John Bell Sr., who made his living as a farmer, resided with his family in Adams, Tennessee in the early 1800s. In 1817, his family came under attack by a witch, who was believed to be a lady called Kate Batts. Various accounts written afterward, tell stories similar to other poltergeist legends. It began with noises in the walls and grew to include unusual sounds; people being slapped and pinched, objects being thrown, and animals being spooked without visible cause.
In the 1894 book An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, author Martin Van Buren Ingram claims that the poltergeist's name was Kate, and that she frequently cursed the Bell family out loud. The activity centered on the Bells' youngest daughter, Betsy, and worsened after she became engaged to one Joshua Gardner.
Several accounts report that during his military career, Andrew Jackson was intrigued with the story and was frightened away after traveling to investigate. Other stories relate that the family was haunted by scratching noises outside their door after Bell found a half-dog, half-rabbit creature. Some stories end up with Bell being poisoned by the witch. Accounts vary about the witch being someone who had been cheated by Bell or a male slave whom Bell had killed.
Goodspeed's History of Tennessee
The only known account of the haunting prior to Ingram's publication was in 1886, more than 60 years after the events. This one paragraph in the Goodspeed Brothers book History of Tennessee does not mention Andrew Jackson or the death of Bell Sr.:
A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread 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 feats 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 discomfort 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.
Martin Van Buren Ingram
All of the above accounts of the legend are drawn from two sources. In part, the Goodspeed article was a source, but newspaper publisher Martin Van Buren Ingram provided most of the material. Seventy-five years after the Bell Witch events, he wrote An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch. Ingram states that he based his book on the diary of Richard Bell, who was a son of John Bell Senior. The events happened when Richard Bell was 6–10 years old, but he didn't write the diary until he was 30.
Bell Witch today
There have been several movies based, at least in part, on the Bell Witch legend, including The Blair Witch Project in 1999, Bell Witch Haunting in 2004, An American Haunting in 2005, and Bell Witch: The Movie in 2007.
Seattle based doom metal band Bell Witch took their name from this legend.
- Hendrix, Grady, "Little Ghost on the Prairie; An American Haunting is definitely not based on a true story", Slate Magazine, May 4, 2006.
- McCormick, James; Macy Wyatt (2009). Ghosts of the Bluegrass. University Press of Kentucky. p. 94.
- Hudson, Arthur Palmer; Pete Kyle McCarter (January–March 1934). The Bell Witch of Tennessee and Mississippi: A folk legend. The Journal of American Forklore. pp. 45–63.
- Monaham, Brent (2000). The Bell Witch: An American Haunting. St. Martin's Griffin.
- Godspeed Brothers (1886). History of Tennessee. Godspeed Publishing Co.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bell Witch.|
- MonsterTalk episode on The Bell Witch
- The Bell Witch by researcher Pat Fitzhugh.
- The Historic Bell Witch Cave
- The Bell Witch of Tennessee - website which includes the full text of An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch - the book upon which the legend is largely based.
- Prairie Ghosts - The Bell Witch
- The Spirit of Red River, by Jack Cook, a viral blog-spot designed to reinforce the legend, supposedly compiled from official government, church, and family records.