- The Pursuit of the Bell Witch
- The Bell Family History
- Kate Batts’ Bell Witch
- Betsy Bell and Incorporeal Adolescence
- Bell Witch Skeptics and the Issues They Face
- Professor Powell: The Mind behind the Bell Witch?
- Sugarmouth and the Johnson Family
- Bell Witch Revelations & Rumors
- The Trials of Betsy Bell
- Bill Beaver, Old Nance, and Old Sugarmouth
The “Bell Witch” is a famous haunting that hails from Adams, Tennessee. It has been the subject of poems, stories, novels, and films throughout the past two centuries. One of the earliest non-biographical works was a poem called The Trials of Betsy Bell, writer unknown, published in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1906. More recently, the film An American Haunting (2005), gave the story a very modern, albeit shallow and stereotypical interpretation.
The physical location of the Bell house was on the south bank of Red River. It was around a mile from Adams Station and around 40 miles north of Nashville, Tennessee. The house was torn down after Lucy Bell’s death and the materials were repurposed elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the facts are not so neatly packaged as what is seen in books and movies. A variety of issues and challenges plague skeptics and supporters alike. Today, we can look back upon the evidences and see one haunting possibility that no one seems to have considered since the first book was published. Before we discuss this seemingly obscure twist, we’ll discuss the family and their story.
This mysterious haunting didn’t receive much media attention until Clarksville newspaper editor M. V. Ingram published his book in 1894. Even then, the volume was only regionally circulated and only a few copies were distributed. The book’s actual history was far earlier.
Richard William Bell, Elizabeth “Betsy” Bell’s brother, authored a book in 1846. It had been 26 years since John Bell’s death. The book was hidden away after he wrote it. His work, Our Family Trouble, was to counter a newspaper article created by one of the Bell Witch investigators. The investigator published his account in 1849, but the actual work has been lost to time. The only existent information on the piece is that a newspaper-sponsored investigator concluded, since he couldn’t think of any other possibility, Betsy Bell was responsible for the entire hoax. She not only terrorized her own family, but also murdered her father in cold blood. William was so angered that he knew he had to clear her name. Betsy lost a great deal from the witch, not only her betrothed, but also her father and her peace-of-mind. She was unable to sleep in a bed by herself, for the rest of her life, even after the witch disappeared.
It Is Published…
Richard died several years after he completed the book and the manuscript went to his son, James Allen Bell, who also kept it hidden. James didn’t grant Ingram permission to publish the book until he was into his golden years, long after all members in the original family were dead. Ingram added Bell’s manuscript to his own sizable collection of personal accounts and documentation. The original book had a massive title:
“An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch: The Wonder of the 19th Century, and Unexplained Phenomenon of the Christian Era. The Mysterious Talking Goblin that Terrorized the West End of Robertson County, Tormenting John Bell to His Death. The Story of Betsy Bell, Her Lover, and the Haunting Sphinx.”
Agent, Printer, and Binder: William P. Titus
Fortunately, we can simply refer to these volumes by their jacket covers. The original volume with the white cover is virtually non-existent. Even the Tennessee State Archives lost the only copy it had. Most copies have likewise been stolen from Tennessee libraries. In 1961, the book was reprinted and packaged with a red cover. This became referred to as the Red Book. A subsequent volume was authored by Dr. Charles Bailey Bell, John Bell’s great-grandson. The Black Book was first published in 1934.
Ingram’s book lightly implicated Bell’s neighbor, Kate Batts, as being behind the family’s nightmare. It is worthy of note, however, that the Batts and the Bells were always on speaking terms. Kate Batts was also furious when the spirit said it was affiliated with her. Ingram also said Andrew Jackson visited the farm and had an exchange with the witch.
There was never an actual “witch” as far as is known, although many suspected human forces were behind much of it. Most of those who accept the story believe the witch was actually a poltergeist or demon. During the Nineteenth Century, it was called a “goblin.” To simplify matters, we’ll simply call it a “spirit” in this series of articles.