The terrifying true story of the Bell Witch

The Legend of the Bell Witch is probably one of the most famous pieces of Southern lore. It’s a story of a spirit who tormented a Tennessee home over 200 years ago. As the story goes, she may or may not still lurk around Robertson Country. She’s become an iconic witch, inspiring major motion pictures and even attracting the attention of a soon-to-be president. Even more compelling is that, unlike a lot of other paranormal figures, this story is supported by eyewitness accounts, affidavits, and documents penned by those involved in the haunting.

In 1804, John Bell and his family settled on 300 acres of land, now known as Adams, Tennessee. The disturbances began over a decade later, beginning in 1817. It started with sounds. Standard paranormal fare, for the most part – things like pounding on doors, slaps on walls, and eerie chain rattling. Before too long, a critter showed up that they couldn’t identify. It was described as half-dog, half-rabbit, and it definitely didn’t belong there.

Soon, blankets were pulled from beds, family members were scratched and kicked and had their hair pulled. Elizabeth Bell, the daughter of John Bell, received the worst of the abuse and was slapped and pinched until her body was covered in bruises. John Bell decided at first to keep the strange events quiet. Eventually, he confided in a friend and a committee was formed to investigate the strange happenings.

The spirit identified herself as Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bells with whom John Bell has some bad business dealings. The ghost quickly became known as “Kate.”

Three Bell sons had fought under General Andrew Jackson, and Jackson was so intrigued by the story that he insisted on visiting the family. The witch taunted his men, held the carriage wheels still, and calling out the “frauds” in Jackson’s entourage until they were seen in a field the next morning, headed to Nashville.

Kate continued to torment the family, relentlessly vowing to kill John Bell. When Bell breathed his last breath in 1820, a vial of was was presumably poison was found. From the Bell Witch website:

John Bell, Jr. gave some of it to the cat, which died instantly. The entity then spoke up, exclaiming joyfully, “I gave Ol’ Jack a big dose of that last night, which fixed him!”  John, Jr. quickly threw the vial into the fireplace, where it burst into a bright, bluish flame and shot up the chimney.
After the death of John Bell, she quieted down, only returning for predetermined visits with remaining family members. To this day, the area is a hotbed of activity, with people claiming to hear sounds, see candle lights, and photographing orbs and other ghostly apparitions.
Ultimately, there’s no explanation for the events that occurred, and there probably never will be. The Bell Witch remains one of the most enduring haunts in Southern history.