--Bell Witch--The Bell Witch of Tennessee
The Bell Witch is a name given to the poltergeist that tormented the family of John Bell in the early 1800s. John Bell, his wife Lucy, and their five children moved to Tennessee in 1804 and settled in an area on the banks of the Red River. Bell had purchased 1,000 acres of land in an area now known as Adams.
Strange occurrences began sometime in 1817. While hunting on his property, John Bell noticed a strange animal. Drewry Bell, one of John's sons, saw a large fowl perched on a fence. Presuming the fowl to be a turkey, he went for a gun to shoot it. When he got within shooting distance, the bird flew away. Drewry noticed the fowl wasn't a turkey but a large bird unlike any he had ever seen. One evening, soon after this, Drewry and his sister Betsy were walking through the orchard when they noticed an old woman walking beside them. When Betsy started to speak to her, she disappeared into thin air.
Noises were heard in the house. These sounds included knocking on doors and windows, wings flapping against the roof, and animals fighting. The noises continued without the family being able to find their source. After weeks, the noises were accompanied by sounds like an animal scratching . No animals were found in the house. Bed coverings began slipping off beds as if being pulled off by someone. Sometimes, there were other noises like lips smacking and gulping. Often, the noises seemed to center around Betsy Bell who was about 12 at the time of the occurrences. John Bell also developed an illness of his mouth which made chewing and swallowing difficult. This illness was also attributed to the spirit.
When the family was unable, after exhaustive efforts, to determine the source of the noises, John Bell asked one of his best friends, James Johnston, to spend the night at his house. Johnston, well known for being Christian and courageous, was willing to do all he could to help Bell. The night that Mr. Johnston and his wife came to stay in the Bell home, he read a chapter in the Bible and prayed for his friends before retiring to a room adjoining Betsy's. Soon, the noises began worse than ever. The covers were stripped from the Johnston's bed. The spirit wouldn't reply to questions about its purpose or origin except to laugh loudly. When Mr. Johnston was unable to help the Bells, he suggested to John Bell that he ask other friends' assistance. There were a number of friends who were almost constantly at his home striving to learn why the spirit was in the Bell home. The spirit continued its same charades.
A few nights later, the spirit began to talk. The first real talking was an imitation of Mr. Johnston. The imitation of Mr. Johnston was so good, it was said one could not tell the difference between the two. The spirit began entertaining visitors to the home. It enjoyed religious talks and quoted the Bible accurately. People were attracted from great distances to hear the spirit sing. A visitor to the Bell house was rarely disappointed in being able to see and hear demonstrations of the spirit.
The spirit centered most of its attention on Betsy Bell. For a time, John Bell thought his daughter was the origin of the strange occurrences. When Betsy would visit friends, the spirit would follow, sometimes terrifying Betsy's hosts. The spirit had a special dislike for one of Betsy's suitors named Joshua Gardner. When Betsy and Joshua were together, the spirit would often torment and embarrass them. Betsy was physically abused by the spirit for her associations with Joshua. Eventually, Betsy ended her relationship with Joshua. She later married Richard Powell, who had been her teacher.
ORIGINS OF THE WITCH. The gave different explanations of its origin. It stated that it was a spirit which was once very happy but had been disturbed. Since there are many Native American burial sites in the Adams area, this statement was taken to mean that the witch was a Native American spirit. The spirit also said it returned to reveal the hiding place of buried treasure. Another time, it claimed to be the spirit of a child buried in North Carolina, John and Lucy Bell's home state.
The spirit told Rev. James Gunn that it was Kate Batts's witch. Kate Batts had become head of her household when her husband became seriously ill. Although she was eccentric, some people thought Mrs. Batts was kindhearted and a good neighbor to those she liked. In August 1817, John Bell was convicted of usury in a business deal with Benjamin Batts, Kate's husband. Kate may have hated John Bell as a result of this but she never claimed to conjure a witch to torment him. However, Mrs. Batts eccentricity caused the idea of her as the source of the spirit to become popular. After the spirit's claim to be Kate Batt's witch, it came to be called "Kate". Since Mrs. Batts was alive during the time the spirit was tormenting the Bells, the witch definitely wasn't her ghost sent to haunt John Bell for murdering her.
Psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor has another theory about the Bell Witch. Betsy Bell experience symptoms of swooning, fainting, and dizziness as a result of her ordeal with the witch. Fodor says these symptoms are experienced by someone entering a trance. John Bell's nervous tics, inability to eat or speak, and withdrawal from normal activity are associated with severe feelings of guilt. Considering these behaviors along with the behavior of the witch, Fodor speculates that the Bell Witch may have been an expression of Betsy Bell's intense hatred of her father. Such hatred may have been the result of sexual advances made by the father or by some form of incestuous relationship between father and daughter. Betsy was incapable of consciously dealing with her emotions, so when her emotions were stirred by two suitors, Betsy's personality split. Half of her personality began to attack her father.
DEATH OF JOHN BELL. In October 1820, John Bell and his son, Richard, were walking to the pigsty when one of Mr. Bell's shoes was jerked off his foot. Richard place the shoe on his father's foot and tied it in a double knot. The same procedure was repeated with the other shoe. Richard was terrified by the contortions which besieged his father. The air was filled with terrible sounds. John Bell was overcome with the incident and prayed for deliverance. Eventually, he was able to walk inside the house.
Upon entering the house, John Bell took to his bed. He was up and down for several weeks. The witch continued to carry on while Bell declined. On the morning of December 19, he failed to awake at his regular time. When the family noticed he was sleeping unnaturally, they attempted to arouse him. They discovered Bell was in a stupor and couldn't be completely awakened. John Jr. went to the medicine cupboard to get his father's medicine and noticed it was gone with a strange vial in its place. No one claimed to have replace the medicine with the vial. A doctor was summoned to the house.
The witch began taunting that she had place the vial in the medicine cabinet and given Bell a dose of it while he slept. Contents of the vial were tested on a cat and discovered to be highly poisonous. John Bell died on December 20. "Kate" was quiet until after the funeral. After the grave was filled, the witch began singing loudly and joyously. This continued until all friends and family left the grave site.
DEPARTURE OF THE WITCH. In the summer of 1821, the witch announced to the Bells that she was leaving. She said she would be gone seven years. The family believed her, anticipating hearing her voice. When the witch returned in 1828, it was to the home of John Bell, Jr. On this visit, only one person outside of the Bell family was aware of the witch's presence. The witch foretold the future to John Jr., describing the Civil War, and World Wars I and II.
When the witch bade a second farewell, only John Jr. and a friend, Frank Miles, were present. The witch promised John Jr. that his descendent would not be bothered by her presence. One-hundred seven years would pass before the witch's return. Although no one claims to have witnessed the return of the witch, residents of Adams still report unusual occurrences. Legends of the witch are very much alive in Middle Tennessee. Ask any school child about the Bell Witch. You'll hear stories which have been repeated for several generations. Take these stories seriously. After all, the witch has been acused of teasing the unbeliever!
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