When asked what is probably the most haunted location in Tennessee, most people will answer without hesitation, the Bell Witch Cave. Possibly the most terrifying legend to ever sweep the small town of Adams, The Bell Witch was a murderous, vile, and evil entity. After tormenting the Bell family for years and causing irreparable damage, she retreated to a nearby cave that will give your darkest nightmares a run for their money.
This hair raising story begins in 1782, with a man named John Bell and his wife, Lucy Williams. In 1804, after several years of marriage, the couple decided to migrate to Tennessee, with a few other families searching for a better life. They settled in what is now Adams, Tennessee where they purchased 300 acres of farmland and built a large family home to accommodate their nine children.
The Bells quickly rose to prominence within their community and found success in the farming industry. Despite their social progress, an issue between John Bell and a member of one of the families he traveled with, would portray him in a more questionable light.
Frederick Batts, who had also made the trek to North Carolina with his family, suffered a horrible accident while working on his farm. Unable to recover and provide for his family, Frederick began selling some of his property just to get by. A large portion of his land was purchased by John Bell, but little did they know, this would set off a deadly feud between the two families.
Allegedly, Bell purchased the land for much less than it was worth and took advantage of the hardships the Batts were facing. Frederick's wife Kate was particularly disgusted by John's audacity and swore she would make him and his family pay for what they'd done.
Adding to the uncomfortable situation, John Bell reportedly purchased a young enslaved girl from Benjamin Batts, Frederick's brother. Apparently, after the sale was finalized, Bell had a change of heart. He believed the girl was too young to go work on her own and that she should remain with her mother until she was a bit older...how considerate of him.
A few years later, Bell attempts to retrieve her, but Batts decides that since she is now old enough to work, she is worth way more than what Bell initially paid.
Bell was adamant that he already purchased her and to him, this young woman was now his property. If Batts wanted her back, he would have to repurchase her. So Bell sold the poor girl back to Batts for much more than he had initially paid, and once again profited from the situation.
As a response, Batts filed a lawsuit against him for extortion. Still, given that it's the 1800s, the communication was delayed, and Bell never showed up in court. Since Bell was absent, the court sided with Batts, a verdict that soon reached the townspeople, and eventually the local Church. Bell - who was an integral member of the Church - was promptly excommunicated, which meant the devil could now easily enter his home.
John Bell became despised by the community for his manipulative and cold dealings. But the Batts were not that well-liked either. Kate, Frederick's wife, was known for her loud, pushy demeanor, and no one wanted to be around her. On top of that, her eccentric displays in Church led people to believe that she was practicing witchcraft.
In the 19th century, no woman could be outspoken or independent without the help of Satan. The situation escalated quickly, and the story of a typical family feud takes an even darker turn in 1817.
One day, John Bell was hunting when he came across a strange animal prowling outside his home. He described what looked like a large black-haired beast, a crossbreed between a dog and a rabbit. Terrified, he shot the creature, but a second glance revealed there was nothing there. No traces of blood, no pawprints, nothing.
This brief encounter with an abomination was only the beginning of what was to come.
Bell family members began hearing what they thought were stones being thrown at the house and knocking on the roof and inside the walls. The faint knocking eventually turned into loud banging and the sound of rattling chains. Once the strange events moved indoors, they witnessed scratches all over the walls and what sounded like rats chewing on their wooden beds.
The children were tortured while they slept.
One night, John and Lucy were woken up by their daughter Betsy's screams. They rushed to her room only to find that her hair had been tied to the bedpost, and she had red slap marks on her face. Her younger brothers were also targeted.
The children swore their blankets were being ripped off at night and could see lights in the surrounding field. They were also repeatedly beaten by an invisible force and had the welts and bruises to prove it.
Betsy soon began to see a girl in a green dress swinging from a tree branch by her hands before disappearing into thin air.
Whoever or whatever this dark entity was, it became more powerful and more violent by the day. But the family remained quiet about what was happening and turned to prayer to vanish the evil that had seemingly put down roots in their home.
It wasn't long before the Bells began to hear the entity speak. What started as faint whispers turned into a full-blown voice.
Curiously, this voice didn't just spew threats and profanities, it also cracked jokes and tried to partake in regular conversation. After several attempts to extract information from this spirit, she revealed her name was Kate.
The Bell Witch also revealed she was after one thing and one thing only: killing John Bell.
Out of all the Bell family members, John had it the worst. Kate refused to leave him alone, and it was believed that she began poisoning him little by little until he finally died.
At his funeral, Kate made sure to let everyone know she was responsible for his death, laughing and singing her way through the ceremony. Everyone was convinced that the Bell Witch had killed him.
For the first time in U.S. history, a death was blamed on a supernatural entity and classified as such.
After John was taken care of, the activity in the home ceased, leading the Bells to believe Kate was gone for good.
In 1821, however, after Betsy got engaged to a young man named Joshua Gardner, the girl swinging from the tree appeared again. Only this time, the girl warned Betsy not to marry Joshua and to return the ring. She was so shaken by this that she broke off her engagement and Gardner moved away.
The hauntings at the Bell household became so popular that even General Andrew Jackson decided to pay a visit to the family.
While many quaked at the thought of encountering the Bell Witch, others such as Andrew Jackson, were curious.
He rallied a few of his men and rode into town to investigate. Apparently, as the group reached the property line, their coach came to a screeching halt, and no amount of force was able to get the horses to move.
According to Jackson, a voice behind the trees called out and said, "All right General, let the wagon move on, I will see you again tonight." As soon as the "metallic" voice spoke, the horses resumed their journey.
The General's crew included an armed "witch layer" who was bragging about how he was going to kill Kate that night. Of course, she showed up and beat him silly to "teach him a lesson."
After the witch layer had been laid out, she added that she would take another man the next night. Well, they weren't about to sit around waiting to get beat up by an invisible woman, so they left.
According to local lore, after she had gotten what she wanted, the Bell Witch retreated to a nearby cave where her evil spirit has been lying dormant ever since.
The Bell Witch Cave is located on the property previously owned by the Bell family. Given the popularity of the legend, the cave has been shown to the public on tours.
As a warning, visitors are told to not bring anything into the cave or take anything out of it, as terrible things will happen if they do. Is the curse real?
One man allegedly took a small memento home, a rock he got from the cave, and in three days he lost his wife, his job, and his house.
There are quite a few theories as to whom the Bell Witch was and why she came to be. The main theory is that the events were made up to cover up John Bell's murder. As it turns out, Lucy Bell, John's wife, was Kate Batts' aunt.
Some believe the two plotted to murder John and created the witch phenomena to divert suspicion. Interestingly, out of all the members of the Bell family, Lucy was always treated kindly by the witch, managing to altogether avoid the witch's wrath.
If Lucy just wanted to kill John, why would she torture her own kids?
Others claim that Kate Batts, being the powerful witch everyone thought she was, summoned a demon to torment the Bells after John took advantage of her family. This lower entity was told to continue wreaking havoc on the Bells until John died. Apparently, the Bell family home was built over a Native American burial ground, which helped fuel the demon's presence in the house.
Another theory is that Betsy's eventual husband, Richard Powell, was so smitten by Betsy that he decided to create the witch to keep her from marrying Joshua Gardner.
Richard Powell was a highly educated man who could've easily manipulated others to help him scare the Bells. Yet this doesn't explain how the kids were beaten by an unseen force.
The mystery of the Bell Witch may never be solved.
The original Bell family home was demolished in 1843. Still, an authentic replica with period-accurate furnishings is available for tours. Please note the replica is not located in the same spot as the original home. The Bell Witch Cave is also open to the public for tours.
430 Keysburg Rd Adams, TN 37010