Some hauntings are known only in the places where they occurred and by a handful of people who truly believe in them. However, other interactions between the living and spirits of the dead have been far more popular and have been spread far and wide to the point where these ghosts and their stories become almost famous. One such legend is that of the Bell Witch (also known as the Bell Witch Haunting) from the folklore of the southern United States. The story of this haunting has been the inspiration for countless books and even modern movies like The Bell Witch Haunting of 2004 and An American Haunting from 2006. This renowned poltergeist revolved around the Bell family who were living in the tiny town of Adams, Tennessee during the early 1800s.
The Bell family, presided over by the father figure John Bell, was actually from North Carolina. Yet, the early 1800s brought about a migration of people living in North Carolina to push further inward. The Bells relocated to a spanse of bottom land in a settling community called Red River in Tennessee (many years later to be renamed Adams). The new land in this area was cheap, and John Bell purchased a great deal of it in addition to a large house to accommodate his ever growing family since his wife had three more children once they moved to Tennessee.
In 1817, four years after their youngest was born (Joel), John Bell saw something strange while inspecting one of his many cornfields. John claims to have seen a very odd looking animal with the head of a rabbit and the body of a dog sitting in the middle of one of the corn rows. He shot at the creature several times, but the animal vanished. It was not until much later that night that John thought anymore about the beast when the entire family started to hear sounds on the outside walls of their log house as thought someone where beating on it. The next several nights the sounds increased in force and frequency. John and his sons often raced outside to catch whatever was causing the noise but always came up empty handed.
The following weeks even more strange happenings occurred, this time concentrating on the Bell children. The children would wake frightened in the middle of the night to the sound of gnawing on their bedposts then have the covers of their beds pulled away from their bodies and pillows tossed on the floors by an invisible entity. These encounters at night with the children soon led to the family hearing very soft, whispering voices throughout the house that they described as an old and feeble woman trying to sing hymns but could never quite understand the words.
One of the most notable aspects of this haunting case comes from encounters with the youngest Bell daughter named Elizabeth (called Betsy by her family and friends). Interactions with the invisible Bell Witch poltergeist and Betsy became downright brutal. Slapping her relentlessly enough to leave bruises, welts, and even hand prints on her face and body, the ghost would also take to viciously pulling Betsy's hair out of her head even as she slept. The violence with Betsy made John Bell reach out to his closest friend and neighbor James Johnston about these occurrences that they had been working hard to keep secret. James and his wife decided to test out the stories for themselves and spent a night in the Bell home. They too were the victims of these terrifying disturbances in the night. After having the bed covers pulled off him and his wife and being slapped repeatedly though, James got up and shouted at the ghost to ask what it wanted. There was no answer but the rest of the night James spent at the Bell house was relatively peaceful.
The strength of the spirit began to grow even more though to the point where those weak whispers had turned into full out, loud talking in an unmistakeable voice. It sang hymns, quoted from the Bible, and carried on intelligent conversations when it felt like them. Even General Andrew Jackson (before he became President of the United States) became curious about the poltergeist since several of the Bell men fought under him at the Battle of New Orleans. Upon his arrival to the Bell house, the carriage carrying him stopped completely. The horses that were pulling the wagon refused to move at all. Andrew Jackson cursed and yelled and attempted to coax the horses forward for several minutes before declaring the act to be that of the Bell Witch. That thought spoken aloud as words caused the spirit to reveal herself through her now undeniable voice although the ghost refused to take a visual form. The Bell Witch told Jackson and his entourage that they could now proceed upon acknowledging her and that she would see them all later again that very evening. The horses finally moved forward and carried the group toward the house. Later that night, the Witch kept her promise as Jackson thought it would be useful to bring along a man who claimed to be a “witch tamer” who could defeat any spirit. When the man pulled out a shimmering pistol that he proclaimed carried a blessed silver bullet to put the end to any malevolent spirit or being, the Bell Witch thought it was time to reintroduce herself to the group of men. The witch defeater suddenly started screaming in pain as his body seized and jerked in various directions. He yelled that it felt like he was simultaneously being beaten and stabbed with pins all over his body and with those words the Witch put the jewel into this crowning moment by causing an invisible foot to kick the man in the rear hard enough to boot him from the house—her house. Seeing such a strong, trusted man in Jackson's party be treated so violently lead the other men in the group to beg Jackson to leave the Bell house immediately. Jackson insisted on staying to see if the Witch would interact more personally with him. What happened that evening while Jackson and his men slept in tents around the property is not entirely clear as the stories vary widely. Yet, the main point is that Jackson and his entire entourage was spotted almost to Nashville early the next morning with the Bell house and the Bell Witch firmly behind them.
The ghostly woman that haunted the Bell farm had an extensive afterlife with the members of the family. Her “closeness” with the young daughter Betsy went far enough that the spirit tried to talk the girl out of marrying the man who first proposed to her and even tortuously taunt the young couple anytime they came near the house. The engagement was eventually broken off, and the Bell Witch eased up on the personal attacks to Betsy after that event. However, the poltergeist's dislike for the father of the family, John Bell, never abated. At the end of 1820, John Bell finally passed away after a long time of illness and slipping into a coma for a full day before his official death. Immediately following John's death though, the family found an unknown liquid in a vial in the cupboard. Some was given to the family cat who instantly died, inspiring the ghostly entity to speak up and take credit for giving the poison to John Bell. Laughing happily at John's death and upon letting everyone know she was the one to cause it, the Bell Witch seems to disappear as though her purpose as a spirit had been fulfilled.