person was closer to John Bell’s family than James
Johnston and his two sons, John and
James Johnston was the first person outside the Bell family that
Bell shared the "family secret" of Kate’s disturbances with.
Also, Johnston and his wife were the first people outside the Bell family
who had an encounter with Kate -- which is only logical, considering the
families were next-door neighbors.
first question that Johnston asked Kate, “In the name of the Lord, who and
what are you, and what do you want?” would be asked time and time again over
the next several years by people who traveled great distances to see what the
hoopla was about. Johnston first
thought the disturbances were a practical joke being played by the Bell children
or others in the community; however, his mind quickly changed after spending
sleeping over at the Bell home.
Johnston was a devout Christian. Despite
his inability to read or write, many considered him an expert on Christianity
and the Bible. Because the Bible
says that both good and bad spirits exist, and that trafficking with the evil
supernatural is possible, Johnston often expressed his belief that the
disturbances were caused by “an evil Spirit, a demon, just like in the Bible!”
His sons also shared this belief.
Johnstons had the most commonly misspelled surname in the entire “Bell Witch”
legend, “Johnson.” The correct
spelling is “Johnston,” with the Scottish pronunciation silencing the “t.”
The first Johnstons to settle in America came from Annandale, Scotland by way of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, settling in
Pennsylvania before moving southward to Virginia and the Carolinas as land
grants became available. Born in
Pennsylvania, James Johnston was the youngest child of John and Mary Patterson
spending his early childhood in Pennsylvania, he moved to Caswell County,
North Carolina with his parents and siblings.
reaching a suitable age, Johnston joined the North Carolina Continental Line and
fought in the Revolutionary War. He married Rebecca Porter in July of 1780, and they had nine
children before her death in 1802. In
1800, Johnston and his family migrated to the Red River Settlement in Tennessee
as his brother, William Johnston, had done some twenty years earlier.
of the treacherous terrain and Native American conflicts in the Cumberland Gap and Tennessee River areas at the time, Johnston decided to bring his family and belongings to
Tennessee by way of Georgia, essentially flanking around the trouble areas. In addition to his family,
Johnston was also concerned about protecting a
priceless china cabinet he was carrying.
of his efforts to avert danger along the way, a very old and priceless china
cabinet sits in the dining room of a private residence near Adams, Tennessee --
Johnston and his family settled on 1,000 acres of land he was granted for
serving in the Continental Army. Their
farm was situated along the Red River just
east of present-day Adams, Tennessee, and encompassed both sides of Sturgeon
Creek. About two years after the
death of his first wife, Johnston married Jane Marvlin Greer.
Having no children of their own, they adopted Jane’s niece, Parthenia
“Theny” Thorn, of Stewart County (Dover), Tennessee.
Born on Christmas of 1804, “Theny” Thorn lost her parents at an early
age and had been placed in the care of her aunt, Jane Greer.
She always considered here parents to be James and Jane Johnston,
and was best childhood friends with Elizabeth
and Jane Johnston
to the doctrine of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Because there was no Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the area, they
joined the Methodist Church because they felt part of their Christian duty
was to be active members of a church.
Johnston died in April of 1850 at
the advanced age of 91 years, and is buried along with his two wives and many
relatives near Adams, Tennessee.
Theny Thorn’s birth date
obtained from her gravestone.
Correspondence with direct
descendants of the Johnston family.