a young man growing up in Halifax County, North Carolina,
Bell apprenticed as a "cooper," also known as a
barrel-maker. He was a member of Union Baptist Church, later called
Creek Baptist Church, which was led in part by the
family who would later move to Tennessee and figure prominently into the
"Bell Witch" legend. 1
It was at this church, near the Tarboro
Settlement, where he met his future wife, Lucy Williams, daughter
of planters John and Mourning Williams of Edgecombe County.
John Bell was the son of William and Martha
Bell, who had land holdings in Edgecombe, Nash, and Halifax counties. He
purchased his first land, a 323-acre farm on
the south side of Kehukee Swamp, near Blackman's Branch in Halifax County, at
age 23, on September 1, 1773. 2
Bell married in August of 1782. He was 32 years old at the time, and
she was either 12 or 17. The reason I say "or" is because
there are discrepancies regarding her date of birth; there is evidence that suggests
each date, 1765 and 1770, but neither is conclusive. The only
record of their marriage that I have found is the last will and testament of
John Williams, written in March of 1792 and probated in August of 1793, which
mentions their marriage.
successfully for many years and had several children, including
John, Jr. (b.1793),
(b.1796), Benjamin (b. 1798),
(b. 1800), and
Zadok (b. 1803). More information
on the Bell children can be found in the "Biographies"
sections. The Bells also acquired a slave, Chloe, as part of John
Williams' estate settlement in 1793. Chloe would later figure into the
"Bell Witch" legend, as would her son, Aberdeen ("Dean").
John Bell received a
letter of dismission from Towne Creek Baptist Church in September of 1803,
in October of 1804 he deeded the farm to William Rawls and set out for Tennessee
with his family and slaves. 3
On April 20, 1805 he was accepted into the
Red River Baptist Church in Tennessee, pursuant to the letter of dismission from his former church
in North Carolina. 4
more information on the theories behind these stories, please visit the
Questions and Answers page. If you are interested in the
Bell Witch legend of North Carolina,
please visit the essay entitled, “The
Bell Witch - North Carolina Version.”
Kehukee Baptist Association records.
Halifax County, North Carolina, Deed Book 13, p.157.
Halifax County, North Carolina, Deed Book 19, p.164.
Red River Baptist Church Minutes (1791-1826), P. 161.