Bell Witch, TN – An American Haunting

An American HauntingThe Bell Witch story was as sensational in the 19th century as it is today.

However, many people wonder what happened to the remaining Bell Family and others related to the story, after the “Witch” left their home.

The Bell family

After 1821, the John Bell family generally lived normal lives, had many children, and died of old age.

Among the most famous children from the Bell Witch story:

Drewry Bell, who’d shot at the Witch at the start of the story, was never quite normal after these events. He became reclusive, and never married.

John Bell Jr., who’d received help from the Witch, became a prosperous farmer and businessman as the heir apparent to the Bell plantation.

Betsy Bell, who was so tormented by the Witch and broke her engagement to Joshua, has been the subject of much speculation.

Nandor Fodor, a psychoanalyst and parapsychologist, interpreted the Bell Witch as a poltergeist, acting on behalf of Betsy Bell. He speculated that Betsy had been sexually abused by John Bell, and the events were manifestations of an active alter personality of Betsy’s.

This kind of abuse could be part of the unspoken prejudice of the community, in excommunicating John Bell from the church. However, this does not explain the tales of mind-reading in the community.

Richard Powell was Betsy’s schoolteacher. She eventually married him. But, there are some odd “coincidences” about Powell, and he may have been responsible for some of the Bell Witch phenomena.

Here’s one version of the story:

Powell’s father built many of the homes in the Adams area, including the Bell family home. In them, Powell built hidden corridors with separate entries, through which the younger Powell traveled to gain secret knowledge of the Bell family and their neighbors.

With this information, Powell–who knew both hypnosis and ventriloquism–threw his voice to sound like the Witch. He also used his access to the Bell home to torment the family, intercede in Betsy’s romance (since he wanted her for himself), and eventually poison John Bell as retribution for the father’s abuse of Betsy.

Powell’s wife also died in 1821, shortly after the death of John Bell, who was opposed to Mr. Powell’s interests in Betsy. This left Powell free to court his student.

The most significant flaw in this story, is how the elder Powell could have had the time, money, and secrecy necessary, to add these extra corridors to the houses.

Richard Powell and Betsy married in 1824, and they eventually had eight children. Despite her unhappy and short first engagement, Betsy claimed that her marriage to Powell had been happy. Events would suggest otherwise, but Betsy was loyal to her husband even after he lost his money and became a long-term invalid.

Betsy died at her daughter’s home in Hatton, Mississippi, where she had lived for many years after becoming a widow.

The Bell Witch today

By some accounts, both the Bell Witch and her victim, John Bell, haunt the Bell Witch Cave in Adams, Tennessee. The cave is the site of unexplained events.

The most recent published account of the Bell Witch was in 1973, when a group of soldiers thought it would be fun to visit the cave. Here is the story:

One particularly loud member of the group stood in the cave and announced that he didn’t believe in the Witch. He was thrown to the ground by an invisible force, and could not lift himself to his feet. His companions thought it was all pretense, and laughed heartily. Then they got tired of the joke and left him there.

After a couple of hours, the men had second thoughts about what they’d witnessed. They returned to the cave to help their fallen companion. However, no matter how they struggled, they could not lift him.

Eventually, the Witch became tired of the prank and the man was able to stand up.

The men ran from the cave, and never returned to the area again. There are some lingering rumors that one of the soldiers–probably the skeptic–died shortly after this encounter.

To visit the Bell Witch, and the scene of the movie, An American Haunting

The Bell Witch Cave is opened to the public from May through November, with tours given by the owners of the cave. Take Highway 41 and, in Adams, turn onto Bell Chapel Road. Then follow the signs.

Call ahead for more information, as days and hours of the tours can vary: (615) 696-3055. At last report, the tours were about $5 each.

5 thoughts on “Bell Witch, TN – An American Haunting”

  1. Thanks Fiona
    “Just a thank you for this story…But i would like to ask you did you see them photo’s of the Ball Witch on the web? Well its one of the old photo’s but someone pointed out a face in it and boy can you see her clearly…

    If you would like me to shot you them 2 photo’s Please just let me know. I believe it could be the only photo were you get to see the Ball Witch for real. It was taking in the Ball Witch Cave awhile back…Once again Fiona. Thanks for the story…

    1. Thanks, Trustedsouls. I’ve seen several photos representing the Bell Witch, and there’s more than one explanation for the historical and modern encounters with the “Bell Witch.” I believe that the entity in and near the cave may have influenced historical events, and that entity remains in the area today.

  2. Hi there!

    It is such a flashback to read what you have on The Bell Witch. I grew up in Greenbriar, TN, and The Bell Witch was of constant concern and the source of so much lore for us kids. I remember she was used by my Granny as a way to keep us kids in line — misbehave and the Bell Witch will get YOU. We had all the classic taunts and dares – standing in front of a mirror in a dark room, saying, “I do not believe in the Bell Witch” three times, then turning in a slow circle… you were supposed to find her scratches on your face after you turned around. I was born in 1972, and people were still telling the soldier’s story from 1973 when I got old enough to know what they were saying.

    My brother had the book “The Bell Witch” and it had the scariest cover I’d ever seen. I eventually read it (leaving the scary paper cover off it), and the lore was told much the same as you have here. It actually spawned a lifelong fascination with Andrew Jackson, of all things.

    It’s such an interesting pocket of history – that location, with its burial grounds (my understanding is that there is a mound there as well), having such a long and twisted history of hauntings. One of these days I’ll get back there, and actually dare go into the cave that was such a large character in the nightmares of my childhood. Thanks for the information, and for the great website!


  3. Hi, I think you might be onto something. I do not believe John Bell sexually abused his daughter. It is Richard that crossed lines with his student without any permission. It was age inappropriate. The facts stack up against Powell. I think John picked Josh for Betsy. Betsy went against him pursuing Richard. That is abuse when a adolescent mistakes feelings of romance toward an adult. The secret corridors are more likely than you think. I am a Williams descendant. My family goes back to Edgecombe and Halifax counties like Richard’s does. Those places have secret tunnels leading back to the rivers because of the Civil War. Many of them had secret access through the houses. Over time they became dangerous. They were caving in. So, to remove the temptation parents didn’t want the kids knowing about that. They tried to nail it shut or brick it in or board it up. But, the tunnels would be standard to build for added protection during the time period. Many were Freemasons who were instrumental in pulling off victories of the American Revolution. Even though I mention my childhood of violating Civil War passages many were as old as pre American Revolution. Remember the British Army in South Carolina had a history of locking folks in burning buildings. They gathered up entire communites, blocked doors and torched everyone. If I were John Bell, I’d want some secret passages nobody knew about.

    1. Angela K., those are brilliant insights, and I appreciate the time you took to share this information. Also, the reasons for John Bell’s secret passages… that makes perfect sense. Thank you1

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