Betsy Bell and Incorporeal Adolescence

Betsy Bell
Betsy Bell, as illustrated in M. V. Ingram’s book.

The spirit grew incredibly powerful in a variety of ways, which ultimately led many to believe a human was behind the incarnation. As far as actions and attitude, it seemed to be marooned in perpetual adolescence. The Bell Witch implied it was a spirit, but its behavior said otherwise. It had to learn how to move, how to make simple noises in the house, how to talk, and how to keep investigators at bay. It had to create stories behind its origins, and couldn’t even stick to a story once told. It claimed to be omnipotent, but that was debunked. It claimed to be omnipresent, but that is also debatable.

It developed an unpredictable temperament, sullenness, and openly manifested a strangely human sense of jealousy for Betsy. It harassed investigators if it thought it could frighten them, but seemed to pout or sulk around investigators who weren’t easily frightened.

The witch’s focus on Betsy actually ended early into the haunting, before it focused on John Bell. For some reason, the spirit only attacked Betsy if she spent time with Joshua Gardner. It openly said, “Don’t marry Joshua Gardener.” As long as she complied with its wishes, she was left alone. The spirit only attacked her if she tried to talk to or associate with her former beau.

Even as it gained these remarkable capabilities, it still had no explanation of where it came from or why it hated John Bell. It developed a habit of assigning nicknames to the three primary adults. John Bell became “Old Jack.” Lucy Bell became “Old Luce.” James Johnson became, “Ol’ Sugarmouth.” It also developed a helpful side, as if it couldn’t figure out if it was a positive or a negative force. It helped the family locate items, supplies, and materials.

The spirit debated scripture with the finest ministers, debated history with scholars, and seemed to sense any wrongdoing in the community. Often, it broadcasted the locals’ deepest secrets. It was said the people in Adams were very careful of their behavior during the witch’s residence. The spirit relayed news of events that happened far from the Bell household, at the time they happen.

The spirit repeated sermons hours after they were given in church. It foretold family events in North Carolina with dependable accuracy. The spirit was shamelessly racist and hated the Bell’s slaves with a passion. It mocked them, called them the vilest names, and physically assaulted them whenever it could. One poor slave boy was slapped around, another slave girl was shoved down the steps, and the witch spat on them all.

Oddly enough, the witch hated investigators most of all. This is another extremely telling sign for those who believe another person was responsible. It grew furious when anyone attempted to find its true origins or its real purpose. A legitimate ghost, spirit, or demon would have anticipated such behavior, whereas the Bell Witch apparently didn’t.

There were several visitors at the Bell household one evening when the spirit decided to shake their hands to prove its power. One gentleman held onto the hand as hard as he could and yelled for brighter light. The force grew so irate it wouldn’t acknowledge him after. Witnesses who shook hands said the entity’s hands were soft and delicate.

Dr. Mize flees the witch.

The same outcome arose anytime a witchdoctor or conjurer visited the household. Witch doctors, conjurers, and wizards frequented the Bell house in hopes of defeating the spirit. Dr. Mize, a wizard from Simpson County, Kentucky, was just such a figure who was humiliated and chased away.

The being was not content with mere communication. Soon, it split into four distinct entities, each with its own name: Black Dog, Mathematics, Cypocryphy, and Jerusalem. The spirits seemed to fight just as much with one another as they did people.

One of the most unusual elements of the Bell haunting happened after it became a familiar presence in the household. The spirit stunned witnesses when it became intoxicated. One night, it entered the home and overturned furniture, had slurred speech, and filled the house with the smell of whiskey. It claimed it got the drink from John Gardner’s still house. The spirit then used obscenities that no one in the family had ever heard. The voices argued with one another. In other words, it behaved just like a drunken human.

Despite the bizarre quirks, the witch absolutely adored Lucy Bell. It repeatedly stated “Old Luce” was a good woman. This was a striking change from the animosity exhibited towards her husband. Lucy eventually suffered an attack of pleurisy, where her lungs grew dangerously inflamed. The witch showed a soft side and often asked what she wanted. Lucy even told the spirit to hush because she didn’t feel like talking and it listened. It sang to her, brought her grapes, and cracked hazelnuts. It performed these feats several times, including once when a group of women came to visit with her.

Betsy visited her elder sister, Esther, who lived nearby with her family. While there, she and her sister noticed four apparitions in the trees beyond the yard. They all bent saplings over and rode them. They appeared to be human, but both girls knew what they were. Bennett Porter, Betsy’s brother-in-law, came outside with a gun and fired at them. The figures disappeared, but that night, Black Dog said Porter had broken Jerusalem’s leg. This is another instance where the witch wasn’t actually following John Bell, as it said it was.

Dean continued to discuss his encounters as time passed. He watched lights flitter over the Bell home. The witch dog still appeared in many forms, with two heads, or even headless, and followed him when he went home to his wife.

John Bell suffered his last serious attack after around two years of the witch’s visit. Something tripped him while he walked through the woods. He fell and whatever it was, it beat him until he went into a seizure. He returned home and went to bed. He would never go outside again. The witch laughed at his illness. The doctor visited and the family found a strange glass vial hidden in the chimney flue. When asked, the spirit said it was going to use the substance to kill John Bell. The doctor quickly took the bottle and left.

Bell suffered for some time. One morning in December, the witch laughed continually as the family ate breakfast. It said it poisoned John with the substance from the vial in the medicine cabinet. They investigated and found all of Bell’s usual medicines gone. In their place, they found another vial of strange liquid in a dark bottle, just like the one the doctor removed. The substance was never identified, but several neighbors gave a drop to a cat. It died within minutes. Bell died the next morning. The witch laughed and sang at his burial, as they shoveled dirt over the coffin.

The spirit lingered a few weeks after, but never manifested unless Betsy was around Joshua. A year later, the community held a fishing party beside Red River. Betsy attended with Joshua Gardner. Suddenly, fish began jumping out of the water. The fishing poles began to bend. A familiar whisper came to Betsy that she should not marry Joshua Gardener. Fearing its return, she permanently broke off the engagement.

The witch declared it would return every 7 years, but didn’t keep its promise. Perhaps the person behind the activity had achieved their goal. One account stated it returned for a few weeks in February of 1828. After that, it was gone. After Mrs. Bell died, the Bell house and surrounding buildings were torn down and repurposed elsewhere.

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