The Bells lived in Edgecombe
County North Carolina before moving to Tennessee in the winter of 1804-1805.
A “North Carolina version” of the legend has evolved over the years that,
like its Tennessee counterpart, contains elements of both fact and fiction.
The backstory is based
largely on historical fact, whereas the front story
– the actual “haunting” – is based on folklore. Two
different stories comprise the North Carolina version; one that was
published by “Playboy” magazine in the late 1960s, and one that was passed
down through the "folk."
The first story involves
John Bell and Kate Batts. They allegedly had an affair for some time and John Bell eventually broke it off.
Enraged, Kate Batts threatened to tell everyone, including Bell's family, of the affair.
To keep her quiet, John Bell tied her up in a smokehouse and let her die.
She allegedly came back from the dead and haunted Bell’s family,
causing one son, Benjamin, to die at an early age and making their crops fail. Her spirit allegedly followed
the family to Tennessee where the haunting continued.
John Bell and Kate Batts
both lived in the same area at the time, and
Benjamin Bell did in fact die at an early age (as many people did back then), but
there is no actual proof that John Bell and Kate Batts were romantically
involved or that she came back from the dead to haunt his family. In
fact, historical records show that she outlived John Bell by 23 years.
second story alleges that John Bell killed his slave overseer, John Black,
because he developed a fondness for their oldest daughter, Mary. Black allegedly
the family from his grave, causing their crops to fail and ultimately forcing
them to move to Tennessee.
Black and Mary Bell were real people who lived in the area at the time; however, there is no proof that this particular story took
place. I have not been able to locate a death record –
gravestone or otherwise – for John Black. It would be interesting, although
not conclusive, if he died in that timeframe. If he was shot under personal circumstances inside a barn back in the early
1800s, would there even be an official record of his death? While the
John Black story seems compelling, there just isn't anything to go
more information on the theories behind these stories, please visit the FAQ
page. If you are interested in the actual history of the Bell
family in North Carolina,
please visit the essay entitled, “History of the
Bell Family in North Carolina.”
Pat Fitzhugh, Author