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The Bell Witch

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Sandra
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« on: April 09, 2007, 09:59:09 pm »



The ninteenth century home of the Bell family of Adams, TN. Illustration first published in 1894.

The Bell Witch is a ghost story from American southern folklore. The legend of the Bell Witch, also called the Bell Witch Haunting, revolved around a series of strange events experienced by the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee between 1817 and 1821.

These events are said to have been witnessed and documented by hundreds of people, among them future President of the United States Andrew Jackson, and consequently the episode represents one of the most famous and documented instances of paranormal events in history.

The Bell Witch was believed to be Kate Batts, an eccentric neighbor of Bell's, who had sued him for cheating her in a land deal. The stories of land sale conflict involving John Bell do have documentation, although in neither case is there any connection to Kate Batts.[citation needed]

Other paranormal theories are that the "witch" was actually a poltergeist, or that the Bell home had been built on a Native American burial ground[citation needed]. According to the legend, the first manifestation of the haunting occurred in 1817, when John Bell encountered a strange animal in a cornfield on his property. The animal, described as having had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit, vanished when it was shot at.

The events of the Haunting were used as the basis for the 2006 film An American Haunting and may have influenced production of The Blair Witch Project.
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Sandra
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« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2007, 10:01:07 pm »



An artist's drawing of Betsy Bell, done around 1894 and published in M. V. Ingram's book about the Bell Witch.

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Sandra
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« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2007, 10:02:00 pm »

Legend

This incident was quickly followed by a series of strange beating and gnawing noises manifesting around, and eventually inside, the Bell residence. After this the Bell children said that their bedclothes were being regularly pulled off and tossed onto the floor by an invisible force.

The family then reported a voice choking and making low, guttural noises. Betsy Bell, the family's younger daughter and the only daughter still living at home, was soon after violently assaulted, her hair pulled and her face slapped by an invisible force.

 
An artist's drawing of Betsy Bell, originally published in 1894These events continued for over a year before John Bell reported them to his neighbours, James Johnston and his wife, who later said they witnessed them. At this point the strange events experienced by the Bell family became well known in the Red River community, especially reports of a voice conversing loudly and clearly, singing, quoting from the Bible and accurately describing events taking place miles away.

Another major development in the story is the involvement of future U.S. President Andrew Jackson, who heard of the disturbances and decided to observe them in person, in 1819.

On approaching the Bell property, Jackson’s entourage encountered an invisible presence that stopped his wagon in its tracks, until he acknowledged that the witch was responsible, upon which the wagon was able to proceed unhindered.

One of the men in Jackson’s entourage declared himself to be a witch tamer who intended to kill the spirit. The man began screaming and contorting his body immediately after making these statements. Jackson and his entourage left the Bell property by midday the following day. He is quoted as later saying “I’d rather fight the entire British Army than to deal with the Bell Witch.”
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Sandra
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« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2007, 10:02:38 pm »

Betsy Bell’s engagement to a neighbour named Joshua Gardner was another focus of the invisible entity’s displeasure, and followed and taunted them whenever they were alone together, leading Betsy to break off the relationship on Easter Monday in 1821.

The disembodied voice continued to communicate its dislike of John Bell, and its intention to kill him. Bell was by then suffering frequent facial seizures, often rendering him speechless. The Bell family blamed John's affliction on the witch, but modern analysis of his symptoms indicates that he may have suffered from Bell's Palsy,[1][2] a paralysis of the facial muscles. The name "Bell's Palsy" comes from Charles Bell, the anatomist that discovered the condition. Charles Bell is no relation to the Bells of Adams, TN. The name is a coincidence, and Bell's Palsy was not identified until 1821, the year after John Bell's death.

 
John Bell died on December 20, 1820. A small vial containing an unidentified liquid he had apparently ingested was found near the body. When the remaining contents were fed to the family cat, the animal died immediately – at the family said later they heard a voice say "I gave Ol' John a big dose of that last night, and that fixed him." Later, at Bell’s burial, funeral guests reported hearing a voice laughing and singing.

Bell’s death signaled the end of the series of events, but Lucy Bell later said a voice told her that it would return in 1828. During a three-week visit that year, John Bell Jr. reported that a voice communicated with him, predicting such events as the American Civil War, the Great Depression and both World Wars.

According to legend, after the entity last appeared in 1828, it said it would return 107 years hence, in 1935.

Fitzhugh's relation of the Bell Witch legend concludes with a statement to the effect that many people believe that the spirit returned in 1935, took up residence on the former Bell property, and remains there to the present day. He notes that “the faint sounds of people talking and children playing can sometimes be heard in the area,” and asserts that it is “very difficult to take a good picture there.”
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Sandra
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« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2007, 10:07:32 pm »

Published accounts

The earliest written account is in the Godspeed History of Tennessee published in 1887 by Goodspeed Publishing. No author is given. Page 833 reads:
Quote
“   A remarkable occurrence, which attracted widespread interest, was connected with the family of Garry 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 discomfiture 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. A volume might be written concerning the performance of this wonderful being, as they are now described by contemporaries and their descendants. That all this actually occurred will not be disputed, nor will a rational explanation be attempted. It is merely introduced as an example of superstition, weak in the minds of all but a few in those times, and yet not wholly extinct.   ”
The most famous account is recorded in the Red Book, the 1894 An Authenticated History of the Bell Witch of Tennessee by Martin Van Buren Ingram, which cites the earlier Richard William Bell's Diary: Our Family Trouble. Richard Williams Bell lists the following people as witnesses:
•   General Andrew Jackson
•   Joel Thomas Bell, son of John Bell, Jr.
•   Rev. Joshua Featheton
•   Dr. J.T. Mathews
•   Mr. E. Newton
•   R.H. Pickering
•   J. Gun
•   D. T. Porter
•   J.I Holman
•   Wm Wall
•   W.H. Gardner

The Black Book was written much later, and published in 1934 by Dr. Charles Bailey Bell, great-grandson of John Bell.

Thirteen Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey by Kathryn Tucker Windham includes the story of the Bell Witch.

The Guidebook for Tennessee, published by the Works Project Administration in 1939, also contains an account that differs from Ingram's on pages 392–393.
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Sandra
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« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2007, 10:08:52 pm »



The death of John Bell, of Adams, TN. Occurred December of 1820. Illustration first published in 1894.


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« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2007, 10:10:16 pm »

Movies

•   "Bell Witch: The Movie" was the first fictionalized account of the Bell Witch, shooting in Tennessee in 2002-2003. It premiered at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on September 24, 2005. This independent, $3 million dollar budget film starring Betsy Palmer from "Friday The 13th" has yet to be released.
•   "The Bell Witch Haunting" is a 2004 film made by Willing Hearts Productions. Filmed near the original location, the director claims on the page to have encountered production difficulties such as fires and thinks the Bell Witch was responsible.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details about An American Haunting follow.
*On May 5, 2006 a film based on the events of the Bell Witch legend, titled An American Haunting, was released. An American Haunting is a thriller written and directed by Courtney Solomon. It stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood and James D'Arcy. It is based on the narrative history presented by author Brent Monahan in his book, The Bell Witch: An American Haunting. This movie's explanation of the phenomen was that John Bell sexually assaulted his daughter, and her repressed memories of the event were transferred to the "hauntings of the witch." No reports of anything to this nature has been recording in the books written by family members.
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« Reply #7 on: April 09, 2007, 10:14:18 pm »

Bell Witch of Tennessee -- Facts and Folklore
INTRODUCTION by Phil Norfleet
 


This web site has been established to aid folklorists and other interested researchers who are studying the legends concerning the Bell Witch of Robertson and Montgomery Counties, Tennessee.

John Bell (1750-1820) migrated to Middle Tennessee from Halifax County, North Carolina, in the early 1800's.  He soon settled on land located along the Red River near the then thriving town of Port Royal.  Bell's farm lay in Robertson County but was also close to the boundary of Robertson with Montgomery County.

Purportedly, sometime late in the year 1816, John and his daughter Betsy Bell began to be plagued by a goblin-type of entity, that came to be known as either the "Bell Witch" or "Kate Batts' Witch." The fame of the Witch became so widespread that even Andrew Jackson was said to have visited the Bell household, in about 1819, to experience the "Witch" firsthand.

John Bell had been an active member of the Red River Primitive Baptist Church since his arrival in Tennessee.  However, in January 1818, Bell was excommunicated for the sin of usury, as the result of a court conviction involving a slave sale dispute with a neighbor, a man named Benjamin Batts.  Some people suspect that the real reason John Bell was excommunicated was due to his involvement with the Bell Witch phenomenon, which had become public knowledge by this time.

In December 1820 John Bell died.  According to the legends, Bell had been killed (poisoned) by the "Witch."
On Easter Monday 1821,several months after John Bell's death, the Witch legends tell us that John's daughter, Betsy Bell, broke off her engagement with her childhood sweetheart, Joshua Gardner, because the Witch strongly opposed the relationship.  In 1824, Betsy married her former tutor, Richard Powell, apparently without any opposition from the supernatural forces.
 



Betsy Bell and Her Brothers Confront the Witch!
 


Richard Powell's Journal

Richard Powell was supposedly a frequent visitor to the Bell household during the Witch Visitation and some people believe that he kept a journal containing information about this strange phenomenon.

In 1997, a book about the Witch was published by Brent Monahan. This book purports to be based on Richard Powell's journal; however, the journal described in the Monahan book is entirely fictitious!

[If anyone visiting this site has any knowledge concerning a real Richard Powell journal, please send me an email with the particulars!]

The Red Book

In my opinion, the best source of the Bell Witch legend is found in a book first published in 1894 by a local journalist, M. V. Ingram, entitled An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch.  The book was reprinted in 1961; this edition of the book, because of its red cover, is usually referred to as the "Red Book" by Robertson County residents.

The last reprint (also with a red cover) of this book, of which I am aware, was in 1971, hence a copy is very difficult to find anywhere.  Also, many local, Robertson County people say that their copies seem to have mysteriously disappeared!  Since the Ingram book has long been in the public domain, I have appended a complete, hyper-linked electronic version to this web site.

Bell Witch in Mississippi

Bell Witch legends in Mississippi are almost as prevalent as they are in Tennessee. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the families of two of John Bell's children, Jesse Bell and Esther Bell Porter, removed to Mississippi in the 1830's.  Also, late in life, Betsy Bell Powell removed to Yalobusha County MS where she died in 1888.

The Legends Involve Actual People

Almost all of the people mentioned in the various Bell Witch stories actually lived.  Their names, including some of my own relatives, may be found by research among the official records of the time.  In particular, the 1820 Federal Census lists many of the people cited in the Witch stories.  While I have never seen an official record that refers specifically to the Witch, I am convinced that the Bell Witch phenomenon was very real to the John Bell family and to their neighbors.

http://bellwitch02.tripod.com/
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