Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bell Witch in Mississippi

A contemporary drawing
of Betsy Bell.
In rural Yalobusha County, there is a lonely graveyard that contains the grave of a woman once at the center of one of the most curious and terrifying stories of the old South - the famous "Bell Witch" of Tennessee. According to the legend, beginning in 1817, Elizabeth "Betsy" Bell and members of her family were visited by an "entity" at their farm in Adams, Tennessee. Known as the Bell Witch, the spirit seemed to focus its malevolent energy on Elizabeth and her father, John Bell, Sr. Apparently, the entity, who identified itself as "Kate," was chiefly opposed to Elizabeth's engagement a local boy named Joshua Gardner. "Kate" also indicated a desire to end John Bell's life. During the visitations, which mostly ended in 1821, the Bell Witch is said to have revealed "herself" to many witnesses, included Andrew Jackson (although not supported by any documentation whatsoever). The haunting continued until John died in 1820 (some believed he was killed by the spirit) and Betsy broke off her engagement to young Joshua. Betsy married a much older man (a local "professor") named Richard Rowell Ptolemy Powell in 1824. Powell, who would become a successful Tennessee politician, had apparently been interested in Betsy for quite some time, a fact the entity seemed not to object to. Betsy's marriage was filled with grief and tragedy, however, as four children died at a young age and her husband suffered a stroke. For eleven years thereafter, Betsy cared for her invalid husband until his death in 1848.

One of the Bell cabins has been restored
and is part of the tourist attractions
availiable in Adams, Tennessee.
In 1874, Elizabeth Bell Powell left Tennessee and moved to Mississippi to live with her daughter (Eliza Jane) and son in law (Zadoc Yelvington Xeres Bell) in Yalobusha County. By all accounts, Elizabeth had by that time gained a lot of weight and her health declined as a result. On July 11, 1888, Elizabeth died at age 82 and was buried in the Long Branch Cemetery near Water Valley, where she remains today. Buried beside Elizabeth are her daughter and son-in-law. Betsy's original gravestone, unfortunately, was the victim of vandalism years ago and has been replaced by a modern tombstone.

Although not nearly as famous as the Bell Witch legend in Tennessee, there are some accounts of supernatural occurrences in Mississippi associated with the Bell family. One such account, published in 1928, involves the sufferings of a girl named Mary at the hands of the Bell Witch (now a male entity, interestingly), who wants to marry her. None of the Mississippi legends seem to match up with the Bell Witch story in Tennessee very well, but no matter. A good story is still a good story, and whatever one believes about the Bell Witch, the tragic life of Elizabeth Bell bears repeating. There are several great websites devoted to the Bell Witch, the most comprehensive of which is www.bellwitch.org. In addition, there are a couple of recent film adaptations of the story, all on the heels of the very successful "Blair Witch Project," believed to be based in part on the Bell Witch.

The original gravestone of Elizabeth Bell at Long Branch Cemetery.


  1. Seems I have a connection to Elizabeth Bell and the John Bell family from the area around Oakland and Ford's Well community in Yalobusha County. Elizabeth's older sister, Esther Bell, had married Alexander Bennett Porter. They had a son, Eppy Nedious Guion Porter, who married his second wife, Ann C Moore. They had a daughter named Minerva Cornillas Porter, who married my great grandfather William Walter Gibson. They had one son, Earl Alvin Gibson, my grand father on my mother's side.
    I remember back in the 1960's my Grandfather Gibson was doing a little family tree esearching on his mother's Porter side-- His Grandfather Porter was killed in La or Ark and my Grandfather's mother, Minerva, suffered a foot injury from an accident(?)on the journey back to MS with her father, the foot injury troubled her the rest of her life. With this information he was then TOLD not to investigate any further. Reason given ????
    But now that is not all. I found my great grand father, William Walter Gibson, had been married before to Amirilus M Finch(Godwin). Who died in child birth with her son. Now Amirilus was the daughter of Huldah Ann Bell(Finch)and James B Finch. Huldah was the daughter of Jesse Egbert Bell, oldest son of John Bell. So I almost had a double connection.

  2. You are from two lines of the Bell Family. This not unusual, because I have found several of the Bells lines intermarried. I have written a book called the Black Patch Bells and have worked on the Bell Family History for more than 17 years. I take care of the Bell-Willett Museum in Adams, TN. write to Tim Henson,5985 Anthony Road, Adams, TN 37010 or call 615-696-2145. I will be happy to share info with you.

  3. My Bell conection starts with Leodus Agustus Bell of Riply MS. His daughter Mary Nadine Bell Akins if Holly Springs is my grandmother. She owned Linden Hill on Van Dorn for 66 yrs. which is haunted. After the home left our blood line it's been bought & sold over & over again because it haunted.