Despite her name, the Bell Witch of Tennessee was not a witch, but a ghost that haunted the Bell family in the 1800s.


Artist's rendition of the Bell home (Illus. 1894)

The First Encounters

Legend has it that the Bell family, including John Bell and his wife and children, moved from North Carolina to Red River, Tennessee (which later became the town of Adams).

One day, when John Bell was out in the corn fields, he spotted a strange creature, part rabbit, part dog, and attempted to shoot it. But he didn't seem to hit it, and it simply disappeared. He did not mention it, nor even thought of it, at least until that night, when they heard strange noises coming from outside, some sort of beating sound.

Night after night the sounds returned, each time with greater frequency, and John and his sons would rush outside, but always saw nothing there. For weeks afterwards, the children would wake up every night, frightened by what they claimed were rats chewing their bedposts. Soon after, they claimed that their sheets and pillows were being ripped away from them and thrown to the floor by some invisible being.

Then the voices started, too soft and weak at first to be understood, but sounding like an old woman singing.

Their daughter, Betsy, became the main victim of the entity, who would rip her hair and slap her so hard, it left red welts on her body.

The encounters grew to the point that John Bell, despite having his family swear to never tell anyone about it, decided to confide his trouble to his neighbor, James Johnston. James and his wife decided to spend a night over at the Bell's, and were treated in the same terrifying manner by the ghost, being repeatedly slapped and their sheets ripped off. Finally James exclaimed "In the name of the Lord, who are you and what do you want?" There was no reply from the ghost, but the rest of the night was spent peacefully.

Overtime, the voice grew stronger, clearly carrying intelligent conversation, quoting scripture, singing, and even quoted two sermons being thirteen miles away, at the same time in the same day, accurate word for word.

Andrew Jackson's Visit

Word reached to even far as Nashville, where then-Major General Andrew Jackson learned of this phenomenon, and began to take interest. In 1819, he decided to visit farm to see what was truly going. He brought an entourage of several men, a few well groomed horses, and a wagon. When they reached the entrance to the Bell farm, the wagon stopped. The horses refused to pull any further.

After a few minutes of trying to get the horses moving, Jackson proclaimed "By the eternal boys! That must be the Bell witch!" Then, a disembodied female voice told them to proceed, and that she would see them later. The horses started pulling again, and they all reached the Bell farm. Jackson and John struck up a conversation, hoping to attract the witch.

One member of Jackson's entourage claimed to be a "witch tamer". After a few hours of absent minded conversation, the "witch tamer" pulled out a shiny pistol, proclaiming it had a silver bullet in it that would kill any evil entity it would hit. He also said that the reason nothing was happening was due to the witch being frightened of the bullet. 

Immediately, the man screamed and began jerking his body all over the place, and cried that his body was being stuck with pins and beaten. A swift kick to the man's posterior region, from an invisible foot, sent him out the door. The entity angrily announced there was another fraud in Jackson's party, and that he would be found and tormented the next evening.

Jackson's men begged to leave, terrified, yet Jackson insisted on staying so he could find out who the other fraud was. They eventually slept outside in tents, still begging to leave. What happened the next is unclear, but Jackson and his entourage were spotted early in the morning in Springfield, possibly enroute to Nashville.

Death of John Bell

After some time, John, started experiencing face twitching, and difficulty swallowing, with no sign of healing. By the fall of 1820, his health had confined him to the house only. The spirit kept terrorizing him, by removing his shoes when he tried to walk, and slapping him in the face when he had seizures. Her loud shrill voice was heard all over the farm cursing "Old Jack Bell" which was her name for him.

On the morning of December 20, 1820, after slipping into a coma the previous day, John Bell died, at first a mystery to his family. The family found a small vial of unknown black liquid in their cabinet, which they gave to the cat, who died immediately. The entity spoke up joyfully proclaiming "I gave Ol' Jack a big dose of that last night, which fixed him!" John Bell, Jr. threw the vial into the fire, which exploded into a bright blue flame, and went up the chimney.


John Bell's funeral was one of the most massive in Robertson County, Tennessee. As friends and family left, the entity cackled, and began singing a song about brandy. It's said that the spirit didn't stop until the last person left. The spirit was almost nonexistent after John's demise, as if it's purpose was fulfilled.

In April of 1821, the spirit visited John's widow, Lucy. She said that it would return in 7 years. When it did, he discussed things such as spirituality and life with John Bell Jr., as well as predicting several things about the civil war, and other events. After three weeks, it left, promising to return to John Bell's most direct descendant in 107 years.