Witch Sign - story

[TN] Bell Witch – references and resources

These are just a few of many websites and articles related to the Bell Witch hauntings.

Most of these links have been online since 1998, and offer authentic information about this genuine haunting.

Unfortunately, as of 2016, some of these links no longer work. (They’re noted with an asterisk before the link.)

I’m leaving them in place, in case they return. Otherwise, you may be able to find archived copies at the Wayback Machine.

Bell Witch Sign - story

Bell Witch websites

  • The Bell Witch, a website by Pat Fitzhugh, author of The Bell Witch Haunting.
  • If you’re serious about the Bell Witch, start with the original book: The Bell Witch Red Book, transcribed from the story publishedin 1893 or 1894.
  • Bell Witch Central, a Yahoo! Club associated with Pat Fitzhugh’s book and website.
  • “Official” Bell Witch Fansite, created by a Bell Witch enthusiast. Lots of information.

Bell Witch resources (in addition to the ones at this website)

(If any of those links don’t work, it’s worth searching at the Wayback Machine for cached copies.)

Additional reading – Recommended books

[TN] Bell Witch – An American Haunting

An American HauntingThe Bell Witch story was as sensational in the 19th century as it is today.

However, many people wonder what happened to the remaining Bell Family and others related to the story, after the “Witch” left their home.

The Bell family

After 1821, the John Bell family generally lived normal lives, had many children, and died of old age.

Among the most famous children from the Bell Witch story:

Drewry Bell, who’d shot at the Witch at the start of the story, was never quite normal after these events. He became reclusive, and never married.

John Bell Jr., who’d received help from the Witch, became a prosperous farmer and businessman as the heir apparent to the Bell plantation.

Betsy Bell, who was so tormented by the Witch and broke her engagement to Joshua, has been the subject of much speculation.

Nandor Fodor, a psychoanalyst and parapsychologist, interpreted the Bell Witch as a poltergeist, acting on behalf of Betsy Bell. He speculated that Betsy had been sexually abused by John Bell, and the events were manifestations of an active alter personality of Betsy’s.

This kind of abuse could be part of the unspoken prejudice of the community, in excommunicating John Bell from the church. However, this does not explain the tales of mind-reading in the community.

Richard Powell was Betsy’s schoolteacher. She eventually married him. But, there are some odd “coincidences” about Powell, and he may have been responsible for some of the Bell Witch phenomena.

Here’s one version of the story:

Powell’s father built many of the homes in the Adams area, including the Bell family home. In them, Powell built hidden corridors with separate entries, through which the younger Powell traveled to gain secret knowledge of the Bell family and their neighbors.

With this information, Powell–who knew both hypnosis and ventriloquism–threw his voice to sound like the Witch. He also used his access to the Bell home to torment the family, intercede in Betsy’s romance (since he wanted her for himself), and eventually poison John Bell as retribution for the father’s abuse of Betsy.

Powell’s wife also died in 1821, shortly after the death of John Bell, who was opposed to Mr. Powell’s interests in Betsy. This left Powell free to court his student.

The most significant flaw in this story, is how the elder Powell could have had the time, money, and secrecy necessary, to add these extra corridors to the houses.

Richard Powell and Betsy married in 1824, and they eventually had eight children. Despite her unhappy and short first engagement, Betsy claimed that her marriage to Powell had been happy. Events would suggest otherwise, but Betsy was loyal to her husband even after he lost his money and became a long-term invalid.

Betsy died at her daughter’s home in Hatton, Mississippi, where she had lived for many years after becoming a widow.

The Bell Witch today

By some accounts, both the Bell Witch and her victim, John Bell, haunt the Bell Witch Cave in Adams, Tennessee. The cave is the site of unexplained events.

The most recent published account of the Bell Witch was in 1973, when a group of soldiers thought it would be fun to visit the cave. Here is the story:

One particularly loud member of the group stood in the cave and announced that he didn’t believe in the Witch. He was thrown to the ground by an invisible force, and could not lift himself to his feet. His companions thought it was all pretense, and laughed heartily. Then they got tired of the joke and left him there.

After a couple of hours, the men had second thoughts about what they’d witnessed. They returned to the cave to help their fallen companion. However, no matter how they struggled, they could not lift him.

Eventually, the Witch became tired of the prank and the man was able to stand up.

The men ran from the cave, and never returned to the area again. There are some lingering rumors that one of the soldiers–probably the skeptic–died shortly after this encounter.

To visit the Bell Witch, and the scene of the movie, An American Haunting

The Bell Witch Cave is opened to the public from May through November, with tours given by the owners of the cave. Take Highway 41 and, in Adams, turn onto Bell Chapel Road. Then follow the signs.

Call ahead for more information, as days and hours of the tours can vary: (615) 696-3055. At last report, the tours were about $5 each.

[TN] Bell Witch – The Murders

 

Continued from
The true story of the Bell Witch

abandoned houseThe Bell Witch was real. By the end of 1817, it had been witnessed by most of the Bell family and at least one outsider.

The Bell Witch became a sensation. Neighbors–and even strangers–travelled great distances to visit the Bells, hoping to see evidence of their ghost… or demon.

Even Andrew Jackson–soldier and future President–tried the spend the night at the Bell home, and fled in terror.

This was one of the worst things that could happen to a church-going family in the early 19th century. Now, the Bell family was known far and wide for their possible associations with the Devil.

A court case, and excommunication

In the midst of this unwanted attention, John Bell was accused of usury. Kate Batts and her invalid husband, Benjamin, said that Mr. Bell overcharged when he sold slaves to them.

The church acquitted Mr. Bell, but the local magistrate found him guilty in criminal court.  This was what the community needed. Immediately, the church reversed their earlier decision.

They excommunicated John Bell.

The Bell Witch evil spreads

The Bell Witch, who now called herself “Kate,” began bothering the Bells’ neighbors. Her voice was heard within their walls, at church, and even in the streets.

The Witch revealed the private thoughts of anyone and everyone, and usually at the most embarrassing moments.

Some speculated that the Witch was actually “Kate Batts’ witch,” sent to get even with John Bell for his now-infamous business mistake.  But, that’s not the only reason why Kate Batt wanted revenge on the Bell family.

Kate Batts jilted by John Bell

Many years earlier, Kate Batts and John Bell had “kept company.”

In fact, Kate considered herself engaged to John Bell. She purchased her trousseau, and boasted that she was marrying the heir to one of the South’s wealthiest families.

No one knows if there was really an agreement between John Bell and Kate Batts. However, he abruptly married Lucy Williams instead of Kate.  Miss Batts never recovered from the embarrassment.

More than one Bell Witch?

At least four other spirits acted on behalf of “Kate.” Their names included “Blackdog” and “Jerusalem.”

Some of these spirits seemed very Christian. They quoted Scriptures and sang hymns. One even helped John Bell’s wife, Lucy, with her household chores.

“Kate” remained the most active among the spirits… and the most vocal.

The Bell Witch regularly interfered with the Bell family’s lives.  For example, when Betsy Bell became engaged to Joshua Gardner, the Bell Witch objected loudly and often. After repeated attacks by the Witch, Betsy broke off the engagement.

The Bell Witch kills John Bell

Soon after Betsy ended her engagement to Mr. Gardner, John Bell had a relapse. His tongue and jaw problems returned. His doctor prescribed medicine, but it only helped for awhile. The Bell Witch proclaimed that she was killing Mr. Bell. On December 20, 1820, she succeeded.

At John Bell’s burial, the Bell Witch was heard cackling at her evil deeds. As John Bell’s family and neighbors stood in the cemetery watching as his body was lowered into the ground, they were surrounded by eerie winds and laughter by the Bell Witch.

After the funeral, the Bell Witch remained in the area for a few weeks. Then she left, and promised to return in seven years.

Did she make the Bell family rich?

She appeared as she’d promised. She spoke to John Bell, Jr. with his friend, Frank Miles. The Witch told the men about the upcoming Civil War, and about World Wars I and II. She predicted many things which later came true.

Did the Bell Witch help these men to succeed financially? Many people believe so. John Bell r. seemed to have an uncanny business sense after this, and became wealthy almost overnight.

According to some stories, John Bell Jr. left a document in his safe. It was to be opened after he died. If it was ever found, the family did not say what the paper revealed.

According to both Bell and Miles, the Witch left and promised to return again in 107 years (1935).

In 1886, the following story was published in The Goodspeed History of Tennessee.

A remarkable occurrence, which attracted widespread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804.

So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the “Bell Witch.”

This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals.

The freaks it performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfiture of its victims.

At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary.

A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted. It is merely introduced as an example of superstition, strong in the minds of all but a few in those times, and yet not wholly extinct.

The return of the Witch

According to legend–and as she predicted–the Witch returned to “her” cave around 1935. This cave was on the original Bell plantation. It’s the same cave where the Bell children had played, and sometimes encountered her in the early 19th century.

In 1935, she appeared to several soldiers who were camping in the cave for the night.
According to one story, the skeptic in the group eventually died from the injuries caused by the Bell Witch. Those who survived her attack were never the same afterwards.

Next, read the rest of the story, Bell Witch – An American Haunting to find out what happened to the Bell family.

[TN] Bell Witch – A True Ghost Story

Skull in barn windowThe Bell Witch was first seen in 1817. After tormenting an entire town and killing John Bell, she vanished for years.

Today, she haunts a cave near the Bell family farm. She is one of America’s most frightening ghosts.

President Andrew Jackson, who spent a sleepless night at the haunted Bell home, said, “I’d rather fight the entire British Army than to deal with the Bell Witch.”

The Bell Witch is one of the most colorful ghosts in history. Late in 1820, three years after the Bell Witch first appeared to John Bell, she murdered him.

Then she disappeared… for awhile.

In 1935, after over a hundred years’ silence, she returned to “her” cave on the Bell property, as promised. People say she’s still there. Their frightening photos and videos prove it.

The Bell Witch – How it all began

The mystery of the Bell Witch began before America was colonized. The land around the Bell Witch cave was sacred.

The Mississippians were the last Native nation to live in that area. They buried their dead in stone boxes. They placed the boxes in caves such as the one where the Bell Witch is reported today.

The Bell Witch might protect sacred Native American graves. But, those stone boxes aren’t her only eerie connection to Native lore.
pheasant and skullShe appeared to Drewry Bell and his father, John, when they were out hunting one day in 1817. At first, they thought that it was a huge turkey, and they shot at it. It started to fly away, and then it seemed to vanish into thin air.

Later, John and Drewry told friends and family that it had looked “like a human.” But, it didn’t have a face like a human. In fact, it was terrifying.

(This echoes the tales of Pennsylvania’s frightening “Snallygaster” and may relate to Native American “Thunderbird” legends.)

Soon after the hunting incident, the Bells and their neighbors saw many other strange creatures at the Bell’s farm by the Red River in Tennessee.

One had head of a rabbit but the body of a dog. At least one person tried to shoot it, but–like the “turkey” they’d shot at earlier–it vanished.

Another time, in the orchard near their house, Drewry and his younger sister Betsy saw an old woman walking slowly. Since the town was small, they were puzzled by this unfamiliar visitor.

When Betsy started to speak to the old woman, she disappeared.  Then, the situation became worse at the Bell homestead.

The “Witch” attacks the Bell family

Each night, the family heard scratching and chewing noises outside their home, as if a large animal was trying to get inside. Next, the family heard odd whispering. Finally the Bell Witch began making sounds inside the home, like loud swallowing.

She pulled the covers off beds when the children were sleeping. She physically tormented Betsy Bell, leaving ugly, red, stinging handprints where she’d slapped the child.

Around this same time, John Bell began having difficulty swallowing. Something seemed to be wrong with his jaw and his tongue.  He recovered from these symptoms, but he became sicker and sicker with new and different symptoms. The Bell Witch seemed to be wearing him down.

Religion fuels the controversy

To make sense of what happened next, it is important to understand early 19th century society.

After the American Revolution, people wanted to live quiet, normal lives again. They preferred to blend in with their neighbors. If someone was called “exceptional,” that meant different, and that was frowned upon.

John Bell was an Elder at the Red River Baptist Church, to which his family and neighbors belonged.

However, in 1817, religion was changing dramatically. Traveling revivals became popular, driven by a new movement called Evangelicanism. It had spread like wildfire from its American roots in Mississippi.

New churches, such as the Baptists and Methodists, challenged established faiths to prove their worthiness in the eyes of the Lord.  Many churches–and religions–began to compete with each other for members.

At John Bell’s church, some members–including the minister’s son–were asking questions about God’s grace, predestination, and whether Salvation was ever assured.

Many older church members felt that these questions were the work of Satan. They began watching their neighbors suspiciously.

The Bell Witch’s attacks grew worse

At about the same time the church was trying to squelch controversy, the Bell Witch increased her attacks on John Bell and his family in their home.

Not wanting to attract attention, Mr. Bell quietly asked his closest friend, John Johnston, to spend the night at the Bell home. Mr. Bell hoped his friend would have an answer to the Bell Witch problem.

Instead of helping, Mr. Johnston’s presence made things worse. For the first time, the Bell Witch spoke, mimicking the voice of Mr. Johnston.

Soon, people were talking about the Bell family and the odd events at their home.

In the next article – The Bell Witch reveals the neighbors’ darkest secrets, and murders John Bell and perhaps others: Bell Witch – the murders

References

Religion in Mississippi, by Randy J. Sparks, 2003. (No longer online, as of early 2016.)