By Holly B.
The Bell Witch is perhaps the greatest ghost story in American History. Numerous theories circulate abut what happened on Tennessee’s frontier between 1817-1821 but the only hard theory is that “something” definitely happened. What that “something” was is completely subjective.
The Bell Witch has become a major part of Tennessee’s folklore although facts have been exaggerated, twists have been created and fictional “based-on” novels have been published. This article will just be based on what I’ve read through historic eyewitness affidavits compiled by various sources.
Bell Witch story
John Bell moved his wife and children from North Carolina to the Red River bottomland in Robertson County, TN (now known as Adams). He purchased a sprawling piece of land and a large cabin.
While walking around his land, he saw what appeared to be a dog with the head of a rabbit. He was startled, so he fired shots at the creature. The mysterious entity vanished into the night.
Later that night, the rappings began. The family would be settling in for the night when loud bangs and knocks would suddenly come from outside of the house. Each time, John Bell and his sons would inspect, muskets in hand, but find nothing.
As each night passed, the knocking increased in both occurrence and ferocity. Soon, as though the witch had tapped her way into the home, the children began to become the witch’s victims. While they slumbered, their bed sheets would be torn from them and tossed to the floor. Betsy, the youngest daughter, virtually became the witch’s punching bag. She was tossed around, had her hair yanked and was repeatedly beaten, leaving red welts across her small body.
The Bell Witch speaks
The Bell Witch started to become vocal, first with unintelligible whispers and then to crying and singing. As time went on, the voices became more audible. The witch would loudly sing hymns, quote scripture, carry on conversation and ultimately, threatening to “kill ol’ Jack”.
During the Battle of New Orleans, John Bell’s sons John Jr. and Jesse fought under (then) General Andrew Jackson. Since the boys had good standing and rapport with Jackson, he agreed to investigate the Bell Farm accompanied by his entourage of men.
And she gets physical
When one of Jackson’s men were startled by a female voice announcing she would “see them again”, he shouted that he would kill the witch and called for her to show herself.
Just then, the man started screaming and contorting as though he was being beaten by invisible fists. He later described the sensation as being struck with pins and punches. The witch then announced that there was another fraud amongst them and that person would suffer the same.
Needless to say, the men begged Bell and Jackson to leave.
General Andrew Jackson moved on to become president of the United States and was quoted later in life as saying “I’d rather fight the entire British Army than to deal with the Bell Witch”.
And she kills
John Bell’s health started to deteriorate due to a nervous disorder. Even while John lay convulsing, the Bell Witch relentlessly beat him. He died on December 20, 1820.
After his death, the Bell family found a small vial of liquid next to John’s bed. Out of curiosity, John Jr. gave some of the mysterious liquid to the family’s cat. It died almost instantly.
The witch then exclaimed gleefully “I gave ol’ Jack a big dose of that last night and that fixed him!”
At John Bell’s burial, the entity could be heard laughing maniacally and singing drinking songs. The witch vowed to disappear and return 7 years later.
The Bell Witch mellowed out
The Bell Witch honoured her promise and then began to focus her interests on John Jr. She seemed almost subdued and would calmly discuss various subjects with John Jr. ranging from life, death, Christianity and the new awakening. (Supposedly, the witch predicted the Civil War, WW1, the Depression and WW2)
The Bell Witch’s visit only lasted three weeks, but in true fashion, she vowed to return to the Bell’s descendants in 107 years.
Presently, it is widely believed that the witch is responsible for the unusual activity in the area. Invisible people are heard talking and ghosts of children are heard playing. It is also difficult to take a proper picture at the Bell Farm. Locals also say that on dark, rainy nights, you can see lights floating over the fields.
Your stance on whether or not ghosts exist is irrelevant in this case. The story of the Bell Witch will always be a worthwhile and entertaining read. I, myself, know ghosts exist. It is impossible for them to not.
But then again, I am one of “those”.
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