Haunted Tennessee Blog Series – The Bell Witch

Fall is here. The leaves are changing colors, the night air is growing colder and the harvest haunts begin. In our weekly series, we will be discussing different areas in Tennessee with a historic background and have some “supernatural presence” in the area. Let’s have some fun!

We will begin in Adams, Tennessee at the John Bell Farm.

The Bell Witch may be one of the most famous supernatural stories in American history. The story is based on a 19th century family from Adams, Tennessee. John Bell, Sr., a farmer lived in Adams, Tennessee in the early 1800s. The Bells purchased 328 acres of farm land along the Red River. He and his wife had three children after moving to Tennessee: Betsy (1806), Richard (1811) and Joel (1813). For 13 years, the Bell’s had a normal, peaceful life. The Bells attended Red River Baptist Church, where John became an elder and the family flourished.

The summer of 1817, thirteen years after the Bells moved to Adams, the family began to notice unusual events occurring in the area. Strange animals around the property, including a half-dog, half-rabbit creature, loud knocking sounds on the doors and walls and chains were the start of the unusual events. Later, choking and gulping noises became noticeable, as were stones being dropped throughout the house. The children began to complain about their bedding being pulled from them and their pillows tossed to the floor with no one else in the room. Soon, whispers could be heard throughout the house. Betsy would experience the spirit through physical attacks. The spirit would smack Betsy, pull her hard and throw her. Handprints and welts were visible on Betsy after these attacks. The Bell family lived in silence over a year.

Eventually, the Bell family decided to share the family secret and trouble, so they invited a neighboring family to stay the night. James Johnston and his wife stayed for several nights and witnessed the strange events taking place in the Bell home. Mr. Johnston suggested more people needed to be told. This caused a committee to be formed and an investigation was started to look into the unexplainable noises.

People began to visit from all over the area to see for themselves this force in the Bell home. Soon, the force gathered a voice. She called herself many names throughout the time, but primarily used the name, Kate Batts. Kate Batts was a neighbor to the Bells; she claimed that John Bell had swindled land from her during a land purchase. Stories say she swore on her deathbed that she would haunt John Bell and his descendants.

Betsy and John Bell Sr. began to experience more violent outbreaks from the Bell Witch. Betsy grew close to Joshua Gardner and played with him across the farm and in a cave on the property. When Betsy became engaged to Joshua Gardner, the Bell Witch announced she would stop the marriage from occurring. She continually would tell Betsy not to marry Joshua.

Legends also state that Andrew Jackson, future President of the United States, heard of the hauntings on the Bell property and decided to visit the area for himself. He took a wagon with provisions and planned to investigate the Bell Witch with his men. On the way to the house, his wagon stopped and the horses could not move the wagon. General Jackson then told the men to check the wheels and axles but they were in working order. Jackson, upset, threw up his hands and said, “By the eternal, boys, it is the witch.” After his outburst, the group heard another voice from the bushes that said, “All right, General. Let the wagon move on. I will see you again tonight.” The horses moved forward and the wagon was able to roll forward.

Some versions of the story indicate that General Jackson did encounter the Bell Witch that night. Some say Jackson was unable to keep his bedding on him, as the witch ripped it off. Some stories say his men were slapped and pinched. The next morning, however, the General was spotted in the nearby town of Springfield, heading to Nashville.

John Bell died December 20, 1820. The belief was that John Bell was poisoned by the Bell Witch. Kate, the Bell Witch, is claimed to have taken full credit of the death of John Bell. According to legend, she announced she killed him with a vital of poison the family found in the pantry.

When Betsy broke off the engagement in March of 1821, the Bell Witch seemed to disappear, but only briefly. She returned in April 1821 to tell Lucy, John Bell, Sr.’s widow, she would return in seven years. Legend states that the Bell Witch was typically friendly to Lucy Bell.

Seven years later, she returned and spent three weeks with John Bell, Jr. She discussed the past, present and future, even making some predictions that later came true. She would never release why she tormented John Bell. She said her next visit would be one hundred and seven years from that time. The closest living relative to the Bell family at that time was Dr. Charles Bailey Bell. There were no reports from Bell as to whether or not the spirit visited him.

The Bell Cabin was torn down in the mid-1800s, but a replica cabin sits on the property where the family was tormented by the Bell Witch. The property currently has tours of the replica cabin and tours of the cave. A festival is held on the property in October and is called Bell Witch Fest.

Numerous books and movies have been released, telling the Bell Witch tale. An American Haunting (2006), Bell Witch, the Movie (2007) and The Bell Witch Haunting (2013) are just a few movies depicting the tale.

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