While this entity is called a “witch” this would not be correct. The Bell Witch story is a ghost tale. The spiritual being calls itself Kate. While it was thought at the time that it was linked to a physically living person, Kate Batts, there was no concrete evidence of this. Sit back and relax as we give the evidence and story given of the Bell Witch.
Who was the Bell Family
John William Bell Sr. was born sometime in 1750 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. His parents were William Bell and Ann (Jones) Bell. He apprenticed as a barrel maker and later decided on a career as a farmer. He married Lucy Mourning Williams in 1782 when she was 10 years old and he was 32 years old.
Lucy Mourning Williams was born sometime in 1772 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. Her parents were John Williams and Mourning Williams. Her death is not connected to the story, but she died on January 27, 1837, at about the age of 65 years old. She would outlive her husband by 17 years.
They would have several children together: Jessie Egbert, Elizabeth “Betsy”, Richard Williams, John William Jr., Drewry, Esther, Zadock II, Joel Egbert, and Benjamin.
John and Lucy Williams Bell were from North Carolina. In the winter months of 1804-1805, they moved themselves and their children to the frontier land of the Red River. This area would later become the town of Adams, Robertson County, Tennessee. This town is on the state line of Kentucky and Tennessee and is 7.4 miles south of Guthrie, Kentucky, and 30 miles from Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
The Beginning of the Haunting
For a decade after their arrival, the Bell family lived in peace and quiet. The family would participate in the local activities of the area and seemed to have no issues with the neighbors.
The first disturbances came in 1816 when apparitions and strange noises started increasing over the course of the next year. At times the Bell family home was violently shaken as if it was in a terrible storm. The Bell family said nothing about this to their neighbors.
Old Kate Batts’s Witch
The Spirit started speaking. It would recite prayers, argue Scripture, would imitate the voices of the local people and would sing along with the church congregation at the weekly prayer meetings.
At one point the entity claimed to be called “Old Kate Batts’ witch”. The entity would answer positively when the name was used. From this point forward the name of the Spirit Entity would be Kate, Kate Batts, Kate Batt’s Witch, or the Bell Witch”.
The Spirit Kate, who was an invisible entity, was able to shapeshift, and affect the physical environment of the house and area. It is also credited for being clairvoyant and capable of crossing long distances and being seen at the same time in several places.
Sometime in 1817, the entity known as “Kate” began appearing to John Bell. It would take on the appearance of a creature that closely resembled a dog at first. John Bell would shoot at the animal and it would disappear.
Later, “Kate” would appear to John and his son, Drew. It would take on the appearance of an unknown bird. This bird was of extraordinary size and would perch on the fence. As the two would approach the bird it would fly away.
Betsy would see the entity as a girl who was wearing a green dress. The girl was swinging from a limb of an oak tree.
People Tried to Help and Investigate
Several trusted friends of the family tried to help solve the mystery of Kate and why the spirit was unsettled around the family suddenly. There are many accounts of the spirit telling different people about their families and of gossip being told in the town. Many people that came to the house left as believers.
The most famous of the people was General Andrew Jackson, who would later become the President of the United States, who made a visit to the family home. He made a visit to see for himself the unknown force that was disturbing his friends and to try to help with the problem. Sources say that Jackson’s men ran away in terror. There is some speculation if Jackson ever visited the Bell family because there is no other evidence for the visit other than Martin Ingram’s (1894) “An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch”.
The Activity Grows Worse
Spiritual activity increased. Unexplained knocking along the walls and doors of the house could be heard. There were sounds of invisible dogs fighting. There were sounds of something gnawing on the beds. There were also sounds of chains being drug across the floorboards.
Sheets were being pulled off of the beds when the children were taking naps or at night when they were sleeping. The hair pulling, slapping, and the sensation of being stuck with pins increased against the children.
It is of note that Betsy endured most of the torture of all of the children in the house. Betsy would have scratches and welts appear all over her body.
Family members would experience slapping, pinching, taunting, and other forms of harassment. The spirit would be known as “Kate” and it would also strip the bed of the covers while people were sleeping.
John Bell soon fell ill to unexplained and painful physical symptoms. This illness would get steadily worse until his death in 1820. John Bell had paralysis in his mouth around this time and could not speak at times. Kate seemed to have strong feelings toward John Bell, Sr. Kate would call him “Old Jack”, and hurl curses, threats, and afflictions. It also claimed that it was intending to kill him.
Only Lucy Bell, John’s wife, would experience kindness by the spirit. Kate would sing hymns to her and give her fresh fruit. The spirit would also show John Bell Jr. a great deal of respect and not bother him.
Death of John Bell
On December 20, 1820, John Bell would pass away after suffering great torment and pain. The Spirit known as “Kate” would say that she gave Bell a toxic liquid that killed him.
At his funeral, Kate would disturb the mourners at the wake and funeral by singing drinking songs.
Early in 1821, “Kate” would take a particular interest in John and Lucy’s daughter, Besty when she became engaged to a local man named Joshua Gardner. Kate would express her anger at the engagement then step in and keep Besty from marrying her sweetheart.
The Spirit Leaves and Comes Back Again
In the Spring of 1821, the spirit left the family but promised the family that it would return. After seven years of silence, the spirit would return in 1828.
Upon her return, Kate would appear with similar activities as before. It had even appeared to Lucy and her sons Richard and Joel. The trio decided not to acknowledge it and it soon left them alone again.
There is a cave located on the property that used to belong to the Bell family. The legend states that the Bell children were exploring the cave and one of the children got stuck in one of the holes. Once the boy was pulled out of the hole, the entity gave them a lecture about cave exploration.
It is believed that this cave is still haunted by Kate to this day. Several people have reported over the years that they have heard Kate’s voice or seen one of her animal apparitions.
Rumors and Speculations
There have been many skeptics and believers over the years that have tried to explain the hauntings and occurrences that surrounded the Bell family. Some of these seem plausible to the downright fantastic.
Many scientists today think that John Bell was being slowly poisoned by the use of arsenic. Many theories have been put forth as to who would have done this.
Another possibility is that a school teacher fabricated the haunting in order to get Betsy to marry him instead of Gardner. However, Betsy would go on to marry Richard Rowell Ptolomy Powell on March 21, 1924, in Robertson, Tennessee. She was the mother of Susan Amanda, Emily Carolie, Pamela Adeline E., Eliza Jane, Dewitt Williams, Virginia Reynolds, Tennessee Bell, and Leftrick Reynolds.
Another theory is that John Bell had murdered a former overseer in North Carolina. That the haunting was related to that murder and that is why John Bell was murdered. There are also tales of jilted lovers and of an accidental death of a woman named Mary surrounding John Bell.
Still, others believe that since the stories surround Elizabeth “Betsy” she put on this elaborate hoax for attention or a marriage proposal from Mr. Gardner. It is said according to the New England Farmer of Boston and the Green Mountain Freeman of Vermont, that Betsy had discovered the art of ventriloquism. She used this gift to try to get Gardner to propose. When he refused to marry her, the “hauntings” stopped.
Popular in the Media
Several books, articles, videos, movies, and other forms of media have been put forth to explain the hauntings of the Bell family. Some of the most famous are “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), The Bell Witch Haunting (2004), An American Haunting (2005), and “Bell Witch: The Movie” (2007).
We have always left it up to our readers to make up their own minds whether or not a story is a fact or fiction. But we do have a few questions for our readers and listeners to consider. Were the hauntings real? What Happened to John Bell? Who murdered him? Was it arsenic poisoning? Who had the motive to kill him? Why the elaborate story of the haunting to cover their tracks? And most of all, what do you really think happened to the Bell family from 1816 through 1828?
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Elizabeth (Bell) Powell (1806 – 1888)
John William Bell Sr. (1750 – 1820)
Lucy Mourning (Williams) Bell (1772 – 1837)
John Bell (farmer)
Bell Witch Cave
“The Tennessee Ghost”. Green Mountain Freeman. Vol. 13, no. 7. February 7, 1856. p. 1. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
The Tennessee Ghost”. New England Farmer. Vol. 11, no. 4. January 26, 1856. p. 4. Retrieved May 20, 2018 – via Newspapers.com
The legend of the Bell Witch
How The Eerie Legend Of Tennessee’s Bell Witch Became ‘America’s Greatest Ghost Story’
Historic Bell Witch Cave
An American Haunting
This Tennessee Cave Is Said To Be Home To A Vengeful Witch
The Bell Witch
How The Eerie Legend Of Tennessee’s Bell Witch Became ‘America’s Greatest Ghost Story’
Article Title Bell Witch
Author William T. Turner
Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
Access Date October 18, 2022
Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
Original Published Date October 8, 2017
Date of Last Update March 1, 2018
‘Something was trying to get in…’: A ghost story version of the Bell Witch tale
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When we forget our past and who we are as a people, then we become who “they” say we are. ~~ David Sergent
I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.