John Bell settled in Robertson County Tennessee in 1804. He was active in the local church, becoming a deacon. The first thirteen years of his life on his 320 acre farm was peaceful. This was not to last.
In the summer of 1817, the entity made its presence known. There are several versions of the inciting event – a mysterious animal sighted, or a Native American grave desecrated, or a curse called down by a person that the Bell’s cheated. No matter which story is the truth, the haunting started out as a typical poltergeist – knocking on the wall, objects being thrown, the sounds of an invisible rat gnawing on the bed post, the rattle of chains being dragged across the floor. Each night the sounds would be more intense and violent. Over the course of a year, it evolved into something different. The poltergeist found her voice. The voice claimed several different identities, but the one that stuck was the claim that she was the witch of Kate Batts, a neighbor of the Bells. From then on the entity was referred to as “Kate” or “The Bell Witch.”
As the news of the Bell Witch spread, people came from far and wide to witness the harassment. There is an apocryphal story that even then-future President Andrew Jackson visited the farm and spent the night. No documentation exists that can verify this story.
The Witch appeared to take particular interest in two members of the Bell family. The Witch took delight in tormenting John Bell, who by 1820, was in poor health. On December 20, 1820, the day he died, a small vial of unidentified liquid was found in a cupboard. A small amount fed to the farm cat caused the animal to die instantly. The Witch, who could speak clearly by now, exclaimed “I gave Ol’ Jack a big dose of that last night, which fixed him!” At John’s funeral, the Witch sang drinking songs until the last person left the graveyard.
The other Bell family member the Bell Witch focused on was the youngest daughter Betsy when she announced her engagement to Joshua Gardner in 1820. The Witch repeatedly warned Betsy not to marry him. Betsy and Joshua would be harassed by the Witch until Easter Monday 1821 when Betsy broke off the engagement.
At this point, the Bell Witch began to withdraw. In April 1821, the Witch promised Lucy, John Bell’s widow, that she would visit her in seven years. The entity did return in 1828 and interacted with the family for three weeks. It then left, promising to visit John Bell’s descendant in 107 years. If the Witch did return in 1935, the most direct descendant, Dr. Charles Bailey Bell, did not speak of it.
The original cabin was torn down in the mid 1800s. A replica cabin has been constructed on the site and furnished with period accurate pieces. Tours of it are available and the nearby Bell Witch Cave, which is believed to be the Witch’s portal into and out of this world. To this day, people claim that the cave is still haunted by the infamous Bell Witch.