10 Scary Facts About The Bell Witch Legend

The Legend of the Bell Witch is an enduring piece of southern folklore, a tale of a sinister wraith who tormented a family of 11 in the woods of northern Tennessee some 200 years ago. The witch, a pox on the Bell family from which she got her name, may still lurk around the small town of Adams, TN, depending on who you ask. Whether she still haunts the small Tennessee town or not, her legacy is a rich one. From spooking future presidents to inspiring major motion pictures, the Bell Witch has a very spooky and influential history - an iconic figure of the American paranormal.

But just who was the Bell Witch? What makes her one of the truly creepiest urban legends from the south? Let's get to know this terror out of Tennessee. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

  • A Half-Dog, Half-Rabbit Stalked The Bell Family

    In 1804, John Bell and his wife settled on 300 acres of land in northern Tennessee, in an area that would eventually become the town of Adams. For 13 years, the Bell family worked and lived on the land without disturbance, but by 1817, things began to take a sinister turn.

    It started with sounds: doors pounding, slaps on the walls, the rattling of unseen chains. Soon a critter showed up that try as he might, John Bell could not catch. But what he saw in glimpses was foreign and strange: a half-dog, half-rabbit that didn't belong to this world. Was this the Bell Witch?

  • The Bell's Neighbors Also Reported Strange Sounds And Injuries

    The Bell's Neighbors Also Reported Strange Sounds And Injuries
    Photo: Lionsgate

    As the haunting sounds continued to envelop the Bell house at night, John and his wife Betsy began to wake up scraped, with bruises and scratches on their faces and torsos. Seeking validation for what they were experiencing, they invited their neighbors, the Johnstons, over to spend the night and feel what they felt.

    James Johnston and his wife not only heard the sounds, they heard words - they heard hymns. They even heard a voice, clear in the Tennessee air announce itself - they heard the word "Witch."

  • Betsy Bell Was Vehemently Harassed By The Witch

    Though John Bell may have received the brunt of the Bell Witch's torment, the young Elizabeth "Betsy" Bell received her fair share of cruelty as well. Betsy was subjected to extreme physical abuse at the hands of the Bell Witch: her hair was pulled, ripped and torn from its roots; she was slapped and pinched at such a frequency that her face and arms bore constant swelling and welts.

    Betsy never got an explanation for why she was targeted by the Bell Witch, though the ghost continued to meddle in her life through adulthood. She passed away in 1888 at the age of 82 years old, and it's said she'd never discuss the Bell Witch outside of the family, nor would she ever dare to sleep alone. 

  • President Andrew Jackson Was Subjected To The Witch's Torment
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    Andrew Jackson, a champion at the battle of New Orleans, a hero of the war of 1812, and the 7th president of the United States, did not escape the south without first meeting the Bell Witch. 

    He'd heard, as many had, the stories of the Bell Witch, and filled with intrigue and curiosity, he led his men to the Bell family property. But as the group got close, a strange thing happened to their wagon - it stopped. It wasn't stuck, a wheel hadn't come dislodged, it was just frozen, halted at the hands of some unseen force. 

    Jackson deduced they'd encountered the Bell Witch, and announced as such to his men. A voice without a body responded, “All right, General, let the wagon move on, I will see you tonight.” The wagon began to move - on it's own. Thinking better of it, Jackson and his men moved on to Nashville. 

  • The Witch Haunted Multiple Places At The Same Time

    As the Bell Witch haunted the family that chose that cursed patch of Tennessee land, she grew stronger and stronger. No longer placated by doling out scratches and verbal abuse at nightfall, the Bell Witch became emboldened to affect more lives.

    Some accounts say the Bell Witch began to draw large crowds, where she spoke fluently of the Bible. Remarkable as that may be, her omnipresence was more astounding - she was said to be able to haunt two places at once, sometimes miles apart.

  • Could A Woman Named Kate Be The Bell Witch?

    Could A Woman Named Kate Be The Bell Witch?
    Photo: The Asylum

    According to some, the earthly identity of the Bell Witch, and the reason for her hauntings, are actually quite easy to piece together. It's said that she's the ghost of Kate Batts, a former neighbor of John Bell and his brood who felt cheated by his land purchase.

    It's rumored that on her deathbed Batts vowed to haunt the Bell family from beyond the grave. In 1821, after John Bell passed away, the haunting did calm down, suggesting that Batts had perhaps thought her work to be done.