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Bell Witch Character Biography

John Bell (1750-1820)


Often called “Ol’ Jack Bell” by Kate, John Bell is allegedly the only person in history whose death was attributed to the doings of a Spirit.  In 1817, Bell contracted a mysterious affliction that worsened over the next three years, ultimately leading to his death.  Kate took pleasure in tormenting him during his affliction, finally poisoning him one December morning as he lay unconscious after suffering a number of violent seizures.

Born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, Bell apprenticed as a barrel maker during his formative years and later pursued a career in farming.  He married Lucy Williams in 1782 and settled on a farm he had bought earlier. The Bells prospered over the next eight years and were among the area's most successful planters.

With the birth of their first child, Jesse, they began a family.  In the years that followed, John and Lucy Bell had three more sons, John Jr., Drewry, and Benjamin.  All went well until the 1801 and 1804 crop seasons, when their crops failed and they decided to move westward as several of their friends had done.

In the winter of 1804-1805, Bell and his family embarked on a journey over the treacherous mountains of North Carolina and east Tennessee that took them to an area called “The Barren Plains,” settling in the northwest section of present-day Robertson County, Tennessee.  Bell became a successful farmer and gained prominence in his new abode.  He later became an Elder of Red River Baptist Church. He would eventually be excommunicated from the same church; some say because of Kate's disturbances, and others say because of a shady business dealing.

Bell's later affliction was most likely a neurological disorder, although Kate vehemently claimed responsibility.  Very little was known about such disorders during those early days, thus few treatment options were available.  It is interesting to note that Sir Charles Bell, a Nineteenth Century anatomy professor, discovered a neurological disorder that yielded symptoms that were similar to those John Bell suffered at the onset of his affliction. The affliction discovered by Sir Charles Bell became known as "Bell's Palsy," and has become a falsehood associated with the Bell Witch legend in recent years. Contrary to what some might say, John Bell's illness was not Bell's Palsy.

This usually non-fatal disorder is known as “Bell’s Palsy,” and was discovered several years after John Bell’s death.  The fact that John Bell’s earliest symptoms mimicked those of "Bell’s Palsy," a disorder named for the Bell surname, but Sir Charles Bell in this case, is purely coincidental.  It is also mere coincidence that Sir Charles Bell's younger brother was named John Bell, and died in 1820.  The author, although not a doctor, feels that John Bell's symptoms, when considered as a whole, likely mimicked a neurological degenerative syndrome (meaning they don't really know what it is) characterized by seizures, excessive migraines, convulsions, numbness and tingling sensations, fatigue and weakness.

Why Kate concentrated most of her efforts on John Bell, no one really knows for sure.  Theories abound; some plausible, and some just plain ludicrous.  He died on December 20, 1820, and is buried in the old Bell Cemetery near Adams, Tennessee, along with his wife and some of their children.


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Last Update: October 16, 2022


If you find The Bell Witch Site and research useful, please consider chipping in to help defray the increasing costs of running the site and making research trips. Anything helps. Thank you!


VENMO: @BellWitch