The Legend of the Bell Witch

Bell Farm – Robertson County, Adams, Tennessee

Photograph ©Historic Bell Witch Cave Website

Sensationalized, dramatized, made into movies and written into books, the Bell Witch story has fascinated people since it began in 1817, turning the lives of the Bell family upside-down.

Today, the Bell Witch is at rest, or so they say. However, what paranormal website would be complete if it did not tell the legendary story of Adams, Tennessee’s “Bell” Witch?

The story of the Bell Witch is a long one. I will try to get in all of the facts, however, if you want a more detailed story, you might consider buying a book on the subject.


The story began in the year of 1817. No one knows the real story as to why this entity plagued the Bell family for so many years or why it relentlessly plagued John Bell, Sr. until his death in 1820.

According to legend, it began when John Bell encountered an odd animal in his field and he shot at it. He described the animal as having the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit. Soon afterward the Bells began hearing scratching, thumping and knawing sounds from outside of the house and eventually these sounds could be heard inside the house as well.

Then the children claimed to hear knawing and scratching sounds at their bedposts at night. Then they would be awakened when their blanks and pillows were ripped from their beds by an unseen presence.

Then the family began hearing faint whispers that they could not distinguish and then sounds of singing that was barely audible.

It was about this time that Betsy Bell began being tortured by this unseen menace. Her hair was pulled; she was slapped repeatedly across the face and hand prints were often seen on her cheeks in the aftermath of these attacks. These vicious assaults went on for about a year before John Bell confided in his friend and neighbor, James Johnston.

James and his wife decided to spend a night in the Bell home to see if they could witness these disturbances. After retiring for the night, the blankets were repeatedly ripped from the Johnston’s bed. James Johnston jumped out of the bed and demanded in the name of God that the entity reveal who it was and what it wanted. There was no response, however, the remainder of the night was peaceful in the Bell house.

After this, word quickly spread through the community and then to the surrounding areas. Word made it all the way to Nashville to (our former president) General Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson knew Jesse and John Bell, Jr. from the Battle of New Orleans where he commanded them. General Jackson set out with an entourage of his men to visit the Bell plantation.

General Jackson’s first encounter with the Bell Witch occurred upon the road close to the Bell farm when the wagon he was riding in suddenly came to a halt. It was then that the wagon refused to move forward. The horses pulled and the men pushed but the wagon would not budge.

Finally General Jackson announced to his men that it must be the work of the witch. A disembodied voice then rang out to Jackson telling him that he could move forward but she claimed she would see him again.

General Jackson and his men made it to the Bell house and visited with the Bell family for several uneventful hours. It was then that one of Jackson’s men, claiming to be “witch tamer,” stood up and called to the entity. Suddenly the man began screaming, writhing and flailing around. He claimed that it felt like someone was poking him with needles and punching him. The man ran from the house screaming. The disembodied voice of the witch told Jackson that the man was a fraud and that Jackson had one more fraud among his men that would be revealed the next evening.

Jackson set up his tents in the Bells yard. His men begged and pleaded to leave. In the morning Jackson and his men were gone. Jackson was later quoted saying, “I’d rather fight the entire British Army than to deal with the Bell Witch.”

It was after this that Betsy Bell became interested in Joshua Gardner. Both the Gardner parents and the Bell parents were excited about their love interest and gave their blessings for marriage. However, the witch told Betsy not to marry Joshua. The entity made sure that the marriage did not happen by following Betsy and Joshua everywhere, taunting and tormenting them. Betsy finally broke of the engagement on Easter of 1820.

At this point John Bell was quite ill, though no one knows if it was a disease or the workings of the entity that plagued him and his family. John Bell experienced relentless seizures. Today it is believed that he may have been suffering from “Bell’s Palsy” which was discovered in 1821 by Charles Bell (no relation to John Bell or his ancestors). John Bell was also slapped in the face while sick in his bed and this unseen thing repeatedly took his shoes off of him.

On December 20, 1820, John Bell died. A small vial of liquid was found near the bed. John Bell, Jr. put a drop of the liquid on a cat’s tongue and the cat died. The disembodied voice of the witch claimed that she had given the liquid to John Bell and killed him. John, Jr. threw the vial in the fireplace and it’s said that a blue flamed blazed up the chimney. At John Bells funeral, all in attendance heard the disembodied voice disrespectfully laughing and singing.

In the spring of 1821, Lucy Bell claimed that the unseen entity paid a visit to her, promising that it would return in seven years. As promised, in 1828 the entity made itself known to John Bell, Jr. The entity discussed Christianity with John Jr., as well as other topics. The entity also predicted such future events as the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.

After just a few weeks the witch said goodbye to John Jr. and promised she would return in one hundred and seven years to the closest descendant of John Bell.

One hundred and seven years later (1935), the closest living descendant of John Bell was Charles Bailey Bell. If the witch made her presence known to Charles Bell it is unknown, however, Charles wrote a book about the Bell Witch prior to 1935 called “The Bell Witch – A Mysterious Spirit.” Charles Bailey Bell died in 1945.

Today, some say that the “Bell” Witch is at rest. However, many claim that she still walks the old Bell farm and the surrounding woods and they have heard disembodied voices laughing, crying or talking. Others have claimed to hear phantom children and most complain that they can’t seem to get their cameras to take a good photo. Some have even claimed that the film inside their cameras would rewind by itself.

Also, there is a cave near the old Bell farm. Former owner of the land, Mr. Bill Eden, claimed that he repeatedly saw strange figures near the entrance to the cave and he heard knocking sounds. Mr. Eden also said that he endured poltergeist events in his former home there.

The Bell cave is not often mentioned in the legendary haunting, however, it is believed by many paranormalists that this cave may be a portal that is drawing activity to the area. Many visitors to the cave who are lucky enough to have a photo or two turn out; usually end up with odd light streaks or strange figures in them.