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Bell Witch Character Biography

Joshua Gardner (1800-1887)


Joshua GardnerOne of nine children, Joshua Gardner was born in Robertson County and spent his childhood on a farm situated along present-day State Route 256, between Interstate 24 and Adams, Tennessee. [1]

Although he had few direct encounters with Kate, Gardner figures prominently into the legend by virtue of having been Elizabeth “Betsy” Bell’s suitor and fiancé. Kate strongly disapproved of the engagement, voicing her disapproval every time she got the chance.

Despite having never said anything bad about Gardner, Kate provided no reason for her aversion to the engagement, other than to say: “You will not have happiness with Joshua Gardner, and future generations will see it true.”  Elizabeth reluctantly broke off the engagement after enduring much torment and giving the matter lots of thought.

Her reasoning was quite simple:  Kate had a strong aversion for her father, which had ultimately led to his death.  Kate had an equally strong aversion to the engagement.  It was likely that Joshua Gardner, they boy she loved, would suffer the same fate as John Bell, Sr.-- death.


Not long after they parted ways on that fateful Easter Monday of 1821, Joshua wrapped up his affairs and left the area, settling in Henry County, Tennessee.  In 1829, he married Sarah Donelson and had two children.  He became a successful farmer and served as a magistrate for several years near the present-day town of Paris, Tennessee.

Joshua Gardner’s younger brother, John, became the first president of the Nashville and North Western Railroad, now part of the CSX Railroad.  John Gardner had a successful political career, serving as a state Senator for several years and later attending the 1870 Tennessee Constitutional Convention.

Joshua Gardner left Henry County in 1840 and moved west, settling in Weakley County, Tennessee, near Gardner’s Station, a small hamlet named for his younger brother.  It is now called Gardnersville; there are several variations of the name, including just, "Gardner."  He purchased 228 acres of land and wisely used his profits to acquire more land.  It was once estimated that he owned more than 1,800 acres.

Although Easter Monday of 1821 was the last time Joshua Gardner and Betsy Bell ever saw each other, which not only had to do with Kate, but also Richard Powell's continuous flirting with Betsy and condemnation of her engagement to Joshua, Gardner later befriended Powell, even to the point of signing a petition to the Tennessee State Legislature requesting financial relief for Powell’s family after a series of unfortunate events. The author feels that it was not Richard Powell whom Gardner was concerned about, but none other than his once true love, Betsy Bell.

After Sarah Donelson’s death, Gardner remarried and continued farming up until his death in 1887.  He is buried in Weakley County, Tennessee, near the present-day hamlet of Gardnersville, in west Tennessee.


[1]  Joshua Gardner’s photo from Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, M.V. Ingram, 1894.


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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