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.
John Bell was already a successful North Carolina planter in 1804 when he brought his wife, Lucy, and six children to Robertson County, Tennessee. He eventually became owner of a 1,000-acre farm, in Adams, Tennessee. They were as blessed with children as they were monetary prosperity, and eventually had a total of seven sons and two daughters.
The Bells, as well as their servants, continued to see strange animals around the property. It appeared as a strange hare, a bizarre bird no one could shoot, or even a dog. Sometimes the dog was old and lame, at other times it was black and had red eyes.
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.
Bell Witch skeptics existed when word first traveled that the Bell family experienced unusual trouble. The haunting has been blamed on Betsy, John, Jesse, and some have even blamed the entire family for orchestrating everything. Kate Batts has been blamed for nearly two centuries, over some minor dispute that both families dismissed.
Many theories have emerged since the haunting began, yet the most suspicious character is seldom mentioned. Betsy Bell was accused of conspiring and orchestrating the events that led to her father’s murder. Her brothers were accused of the same.
James Johnson, or “Old Sugarmouth,” became a central figure in Bell Witch history, almost as much as Betsy’s siblings were. His sons, John and Calvin, were said to have caught Powell in the middle of something dubious. This story has been passed down through Johnson’s descendents, but has not been published in any known works.
This final article on the Bell Witch addresses many revelations and rumors that have since surfaced. Nearly two centuries have passed since these events and countless legends have developed since. It’s impossible to gather them all, and even more difficult to find the necessary history on each theory to include it.
The Trials of Betsy Bell is a little-known song that once appeared in Southern Lyrics, a book published in 1907. The song is noted as being written in July of 1906, but there is no information on the writer. ‘Tis scarcely yet one hundred years Since came and went the things I tell, Since lived and loved, in direful fears, The blue-eyed beauty, Betsy Bell.
Old Nance was featured in a few old books, such as Spirit of the Mountains, by Emma B. Miles. This little known haunting is remarkably and uncannily similar to the Bell Witch episode on the other side of the state.