The Bell Witch of Tennessee

In Robertson County Tennessee, near the Kentucky state line the most extraordinary haunting occurs.  The Bell Witch, an entity that first made its appearance in 1817 to John Bell and his family, is still present today although no Bells occupy the area and the farm house where the haunting focused is no longer present.  It was burned to the ground by neighbors who witnessed attacks against the Bell family and who feared for their own safety.

The true identity of this spirit is unknown but it is felt that The Bell Witch is none other than the moody Kate Batts of Halifax, North Carolina.  She was engaged to John Bell until her untimely death sometime in the 1770's.  Her lifeless body was found near a well close to her home.  The circumstances surrounding her death are mysterious and remain unsolved.

John Bell, her future husband, wasted no time mourning the loss of his intended.  He married Lucy shortly after Kate's funeral.  The newly married couple made Tennessee their home.  In 1817 John noticed a doglike creature in his cornfield. Not wishing to have his crops trampled or destroyed, he got his gun and fired upon the animal.  The creature disappeared immediately into thin air.  This was the beginning of the end for John Bell and his family. Almost immediately they were plagued with sounds of someone wishing to enter their home - scratching, knocking and banging on the front door.  Someone or something wanted in.

Soon enough, the presence found a way into the home and began to torment all that crossed the threshold.  The presence introduced itself as The Bell Witch and while it focused most of its violence on John, the nine Bell children were also frequently attacked.  The children were attacked as they tried to sleep by an unseen presence pulling their hair, slapping them, and whispering in their ears.  As they would walk to school in the daylight they would be showered with rocks and sticks falling from thin air. The presence especially enjoyed tormenting the twelve-year-old Betsy Bell.  Betsy would hear a disembodied voice that would grow closer each day, she would fly into convulsions, and found herself falling into a dead faint as the haunting grew more intense.

No one was safe from the evil spirit.  Anyone crossing the threshold of the Bell home was fair game.  Minister Johnson was asked by John Bell to bless his home and perform an exorcism.  This did nothing but anger the spirit who then retaliated against the Minister by her usual use of violence.

A family friend, William Porter, came to visit the Bells.  The Bell Witch announced to William that she would keep him warm as he slept.  Having announced her plans, she proceeded to pull the covers from him.  Within moments he felt a snake-like cold chill sliding against him.  William quickly decided to capture the spirit within the blanket so that he could toss blanket and spirit upon the flames in the fireplace.  However, the presence he captured within the folds of the blanket grew heavier and heavier with each step he took and a foul odor began to emanate from the blanket as well. The weight of the blanket and the foul odor overcame William.  He dropped the blanket and fled the house.

John Bell, Jr. and Jesse Bell had fought under General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans.  The two had developed a good rapport with Andrew Jackson so in 1819, when Jackson got word of the disturbances at the Bell home he came calling to assist.

General Andrew Jackson brought with him a witch slayer and an entourage of men.  The wagon they were using suddenly stopped moving once it came within close proximity of the farm.  The horses could not budge the wagon even after the men threw their shoulders into the wagon and began to push.  After an hour of cursing and ranting, General Jackson is said to have acknowledged it must be the work of the Bell Witch.  At which time, it is reported that The Witch laughed and told Jackson he would be seeing her later that evening. The wagon was then freed and able to move.

Upon their arrival to the farm, the witch slayer attempted to contact the Witch.  He cursed her, laughed at her and then finally attempted to shoot the Bell Witch with a silver bullet.  To his consternation and everyone's amazement, he was slapped, battered and tossed about the room by unseen hands.  The witch slayer, Andrew Jackson and his entourage quickly fled.  Andrew Jackson is reported to have said he would battle the entire British Army anytime, however, he would not wish to deal with the Bell Witch again.

Overtime, the Bell family suffered repeated attacks.  When Betsy, John and Lucy's daughter, began to date a young man, Josh Gardner, the Bell Witch did not approve.  Betsy was singled out again and tormented to the point that she ended her engagement with Gardner.  After that was done, the Witch focused on John Bell once again.

John Bell was plagued by several illnesses of which The Bell Witch claimed credit. One attempt she made upon his life was prevented when it was noticed that John's tonic had been switched with poison. However, December 19, 1820 John slipped into a delirium that he never fully recovered from. The Bell Witch is said to have sung at his funeral the next day.

After his funeral The Bell Witch declared she would return in seven years.  In 1828 she did return but only for a short period where she tried to torment Lucy and two of her sons.  While the Witch has returned and continues to torment the Bell family regardless of where they are, it is not nearly the same level of torment she committed upon John Bell.

If the Bell Witch was Kate Batts, John's intended this would make the most sense.  Whether John had a hand in her death or not, his quick marriage to Lucy implies that Kate was not happy about John being happy and returned to make him suffer.  Her body was barely cold before John found a new willing bride. Perhaps, John was Kate's unfinished business. With John's death, Kate's or the Bell Witch's business was finished.

There are still reports today that the area known as the Bell Farm is still being haunted not only by the Bell Witch but also by John, Lucy, and perhaps even Betsy Bell.  The house is gone but the spirits still linger.

Emotions dictate behavior in life so why not in death?  Is it possible that Kate was so angry with John at the time of her death that she came back to exact vengeance?  The question is not whether or not John had a hand in her death but what did John do to warrant such a vicious haunting?

Kate was a violent and spiteful spirit that delighted in others sufferings.  Perhaps, this is because she was unable to live her life in happiness as she died before marrying John.  Then having the man who professed his undying love for her, seek out and marry another immediately after her funeral!  John's behavior seems odd for this day and age, and one would have to assume it was even in the 1770's given the haunting of the Bell Witch.

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