Tennessee Road Sign
The events reported to have occurred at Adams Station between 1817 and 1820 are far more dramatic than any comparable haunting. An entity identified as Kate is said to have freely spoke with numerous people and to have killed John Bell.  US President Andrew Jackson is also reported to have challenged Kate and to have retreated out of fear.

M.V. Ingram in his 1894 Bell Witchbook claims his report is based on the diary of Richard William Bell who was six years old when the events occurred and didn't write about it until he was thirty. No witnesses were alive when Ingram wrote his book. It's remarkable that some people treat the book as factual.  Here are our issues.


The story was picked up in 1933 by the Guidebook for Tennessee by Federal Works Project Administration. In 1934 by Dr. Charles Bailey Bell published "The Bell Witch: The Mysterious Spirit," followed in 1979 H.C. Brehm's "Echoes of the Bell Witch in the Twentieth Century".  In 1994 Charles Edwin Price offered "The Infamous Bell Witch".  Recently in 2000 Brent Monahan published "The Bell Witch" and Pat Fitzhugh "The Bell Witch: The Full Account." Mr. Fitzhugh's compilation is what I used as the starting point in my analysis.

Then you may wish to visit what Pat Fitzhugh modestly claims as the official Bell Witch site and then examine some of those listed below:



In addition to the Tennessee legend, the Mississippi legend was published by Arthur Hudson in 1934. The Mississippi version of the Bell Witch was totally based on oral tradition. Many of its "facts" were obviously wrong, thereby disqualifying it from any serious research. Originating from members of the family who actually experienced the event, such as Betsy Bell, who moved to Mississippi, this version was so different from that told in Tennessee that it demonstrates how memories can change. Nevertheless, the account is interesting to read. Here is a ZIPPED Plain Text Version.


Using the details in Mr. Fitzhugh's book I have constructed the chronology of the Bell Witch. I have attempted to cross check it with public record when available.


John Bell, Sr,         (1750 - 1820)  70 yr
- Mary  (Mississippi Legend)  (1)
Lucy (Williams) Bell   (1770 - 1836)  67 yr
- Jesse Bell           (1790 - 1843)  53 yr, (40) MS
- John Bell, Jr        (1793 - 1862)  69 yr TN
- Joel Thomas Bell
- Charles Bailey Bell
- Drewey Bell          (1796 - 1865)  69 yr TN
- Benjamin              unknown, died in childhood
- Ester (Bell) Porter  (1800 - 1859)  59 yr TN, (38) MS
- Zadok Bell           (1803 - 1826)  23 yr AL
- Eliz. Lucy Bell      (1806 - 1888)  72 yr TN, (74) MS
- Richard Wm Bell      (1811 - 1857)  46 yr TN
   (wrote acct 1846)
- Joel Egbert Bell     (1813 - 1890)  77 yr   TN
   (worked w/Ingram)
1782 Marriage (2)
1800 (est) J. Bell kills J. Black (3)
1803-04 Moved to Tennessee
1817-22 Haunting
1818 J. Bell excommunicated (reported for usury)
1819 Reported Andrew Jackson visit
1828 Entity visits J. Bell,Jr (reported by Bell, no witnesses)
1846 RW Bell writes account(claims from diary as 6-9 yr old) (4)
1849 Saturday Evening Post        Sources: Hearsay, forced to retract (5)
1880 MV Ingram starts researching his book
1886 AV Goodpasture Account    Source: Hearsay
1896 MV Ingram Book                 Source: RW & Joel Bell (4)
1930 Harriet Parks Miller Book    Source: Rehash of Ingram Book
1934 Charles Bell Book               Source: JT Bell notes from John Jr
          Ingram Account plus John Jr supposed 1828 discussions with entity 
          (generally assumed as fabricated) (6)
1934 Arthur Hudson account      Source: Mississippi Oral tradition 1,3) 
                                 assumed from Ester & Jesse stories
1935 Entity promises a return (Never Happened) (6)
1937 H.C. Brehm Book               Source: Ingram book

Interesting Items to note:
1) Mary Bell, supposedly daughter of John Bell, Sr appears in Mississippi folklore, but not mentioned in TN account. Marries and leaves home before 1800. Who was the mother?

2) Lucy, reported from wealthy Williams family, marries at age 12, but doesn't have first child until age 18. Doesn't seem logical.

3) John Black was overseer on Bell farm.  J. Bells kills him after hearing him brag luridly about Mary Bell.  No witnesses, not in public record, but Bell was acquitted based on self-defense.  Mississippi tale suggests entity was the ghost of Black.
    Although the Black episode significantly contrasts with "facts", Fitzhugh includes it in his book as "fact,"  but the source wishes to remain anonymous. Fitzhugh seems to ignore the fact that there are no public records of Mary!

4) Source material for MV Ingram's book - memories of a 6 to 9 child reconstructed 20 years after the fact and released by a third party 40 years subsequent to that.

5) Claimed Witch was a hoax contrived by Elizabeth Bell and Powell (a suitor).  They were forced to retract that statement after E. Bell threatened to sue.

6) After supposed 1828 meeting with John Jr., the Witch promised to return after 107 years had lapsed.  In that meeting the Witch was supposed to have made numerous predictions which came true and which were in book as additions to Ingram story.  Naturally, ALL these predictions were reported AFTER the event occurred.


      "For nearly two centuries, this authentic haunting has been considered the greatest supernatural phenomenon in the history of mankind. The people, places, and dates are real – and Tennessee farmer John Bell is the only man in history whose death was directly attributed to a Spirit." This quote was from Pat Fitzhugh’s book, "The Bell Witch." Published in 2000 it was the latest in a dozen such works by various authors.
     The State of Tennessee acknowledged these strange happenings with its gray metal, roadside plaque on Route 41 in Adams, Tennessee that read in part, "According to legend his family was harried during the early 19th century by the famous Bell Witch. She kept the household in turmoil, assaulted Bell, and drove off Betsy Bell’s suitor. Even Andrew Jackson who came to investigate, retreated to Nashville after his coach wheels stopped mysteriously".
      As the gossip spread, the problems of this prominent family in Red River Station, as Adams was known at that time, became so sensationalized with actual details becoming so obscured that in a matter of a couple generations, they grew into a legend. Even in recent years, as writers researched the Bell Witch haunting they contributed to the mysticism by claiming it was the most document manifestation of its kind in American history. What I found was quite to the contrary. After searching archives for fundamental records, I located only one report from a person who actually witnessed the incident. It appeared that all of the other so-called evidence had been derived either from this one basic narrative or from questionable and often fictionalized hearsay.
      My only eyewitness story was provided by Richard Bell, the second youngest son of John Bell, through his diary, "Our Family Trouble". Born in 1811, he was only six years old when the bizarre events of 1817 to 1820 began. Living in a community in an era steeped in superstition, he had to have found it difficult at this highly suggestive age to differentiate fantasy from reality. Like most youngsters, his mind would have been a willing and non-critical reservoir for fairy tales and monster stories, believing almost everything.
In 1846, over a quarter of a century later, he wrote of his experiences in his diary. I imagined him trying to remember that traumatic time so long ago. He would have recalled sleeping with many of his seven siblings in one big bed, while his eleven-year old sister manifested serious behavioral problems, not too dissimilar from psychosis. Painfully, he would have winced, remembering her screams as the covers flew off the bed and then, with all the innocence of a child, accepting her tale that a ghost did it. Isolated on a frontier farm, his perception of what actually happened would have been naïve and fanciful. His interpretation of his youthful memories would have been as clouded as they were when he was a child and attempted to comprehend perceptions beyond his ken.

      In 1857 he gave the diary to his son Allen, who, in turn, entrusted it to his personal friend, Martin Ingram, with the proviso that nothing could be made public until after the deaths of the immediate family. Finally in 1880, nearly two generations after the turmoil, Ingram began to research and document the incident. In the preface of his book he rationalized this interim as concern for the privacy of a deeply religious family that had already been seriously maligned by this unholy occurrence. Although a reasonable and sympathetic consideration, that passage of time also made it nearly impossible for others to formulate and validate any counterpoint.
     Ingram owned and operated the newspaper, the Clarksville Tobacco Leaf. His bibliography specifically stated that he was not a trained journalist and that his partners had primary responsibility for that function. His job was to print and "sell" newspapers. How much of that mindset influenced his 1894 book, "The Authenticated History of the Bell Witch?" As related issue, how much editing did Bell family members or Ingram do to make the diary suitable for inclusion in his book? We will never know since the original has been lost to time.
      Ingram wove his tale using strands of oral tradition and excepts from the diary. With supposedly actual conversations and quotations by witnesses, his rendition read like a first-hand account. In the appendix he contrived to substantiate its authenticity with a list of testimonials from a dozen notable and credible local citizens. It was a valueless gimmick in that they did not and could not testify to the credulity of his anecdotal evidence. They were character witnesses for his interviewees. By 1880 no one was alive who was directly involved. Nevertheless, because of its seemingly scientific and journalistic presentation, his work was accepted as factual and became the primary reference for every subsequent publication.
      In 2000 another Bell Witch author, Brent Monahan, used the term "faction" to describe his book as a fictional work based on facts. In a manner similar to Ingram, he claimed to base his story on a major diary - that of Richard Powell, the schoolteacher for the Bell children and the husband to Betsy, the psychotic sister. Even though Monahan was more honest than Ingram about the veracity of his tale, he did take his liberties. He fabricated the Powell diary. It never existed. The only document in existence with Powell’s handwriting was his Cipher book, which was now in the Tennessee State Archives. In his extensive scribbling in its margins, Powell did comment on the Bells, but he noted nothing unusual.
      Prior to the Ingram book there were only two known written reports of the occult activities in Adams: a brief paragraph in 1886 by historian Albert Goodspeed in "Goodspeed History of Tennessee" and an article in 1849 by the "Saturday Evening Post".
Goodspeed said nothing more definitive than, "A remarkable occurrence, which attracted widespread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled in what is now known as Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the ‘Bell Witch’."
      In the case of the "Post" article, no modern researcher has found anything associated it. Ingram claimed that the magazine blamed the entire phenomenon on Betsy, she threatened to sue, and they issued a public retraction. Certainly, if true, that interaction would have created at least one record for posterity.
      Writing paper was scarce in frontier Tennessee. The absence of written records may not have unequivocally discredited the legend, but it did make me wonder, if Goodspeed didn’t exaggerate, there should be research-able documents. No matter how primitive Adams was, there were newspapers in an area that includes Nashville. Nothing exists.
There were written records about John Bell: notes in the minutes of the Red River Baptist Church, at which he was an elder; and, records in court trial in nearby Springfield, at which he was successfully sued for usury. These events led to Bell’s excommunication from the Baptist Church in January of 1818. Neither record hinted of the Bell Witch affair.
      Lastly, I doubted the comment on the Tennessee road plaque about the involvement of the 7’th President of the United States. Because of his spectacular victory in the battle of New Orleans in 1815, Andrew Jackson was a household name. Why would the newspapers ignore his visit to Adams with a large entourage to challenge the Witch? Why was there no record in Jackson’s personal journals? Similarly, I can’t imagine how there would not have been derisive comments about his reported retreat from the Witch in his 1824 and 1828 presidential campaigns that were so viscous that Jackson believed scandalous accusations made during them led to the death of his beloved wife, Rachel.
      Until recently, most of the books on the Bell Witch were motivated in some manner by a member of the Bell family. The 1894 Ingram book was solicited by Joel, the son of Richard Bell, and contained mostly hearsay of the descendants of Bell’s closest friends. The 1934 book, "The Bell Witch: A Mysterious Spirit" was written by great-grandson son Dr Charles Bell, who obtained notes of private conversations John Bell, Jr claimed to have had with the Witch in 1828. He had dictated them to his son Dr. Joel Thomas Bell. There has been no other first-hand records to substantiate or refute any of the legend. It seemed just too self-serving not to be questioned.
      All of the half-dozen other major books or articles on the Bell Witch have added no significant information. Everything in this so-called "most documented" case had the one fundamental reference exploited over and over again - the book of Ingram, which in turn was based of two generations of campfire stories and the fantasies of a child.