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The Bell Witch - Frequently Asked Questions


In this section, author/historian Pat Fitzhugh answers frequently-asked questions about the legend of the "Bell Witch."  For more detailed information and a full account of the legend, order your signed copy of the book.

General Questions

Question:  Was it really a "witch?"

Answer:   The reason behind the legend's name, which dates back to the early 1800s, is that the early settlers considered most anything that baffled them, "witchery."  Keep in mind that the legend happened only 125 years or so after the Salem "Witch Trials," and that widespread paranoia about unexplainable things and behavior ran rampant.  "The Bell Witch" was the name given to the legend in the 1800s, and the name has stuck ever since. 

Question:  Do YOU, personally, believe in the Bell Witch?"

Answer:  As a writer, my job is to tell you the legend of the Bell Witch.  As a researcher and historian, my job is to share what I have found in manuscripts and records pertaining to the people and places involved with the legend.

I neither prove nor disprove the existence of the Bell Witch.  I am here to provide information that will help you draw your own conclusion.

Also, my opinion of the Bell Witch legend changes from time to time, based on where my research takes me.  The ability to approach all findings with an open mind, and to explore all possibilities from all angles, is the cornerstone of credible research.

Question:  Is the Bell Witch just a take-off of the "Blair Witch?"

Answer:  No.  The legend of the Bell Witch has been in existence for almost 200 years.  Mention of the Bell Witch was made in one of the pre-release documentaries, but the stories are entirely different.

Question:  Is the Bell Witch an "urban legend?"

Answer:  No.  The legend of the Bell Witch has been around for almost 200 years, and it came from Tennessee's early frontier.

Question:  Is it true that over 35 books have been written about the subject?

Answer:  No.  Seventeen (17) or so books have been written about the subject, and there's little room for more because most pertinent information about the case has already been found, analyzed, and reported.  The overall number of published works 'might' reach 35, if magazine articles are counted along with the number of books written.

Question:  Who owns the legend of the "Bell Witch?"

Answer:  The number of individuals and companies who feel that they "own" the legend, or that they should own it, is mind-boggling.  Being obsessed with the legend, or feeling that one's own theory is the only correct theory, does not constitute ownership.  It constitutes mere passion for the legend, and nothing more.  Legends are not "owned" at all; they are a product of the "folk," handed down over many generations.  The legend of the Bell Witch belongs to the "folk," every single one of us.  Enjoy it!

Question:  Who was the Bell Witch?

Answer:  According to the legend, the Bell Witch (Kate) was a supernatural entity, not a person.  It was sometimes called "Kate" because some people thought an eccentric lady named Kate Batts was behind the disturbances.  No available records suggest that Mrs. Batts was connected to the disturbances.

Question:  Was Mrs. Batts the niece of Lucy Bell, and how was her name spelled?

Answer:  Genealogy information from North Carolina, along with census and other information in Tennessee, strongly suggests that Mrs. Batts was the niece of Lucy Bell.  Specifically, she was the daughter of John Williams, Jr., who was Lucy Williams Bell's brother.  This highly possible connection was discovered by Tim Henson of Adams, Tennessee.  Additionally, Mrs. Batts' husband, Frederick, was the brother of Jeremiah Batts, who was married to Elizabeth Williams, Lucy Williams Bell's sister.  Frederick and Jeremiah Batts were the brothers of Benjamin Batts, the man with whom John Bell had a dispute that ultimately resulted in his excommunication from Red River Baptist Church.

Mrs. Batts' first name is spelled with a "C," and not a "K."  I discovered this fact many years ago while researching legal documents at the Robertson County Archives.  The name in the document, where Mrs. Batts was the witness to a signature, was spelled, "Caty."  There is reportedly a document in North Carolina, which I have not yet seen, that lists her name as "Cate."  Until I can see and validate that document myself, I am going with the name mentioned in the Robertson County. Tennessee document, "Caty."

However, I will always spell her name with a "K" because the modern-day spelling is with a "K" ninety-nine percent of the time, even in cases where "Kate" is used as a nickname for "Catherine," which is spelled with a "C."

Question:  Were the people and places mentioned in the Bell Witch legend real?

Answer:  Yes, and in many cases they lived even more exciting lives than what the legend states.  Public records, private records, and grave markers bear their names.   They lived during the early 1800s and have many descendants today.  For detailed historical information about these people, see the Biographies page.

Question:  Has the legend changed much over the years?

Answer:  The legend is in a constant state of change, and separating fact from fiction is becoming harder every day.  I lend the most credibility to stories written by those who lived during the period and witnessed the activity, or who knew people who did.  Although many of those accounts, namely the Ingram account, bear little resemblance to official records, they provide at least some value by having been written closer to the timeframe of the disturbances.

Question:  Did the Bell Witch return to John Bell's most direct descendant in 1935 as promised?

Answer:  I don't know.  I haven't found any official records or manuscripts stating that the entity returned.  This doesn't mean that the entity didn't return; but only that if it did, not much was said or written about it.  My Mother grew up in the area and was living there in the early 1930s.  I once asked her about the entity's anticipated return and she laughingly responded that nobody in Robertson County at the time talked or cared about the entity's promised return because they had more important things to worry about, such as survival in the Great Depression.  Here is some food for thought:  Did "Kate" ever leave the place to begin with?

Question:  Does John Bell have descendants living today?

Answer:  Yes; in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois -- just to name a few states.  Some will discuss the legend, others won't.  Some are believers, and some are skeptics.  For Bell family genealogical information, see the Genealogy page.

Question:  It happened back in the 1800s; do people encounter the Bell Witch today?

Answer:  I receive stories from all over the world regarding supposed "Bell Witch" encounters.  Some of those accounts point to an unexplainable presence in the area, others don't. 

Question:  Has there been a movie or documentary made about the Bell Witch?

Answer:  "The Bell Witch Haunting" came out in 2004, "Bell Witch: The Movie came out in 2005, and "An American Haunting" was released in May of 2006.

Several movie attempts were made prior to "The Bell Witch Haunting," but none were successful.  I feel those attempts were unsuccessful due to a lack of collaboration between filmmakers and historians.  By "collaboration with historians," I don't mean simply "pasting" the content of Pat Fitzhugh's web site, discussion group, and books into their own projects and selling them as their own works (which seems to be a huge fad these days); I mean actually sitting down with historians and working with them to render a quality, professional project.  A balance between historical accuracy and shock-value can be achieved!  A good movie, in my opinion, is "The Bell Witch Haunting," which was written by a very competent and knowledgeable person (Ric White), who is intimately familiar with both Bell Witch history and film production.  Historians know the legend; Hollywood knows the film industry; let the two work together.

Question:  What is left of the John Bell farm?

Answer:  The land is used for farming.  A few old rocks in the middle of a field mark where the house is believed to have stood.  The old well is in a nearby thicket.  The cemetery is in a thicket on a distant hill and contains a memorial stone dedicated to John and Lucy Bell.  It was placed about 1957 by a descendant, Leslie Covington.  The house/graveyard tract is still in the family, owned by a private, charitable foundation.  No visitors are allowed without prior permission.  I do not own the property, so please do not ask me for permission.  For more information about private property, particularly the Bell farm, please see the "Private Property" section of this Web site.

For more information about things to see, visit the Adams page.

Question:  How does the Bell Witch Cave figure into the legend; i.e., what happened there?

Answer:  Several incidents occurred near the northwest corner of the Bell farm.  The cave incident involved a little boy who accidentally got his head stuck between two rocks.  After the boy had yelled for some time, the entire cave lit up and invisible hands tugged at his legs.  His head was freed and he was pulled all the way back to the cave entrance by "Kate."

Question:  Can Andrew Jackson's alleged encounter with the Bell Witch be proven?

Answer: No.  Research of real estate records and Jackson's journals indicates that he owned property in the Red River Settlement and often visited the area--including the home of one "John Bell."  There is no documentation indicating that Jackson actually had an  encounter with the "Bell Witch."  When I use the term "documentation," I am referring to an eyewitness account written by Jackson himself and the ink and signature authenticated.  Also, there is considerable evidence that suggests Jackson was not even in the area during the time of the haunting.

For the sake of additional insight and validation, I would really like to get my hands on the journals of some of Jackson's "right hand men" at the time of the disturbances; however, a lack of time and money prevent me from doing so.  I strongly suspect that the "witch-tamer with a silver bullet" in Jackson's entourage (per the legend)  was none other than Cpt. John Gordon (1763-1819), who was a scout, spy, and very close friend of Jackson.  If the encounter really took place, I'm sure Gordon would have wrote about it.

Question:  Why was the entity nice to Lucy Bell but mean to John and Betsy Bell?

Answer:  I don't feel that the entity was nice to any of the Bells.  I think the entity tried to negatively impact the souls of everyone involved, and did so using each person's "path of least resistance."  In other words, it worked on each individual person's weak spots to gain "control" over them.

Although the entity sang and gave grapes and hazelnuts to Lucy Bell when she was sick, we must remember that her children and husband were being beaten severely at the very same time, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  Being forced to eat grapes and hazelnuts, which were allegedly delivered by the same hand that beat her husband and children, is hardly considered "nice."  Let's explore further.

Mrs. Bell reportedly was a strong woman, hard worker, and had given birth to seven (7) children.  It would be absurd to say that she wasn't in good physical condition, or that she had a low threshold for physical pain.  John Bell, Jr. was a big man, supposedly standing at 6'3.  He was a military man and fought in the battles of Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans.  It would be absurd to say that John Bell, Jr. wasn't in good physical condition or had a low threshold for physical pain.

The entity never physically abused Mrs. Bell or John Bell, Jr.,  but abused them EMOTIONALLY by forcing them to watch other family members being abused relentlessly.   The strongest attributes of Mrs. Bell and John, Jr. were their bodies.  It is only logical that EMOTIONAL trauma, as opposed to physical trauma, would inflict the most pain on them.

Now, let's contrast Lucy Bell and John, Jr. with John and Betsy Bell.  Mr. Bell was nearing 70 years of age, well beyond his physical prime, and did relatively little physical labor on the farm (they owned slaves).  Betsy Bell was only in the prepubescent stage when the abuse started.  She also hadn't done much physical labor and had yet to give birth to a child.  John and Betsy Bell made easy "physical" targets for the entity because their physical strength and pain thresholds were much lower than their "emotional" thresholds; hence, PHYSICAL trauma would inflict the most pain on them.

The path of least resistance, or "weak point," is emotional in some people and physical in others.  The entity followed whatever path it needed to take (physical or emotional) to inflict pain and negatively impact everyone involved.

For more information on Lucy Bell, see the Biographies page.


Myths About the Bell Witch


Question:  Is it true that if you stand in front of a mirror, spin around numerous times, and say that you hate the Bell Witch, she will appear in the mirror or something bad will happen to you?

Answer:  No; not unless you spin too many times and get dizzy like I did, and fall.  Actually, this myth came from another legend, "Bloody Mary," and was applied to the Bell Witch legend in later years.

Question:  Is it true that the Bell Witch came into existence as the result of Betsy Bell's having been physically abused by her father?

Answer:  There is no proof that suggests such action took place.  Despite the lack of real, physical evidence, the "abuse theory" has been popularized by several books, magazines, and Web sites which, in my personal opinion, are looking for an easy and convenient closure to the legnd.

The theory that a poltergeist can in some cases be evoked by recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (mind over matter in an involuntary sense) was developed in large part by Dr. Nandor Fodor, a psychologist.  The theory states in a nutshell that a poltergeist can be evoked as the result of severe emotional trauma, usually on the part of a teenager with repressed psychokinetic energy.  Much emotional trauma was present during the John Bell era and was shared among many people, not just the Bell family.

In addition, "Kate" displayed the characteristics of a poltergeist for only a short time -- at the beginning of  the disturbances.  The "abuse theory" as it pertains to the Bell Witch legend is a speculative and presumptuous statement that has no basis in fact.

As a serious researcher of now 30 years, I feel that the "abuse theory" is just another silly Bell Witch myth.  I would never recommend or otherwise endorse any material based on it unless the material carries a disclaimer with it like the movie, "An American Haunting," does.  John Bell was a living human being.  He is no longer here to defend himself.  He has many descendants alive today.  Such a serious accusation (or even suggestion) against a man who is not even alive to defend himself requires proof beyond the shadow of any and all doubt.  Someone.... where's the proof?

Question:  Is it true that John Bell and Kate Batts were "involved," and had a falling-out that resulted in him killing her and her coming back from "the other side" to haunt him?

Answer:  No.  There is no evidence that suggests they were "involved."  On the contrary, there is abundant  evidence suggesting that they would NOT have been "involved."  For example, John Bell was married to Lucy Williams Bell (you can find a reference to this in the Last Will and Testament of John Williams, Lucy's father), and Kate Batts was married to Frederick Batts (you can find a reference to this in Halifax Co., North Carolina marriage records and several Robertson Co., TN real estate and probate records.  Mrs. Batts actually OUTLIVED John and Lucy Bell both (this can be found in Robertson Co. TN probate records, including a Trustee's accounting of the estate settlement).  How could Mrs. Batts have come back from the dead and haunted the Bells when she outlived them?  In addition, John Bell was at a much higher socio-economic station than Mrs. Batts was (estate valuation and settlement records clearly attest to this).

While this doesn't actually prove they were not "involved," it nevertheless provides strong evidence to that effect; and notwithstanding, Mrs. Batts outlived John Bell as stated above.  Interesting side note:  A prominent member of the Red River Settlement saw, on numerous occasions, Mrs. Batts and Professor Richard Powell making eyes at each other and talking privately some distance away from everyone else.  This was passed down through the witness' family, and I will not divulge the source (per an agreement). 

Question:  Is it true that Kate Batts and John Bell had a property line dispute that resulted in her putting a "curse" on him?

Answer:  No.  John Bell had a well-documented dispute with Benjamin Batts over the sale of a slave.  Benjamin and Kate Batts were not closely related.  Many people err in "assuming" that Benjamin was Kate's husband or child, and that she concocted an "entity" to go after John Bell in retaliation.  The details of the slave dispute between John Bell and Benjamin Batts can be found in the minutes of the Red River Baptist Church.  Additionally, real census records covering several decades indicate that Kate and Fred Batts NEVER owned slaves.  They couldn't afford them; estate records attest to this.

It is clear why some people mistakenly thought the dispute was with Kate Batts--1) they were assuming things, and 2) they were not paying attention to detail.  Where did the idea of it being a LAND deal come from?  Same answer--assuming things and not paying enough attention to detail--but from a different dispute involving John Bell.

John Bell had a little-known land dispute with Josiah Fort, another prominent farmer, around the year 1816.  This is also listed in the Red River Baptist Church minutes; however, someone marked through the specific details in the original minute book.  Confusion between Bell's disputes with Josiah Fort and Benjamin Batts resulted in stories that mixed the two and implicated Kate Batts as being the "Bell Witch."  For more information on the Forts, see the Biographies page.

Question:  Is it true that John Bell was a bachelor and owned the first store in Adams, Tennessee?

Answer:  No.  John Bell was married to Lucy Williams and they had a total of seven children.  Bell owned a plantation, not a store.  A George Bell (no relation to John Bell) of the Red River Settlement did in fact own the area's first store, about 1800, which was four years prior to John Bell's arrival.  Additionally, the area did not become known as Adams until 1858, when it became Adams Station -- named for merchant and railroad stockholder, Reuben Adams.

Question:  Is it true that the Bells made up the entire "Bell Witch" thing for the purpose of attracting interest in hopes that the Edgefield and Kentucky Railroad would be built through the area?

Answer: No.  The railroad was not built through the area until 1858-59, nearly 40 years after the disturbances.  For more information, see the Adams page.

Question:  Is it true that there is a "curse" on all male descendants of John Bell?

Answer: No, because not all male descendants have experienced misfortune.

Question:  Is it true that the "Bell Witch" said Bells and Gardners could never marry?

Answer: No.  This only applied to Betsy Bell and Joshua Gardner.  Many years later, a John Bell descendant, Charlie Willett, courted a lady with the Gardner surname for quite some time.  They never married, and it is said that they were afraid the "Bell Witch" would disapprove of their union.  For more information on Betsy Bell and Joshua Gardner, see the Biographies page.

Noteworthy:  John Thomas Bell, son of Jesse Bell and grandson of John Bell, married a Martha Ann Gardner.  John Thomas Bell was the patriarch of the Mississippi version of the "Bell Witch" legend.  It is not known whether his marrying a Gardner had anything to do with the disturbances his family endured after moving to Mississippi.  Also, Permelia Adeline Powell, daughter of Betsy Bell and Richard Powell, married a William M. Gardner.  I am unaware of anything strange that happened as a result.

For more Bell family genealogy, see the Genealogy page.

Question:  A book came out in the 1930s that contained predictions made by the "Bell Witch" during private discussions with John Bell, Jr. in 1828 regarding the past, the present, and the future.  Were these predictions real?

Answer:  No.  The discussions and predictions make for great reading and are incorporated into several modern books, including mine.  Credible evidence that contradicts the discussion/prediction aspect of the legend has recently come to light.

It has been learned that John Bell, Jr. died on April 8, 1862, and NOT May 8th, as many authors and researchers have assumed.  Based on the way in which  several of the predictions are worded, especially in regard to the Civil War and the date on which  John Bell, Jr. really died, there is NO WAY the predictions were valid.  Either the "Bell Witch" erred in her predictions, or the author of the 1930s book made them all up.

I have a copy of the evidence -- a sales receipt and Bill of Lading pertaining to John Bell, Jr.'s gravestone -- with his real date of death (4/8/1862) listed clearly.  This is corroborated in part by a copy of an estate sale poster hanging in the Adams Museum and Archives.  Many thanks go to Tim Henson for finding the receipt and Bill of Lading for John Bell, Jr.'s gravestone.

For more information on John Bell, Jr., see the Biographies page.


Book-Related Questions


Question:  What is your opinion about such-and-such book about the "Bell Witch?"

Answer:  As an ethical author, I can not provide reviews or commentaries of other authors' works regarding the same subject matter.  The only exceptions to this are the Ingram and Charles Bailey Bell books, because of their historical significance in shaping the legend, early on.  And even so, I limit my commentary to issues of historical accuracy rather than the quality of the books themselves.

Question:  How did you go about researching the Bell Witch legend?

Answer:  I lost interest in the "story" aspect when I was in my early teens.  From that point on (1978), I researched the legend for the purpose of finding out what did and didn't happen, and to learn the history of the land and characters involved.  My research included sources such as tax records, real estate records, census records, military records, pension records, birth and death records, probate records, old manuscripts, diaries, journals, family Bibles, church records, and lots of other information.

I have interviewed hundreds of people, mainly descendants of those involved and people who claim to have had encounters with the " Bell Witch" in recent years.  The research covered Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.  It took 22 years of travel and expense to complete the initial research.  My research continues; 2008 is the 30th anniversary.

Question:  Was your book project and research done for profit?

Answer:  No.  If I had wanted to do it for profit, I would have taken the high road and created an entirely fictitious version of the legend, along with a closure, so I that could land a TV or movie deal out of it.  I am neither a profiteer nor an armchair historian.  I like what I do, and my mission, as it relates to this extremely small part of my life (Bell Witch) is to simply get as much information out into the open as I can.  Any money that comes in from Bell Witch-related efforts stays there, with the Bell Witch,  to cover research expenses, web site hosting and domain name fees, and printing expenses.

Question:  Is the book fiction or non-fiction?

Answer:  As the second inside page states, the book is a work of both history and fiction.  The book is no different from any other such book -- consider the conversations between the characters as fiction; consider the many "stories" as factionalization; consider fact-like statements without footnotes as "most likely fact;" and consider footnoted statements as being pure fact.  Regarding my theories and views on spirituality, supernatural entities, etc., consider those as my own opinion based on conclusions made from my research.

Question:  Why doesn't the book contain a bibliography?

Answer:  It is not a generally-accepted practice for authors of paperbacks in the horror/occult genre to include a bibliography.  Remember, we are talking books here, not high school term papers.

I chose to take the footnote/author note approach in documenting my sources because it lets me document the specifics of each source, put them on the page being read, and provide side-discussions and additional sourcing.  This method is more complete than a simple "bibliography," like you would see in a high school term paper.

Question:  Have you written anything besides Bell Witch books?

Answer: Yes.  "The Bell Witch: The Full Account" was my sixteenth book.  I've written for as many years, and my topics range from sci-fi to romance, and on to the supernatural.  The Bell Witch, however, has been my "pet project" since day one.  I also write ad copy, newspaper articles, and magazine articles.  Another book I've written is Ghostly Cries From Dixie, a compilation of ghost stories from the American South.  As of February 2011, I am putting the finishing touches on From Turkey Creek - A Memoir, my personal memoir of growing up on the Tennessee River in rural west Tennessee.

Question:  What was the purpose of your first Bell Witch book, "The Bell Witch Haunting?"

Answer: "The Full Account" was two years late going to press because I had to wait on validation of a particular fact.  Readers, reviewers, and industry publications became insistent on having SOMETHING "Bell Witch," despite TFA's late status -- an interim, or "bridge book" of sorts.  I woke up at 1:00 one morning and couldn't sleep.  So I fired up my laptop computer, got something to drink, and began typing and inserting pictures into MS Word.  I had finished "The Bell Witch Haunting," a 124-page book,  by sunrise.  I took the file to a printer later that morning and had it printed.

Question:  Are you planning to write another "Bell Witch" book?

Answer:  The answer is an absolute "yes," and it will be released in 2013.  No "spoilers" will be given.  Any updates regarding the book's progress will be posted to this web site, the Yahoo group, and the Pat Fitzhugh Facebook Page.  

Question:  Do you live in Adams, Tennessee?

Answer:  No.  I live on the quiet, rolling Tennessee countryside, next to a river and in a 100+ year-old house.

Question:  What do you do in real life?

Answer:  In addition to being an author, I am an Information Technology professional. 

For more "Bell Witch" information:

Sound interesting?  Want to know more?  Click here to get the book!

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