Friday, December 5, 2014

Andrew Jackson Encounters the Bell Witch

A multitude of articles and books have been written about the Bell Witch haunting. This legendary tale is one of America’s most enduring ghost folktales.

M.V. Ingram’s 1894 book Mysterious Spirit: The Bell Witch is an excellent source to read more about this story.

Bell Farmhouse
This legend involves John Bell and his family who experience a frightening haunting on their 1000-acre farm in the 1800s, located in Robertson County in northern middle Tennessee.

The most often told version states that a neighbor of the Bell family, Kate Batts * having been wronged in a land deal that involved John Bell swore as she died that she would return to haunt him.

It is said she did exactly this. Kate known as the “Bell Witch” tormented the family for years. John’s daughter Betsy was a favorite target.

Betsy Bell
This poor young woman was physically abused-- she was pinched, slapped and scratched. Her hair was pulled, and she was even beaten.

The witch eventually prevented her from marrying a neighbor named John Gardner.

In December of 1820, John Bell died. He had suffered a prolonged illness caused by poisoning, which the legend states the Bell Witch caused.

Betsy eventually married her former schoolteacher and settled in Mississippi.

* Mary Catherine “Kate” Batts was married and not a poor woman but since she used “the wrong words” when she spoke many in the county believed a rumor that she practiced “Black Magic” or other forms of the occult.

She did get involved in her brother’s dispute with John Bell, but it was not over the sale of land but the purchase of a slave.

She could not have threatened to get even with John Bell on her deathbed because she outlived him by 27 years--she died in 1847. Several of her descendants still live in Robertson County.

So this means the Bell Family was not haunted by Kate Batts.

If parts of this story are real, it was probably not a traditional haunting but a more evil entity that plagued the Bell family. One recent story states it was a poltergeist connected to Betsy.

A Hero

Andrew Jackson won fame as a Major General during the War of 1812. His victory at New Orleans made him the greatest military hero since George Washington.

He served as a territorial governor and then as a senator representing Tennessee from 1823-25.

He was elected the 7th president of the United States in 1832. He died at his beloved cotton plantation--The Hermitage near Nashville in 1845.

Andrew Jackson hearing of the Bell Witch haunting like many others decided to travel to northern Tennessee to see for himself.

As he and his men neared the Bell farm legend states one of their wagons got stuck--but not in the mud. Instead, it appeared to be an unseen unfathomable force that caused it.

Jackson’s men then checked the wagon's wheels for damage-- there was none. They whipped the horses, but they refused to budge. The men then tried to push it, but this did not work either.

Jackson's stuck wagon
Frustrated, Jackson then exclaimed, “By the eternal boys, this is the witch.”

To which a disembodied female voice replied, “All right, General, let the wagon move on, I will see you tonight.”

The wagon then started of its own accord, and the party was able to continue their journey.

A Second Encounter

That night their tents pitched the men listened to a man who was a self-proclaimed “Witch layer” or “Witch Hunter.” He had with him a silver bullet.

He regaled the group with stories of how he had hunted and then shot other witches.

Andrew Jackson leaned in and whispered to one of his men, “I bet this fellow is an arrant coward. By the eternal, I do wish the thing would come, I want to see him run.”

Suddenly the gathering heard light footfalls prancing, at the same time the female voice from earlier announced, “Alright general, I am at hand and ready for business.”

The voice then demanded the Witch Hunter shoot but when he tried his gun did not fire.

The braggart was then struck by an unseen force, as he twisted around, he shouted that something was sticking painful pins into him. He then cried out that something had him by the nose.

All were silent as he was forced about then they watched as he ran from the tent.

The witch chimed in once more, “How the devil did run and beg. I bet he won’t come through here again with his old horse pistol to shoot me.”

The gathering then heard, “I guess that’s fun enough for tonight general, and you can go to bed now. I will come tomorrow night and show you another rascal in this crowd.”

It is said that after this Jackson was eager to stay but his men having enough insisted they move on. Jackson’s party then returned to Nashville.

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