The 19th Century ‘Bell Witch’ Project - Featuring Andrew Jackson as the General; and Kate as the Witch

DBF

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General Andrew Jackson & “Kate” the Bell Witch

Robertson County - Northern Tennessee, 1817: Farmer John Bell is working in his cornfield. He looks up at what appeared to be a somewhat strange looking dog routing around amongst his crop. Always a man that carried a gun the creature looks up directly in his eyes while Bell fires and watched as the animal ran off. End of story - - - not by a long shot.

The Bell family thought no more of the strange story their father told until son Drew saw an annoying bird perched on a fence and shooed it off. As it was taking flight Drew realized it was an “extraordinarily large animal”. {1} Then daughter Betsy observed a girl in a green dress swinging from the swing on a limb of their oak tree and a family slave named Dean reported that a large black dog followed him as he walked home from his day on the farm.

It wasn’t long before the family reported activity in their home. They heard knocking on walls, sounds of gnawing on their beds, chains on the floor and invisible dogs fighting. The patriarch began to experience strange medical symptoms. He suffered from an occasional swelling of his tongue making it difficult to eat. He finally confided to a friend of the strange phenomena happening at his home and his friend and wife came to visit to see what was going on. As the visitors slept at the Bell farm the spirit came into their room and pulled the covers from their bed, when they left the next day he told John Bell he saw a “spirit just like in the Bible” {2}.

As time went on the spirit grew aggressive. The spirit, now given the name of “Kate”, began to talk with family members in what can be said as a strange voice. At times she would be friendly at times she would argue. There appeared to be a problem between Kate and daughter Betsy as she showed “evidence of being scratched, pinched and stuck with pins” {1}.

Bellhome.jpg

The Bell Home
an artist sketch in 1894

Andrew Jackson was a war hero. At the age of thirteen he joined fellow colonists to fight against the British during the United States war of Independence and in 1812 he successfully faced the British at New Orleans for the last major battle of the war. “Old Hickory” as he was nicknamed was a fearless patriot and living in Tennessee when the story of the happenings at the Bell farm reached his ears.

General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) was curious and determined to dispel the legend and stories that were circulating about this witch and headed out to visit the family. General Jackson arrived from Nashville with their wagons filled with provisions hoping to have a good time “witch watching”. As the wagon was approaching the Bell farm and the men were joking about what they would do when the witch made her appearance, the lead wagon halted and stuck fast. What happened next?

“The driver popped his whip, whooped and shouted to the team, and the horses pulled with all of their might, but could not move the wagon an inch. It was dead stuck as if welded to the earth. Gen. Jackson commanded all men to dismount and put their shoulders to the wheels and give the wagon a push. The order was promptly obeyed. The driver laid on the lash and the horses and men did their best, making repeated efforts, but all in vain; it was no go. The wheels were then taken off, one at a time, and examined and found to be all right, revolving easily on the axles. Another trial was made to get away, the driver whipping up the team while the men pushed at the wheels, and still it was no go. All stood off looking at the wagon in serious meditation, for they were ‘stuck’.

General Jackson after a few moments thought, realizing that they were in a fix, threw up his hands exclaiming, ‘By the eternal, boys, it is the witch’. Then came the sound of a sharp metallic voice from the bushes, saying, ‘All right General, let the wagon move on, I will see you again to-night’."
{2}

Among the men in Jackson’s party was a “witch layer”, (someone who claims to have power over evil spirits) and by the time they arrived at the Bell farm they were welcomed graciously by Mr. Bell. Instead of camping outside the home they requested to stay in the home. They all went into a room to await the appearance of “Kate”. What happened?

“The witch layer had a big flintlock army or horse pistol, loaded with a silver bullet, which he held steady in hand, keeping a close lookout for Kate. He was a brawny man, with long hair, high cheekbones, hawk-bill nose and fiery eyes. He talked much, entertaining the company with details of his adventures, and exhibitions of undaunted courage and success in overcoming witches. He exhibited the tip of a black cat's tail, about two inches, telling how he shot the cat with a silver bullet while sitting on a bewitched woman's coffin, and by stroking that cat's tail on his nose it would flash a light on a witch the darkest night that ever come; the light, however, was not visible to any one but a magician. The party was highly entertained by the vain stories of this dolt. They flattered his vanity and encouraged his conceit, laughed at his stories, and called him sage, Apollo, oracle, wiseacre, etc.” {2}

As the night went along there was a feeling of expectation in the air. After all the witch had promised she would return to General Jackson that evening. Will she appear?

“Old Hickory was the first one to let off tension. He commenced yawning and twisting in his chair. Leaning over he whispered to the man nearest him, ‘Sam, I'll bet that fellow is an arrant coward. By the eternals, I do wish the thing would come, I want to see him run’. The General did not have long to wait. Presently perfect quiet reigned, and then was heard a noise like dainty footsteps prancing over the floor, and quickly following, the same metallic voice heard in the bushes rang out from one corner of the room, exclaiming, ‘All right, General, I am on hand ready for business’. And then addressing the witch layer, ‘Now, Mr. Smarty, here I am, shoot’. The seer stroked his nose with the cat's tail, leveled his pistol, and pulled the trigger, but it failed to fire. ‘Try again’, exclaimed the witch, which he did with the same result. ‘Now its my turn; lookout, you old coward, hypocrite, fraud. I'll teach you a lesson’. The next thing a sound was heard like that of boxing with the open hand, whack, whack, and the Oracle tumbled over like lightning had struck him, but he quickly recovered his feet and went capering around the room like a frightened steer, running over every one in his way, yelling, ‘Oh my nose, my nose, the devil has got me. Oh Lordy! He's got me by the nose’. Suddenly, as if by its own accord, the door flew open and the witch layer dashed out, and made a beeline for the lane at full speed, yelling every jump. Everybody rushed out under the excitement, expecting the man would be killed, but as far as they could hear up the lane, he was still running and yelling, ‘Oh Lordy’. {2}

The fear and tension must have been unbelievable over what the group had just witnessed. The hairs of the heads rising, goosebumps dotting their arms and legs - what happened next to the old and tough battle worn General Jackson?

“Jackson, they say, dropped down on the ground and rolled over and over, laughing. ‘By the eternal, boys, I never saw so much fun in all my life. This beats fighting the British’. Presently the witch was on hand and joined in the laugh. ‘Lord Jesus’, it exclaimed, ‘How the old devil did run and beg; I'll bet he won’t come here again with his old horse pistol to shoot me. 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. {2}

Although General Jackson was tempted to stay for a week, circumstances dictated they return to Nashville. In the end what did General Jackson say about the visit Bell Witch?

“he'd ‘rather fight the British again’ than face the Bell Witch and departed the farm quickly the next morning.” {1}

The Bell Witch was not done with her stay at the family farm. Within three years from the first appearance in the corn field John Bell was taken quite ill. In 1820 he died and next to his bed was found a vial containing a “strange liquid”. Rumors immediately spread that Kate had killed him. Family members reported when they gave some of the liquid to a cat, it too died.

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1894 Illustration - The Death of
John Bell and giving the cat
the mysterious liquid in the vial.

After John Bell’s death Kate announced that she would not return again until 1828 at which time she informed John Bell, Jr., of the coming Civil War. Her prediction proved true thirty-three years later. She then disappeared from the family farm with the claim she would be back in one hundred and seven years.

In March of 1823 General Andrew Jackson began serving in the United States Senate representing Tennessee and on March 4, 1829 General Andrew Jackson became President Andrew Jackson the 7th President of the United States (1829-1837). As President Jackson he’d visit Fort Monroe where the recently married Lee family was stationed and Mary Ann Lee told the story of the President holding her eldest child and future civil war general Custis Lee (1832-1912) while a baby and to his delight as the young baby pulled his nose and touched his fingers to the 7th President’s eyes. The incident at Bell Farm obviously had no lasting effect on the President but for a few days in northern Tennessee it provided him a scare and a laugh.

Although Kate seemed to fade away her story never did. Martin V. Ingram and newspaper published his work “Authenticated History of the Bell Witch” in 1894. The book was also referred to “The Red Book” and is still debated as if it is a work of historical fiction, a collection of 19th century folklore, a fraud or an accurate reflection of the events.

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Sources
1. https://seeksghosts.blogspot.com/2014/12/andrew-jackson-encounters-bell-witch.html
2. https://web.archive.org/web/20021003225306/http://bellwitch02.tripod.com/chapter_11.htm
3. https://sharetngov.tnsosfiles.com/tsla/exhibits/myth/bellwitch.htm
4. https://www.thesocians.com/post/hau...resee-the-american-civil-war-know-the-mystery
5. “Intimate Strategies of the Civil War: Military Commanders and Their Wives”, edited by Carol K. Bleser, Lesley J. Gordon
6.
https://bellwitchcave.com/ghost_hauntings/bell_witch.htm
Photos - Public Domain
 

NH Civil War Gal

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That story has fascinated me especially because of the involvement of Andrew Jackson. He wasn't known to lie. I don't know what it was that could have stopped his wagon. How could a fraud do that? This is one of those completely creepy stories but I'm not sure that the Bell Witch ever came back to the homestead 100+ years later. Did she?
 

John Hartwell

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Good story. "The Witch and Andy Jackson" can take it's place alongside Benet's "The Devil and Daniel Webster" as an example of a tall tale about a popular hero.

I expect Ingram was weaving together bits of local folklore with his own vivid imagination. In which category is the Jackson story? The Bell Witch is first mentioned in the newspapers, as far as I've been able to find,in July of 1894, in response to Ingram's book. Though those accounts do assert that Bell Witch stories "are still current in Robertson County, Tenn.," they don't appear (on a cursory reading) to add anything to what Ingram writes.

Is there any evidence of such a tale regarding Andrew Jackson dating from before Ingram's retelling?
 

mofederal

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Jun 27, 2017
Location
Southeast Missouri
I found the following article online.

"Ingram almost certainly made up the entire Andrew Jackson incident. Andrew Jackson's whereabouts between 1814 and 1820 are well documented, and there is no known record of his having visited Robertson County during those years. In all of his own writings and in all of his many biographies, there is not a single mention of his alleged Bell Witch adventure. The 1824 Presidential election was notoriously malicious, and it seems hard to believe that his opponent would have overlooked the opportunity to drag him through the mud for having lost a fight to a witch. All known documentation shows Jackson elsewhere during the period in question, and all published material about his encounter with the Bell Witch relies on Martin Ingram's book as its sole source." 1


1. Demystiyfing The Bell Witch by Brian Dunning

 
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