by Walter Bissell
The “Bell Witch” is said to have haunted the family of John Bell, a farmer who settled in Robertson County near Adams, Tennessee, in 1804. The legend started in 1817 when the Bell family began experiencing strange phenomena in their home.
It is believed that a spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman made daily appearances in the Bell home, “wreaking havoc on everyone there.” The spirit later identified itself as the "witch" of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bell's, with whom John had made a bad business deal regarding the purchase of slaves. Many of the accounts of "Kate" as the local people began calling her, were based on Richard William Bell's Diary, which he titled “Our Family Trouble.” People all over the area soon learned of the witch as she made appearances, in sounds, voices and antics that were seemingly designed to annoy the family. It is reported that the house was plagued with knocking and rapping noises and strange scratching sounds.
John Bell and his daughter Betsy were the "principle targets." The spirit threw furniture and dishes at them, took the sugar from their bowls, spilled the milk and snatched food from their mouths at mealtime. Quilts were pulled from beds, family members had their hair and noses pulled, were kicked, scratched, slapped, pinched, bruised and poked with needles. No one ever saw her, but all who entered the Bell home heard her all too well. Her voice, according to one person who heard it, "spoke at a nerve-racking pitch when displeased, while at other times it sang and spoke in low musical tones.” Kate would yell all night to keep them from sleeping and then laugh at their discomfort. She would hold long and intelligent conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals.
More Evidence of the Bell Witch Haunted Home
It is said, that among those who heard of the haunting was General Andrew Jackson. He had masterminded the stirring victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1812 and later became the seventh President of the United States. When he heard about how the ghost was tormenting the Bell family, he decided to visit John, his long time friend. “The trouble began as soon as his army wagon drew near, for his horses stood dead in their tracks, refusing to budge an inch even when the driver shouted and ferociously whipped them. The horses reportedly strained and pulled, attempting to move forward, but to no avail. It was as if some invisible force held them at bay. When a voice echoed from somewhere in the darkness, 'Go on, old General,' the horses suddenly moved again." Convinced that there really was a terrible entity residing on the Bell property, Jackson proclaimed to his men, "It is the witch!"
Nevertheless, Jackson's determination to learn more about the specter didn't falter, and he and his entourage spent the night at the Bell home. They were not disappointed! “Betsy Bell screamed all night from the pinching and slapping she received from the ghost, and Jackson's covers were ripped off as quickly as he could put them back on. His entire party had similar experiences, being slapped, pinched, and poked by the ghost throughout the night. Unsurprisingly, by the time morning arrived, Jackson and his men were ready to hightail it out of there.” Years later, after Jackson had taken office, he said, "I saw nothing, but I heard enough to convince me that I would rather fight the British than to deal with this torment they call the Bell Witch!"
The torment of the Bell house continued for years, "culminating in the ghost’s ultimate act of vengeance upon the man she claimed had cheated her.” In October 1820, John Bell was struck with an illness. On the morning of December 19, he failed to awake at his regular time. When John Jr. discovered him, he was “in a stupor and couldn’t be completely awakened." Junior went to the medicine cupboard to get his father’s medicine and noticed it was gone with a strange vial in its place. The witch began taunting that she had placed the vial in the medicine cabinet exclaiming, "I gave Ol' Jack a big dose of that last night, and that fixed him.” Some say John Jr. quickly threw the vial into the fireplace, where it shot up the chimney in the form of a bright, blue flame. Others say that the contents of the vial were tested on a cat and the cat died instantly. John Bell died on December 20. As family and friends began to leave John Bell’s burial site, "the spirit laughed loudly and sang a cheerful song about a bottle of brandy she had given Bell while he slept.”
The Witch Leaves Them Alone
The Bell Witch left the Bell household in 1821, saying that she would return in seven years time. She made good on her promise and “appeared” at the home of John Bell, Jr. where, it is said, she left him with prophecies of future events. The spirit of “Kate” said farewell, and promised to return in 107 years.
On the property once owned by the Bells is a cave, which has since become known as “The Bell Witch Cave.” Many locals claim to have seen strange apparitions, the sounds of chains rattling, and inhuman screams emanate from the cave and at other spots on the property. Many believe the witch has returned as promised and haunts this cave. There is a road sign about the haunting located on Highway 41.
It is said, ”that one can make the Bell Witch appear in a mirror by summoning it." One of the more common ways participants attempt to make her appear is to stand before a mirror in the dark at midnight and repeat the phrase "I don't believe in the Old Bell Witch" three times, though there are some variations. It is said, once one has "summoned" the Bell Witch, one will awake the next morning with fingernail scratches on the cheek.
There are tours of this cave and the Bellwood cemetery, all of it located in Adams, Tennessee. Call ahead for tour times at (615) 696-3055.
The drawings on this page are said to be of Betsy Bell and the haunted Bell Home.
Ghost Pictures Taken at the Bell Witch Cave:
Bell Witch Cave Ghost Pictures