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The Bell Witch

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Author Topic: The Bell Witch  (Read 262 times)
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« 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.
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