Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Bell Witch from Upper Town Creek (Edgecombe County)

The ghost in “America’s greatest ghost story” is an Edgecombe County native.

She left home and made a big mark in Tennessee. Recently, she inspired the celebrated movie, The Blair Witch Project.

She is often identified as Kate Batts (note the Edgecombe name) but better known as “the Bell Witch” after the Edgecombe expatriate family whom she haunted. The Bells left Upper Town Creek in 1803 and moved to Robertson County in Tennessee, where they and others from Edgecombe County settled.

Probably, no American ghost story is more extensively documented than the Bell Witch story. It is the subject of books, articles, documentaries, movies, and now Internet blogs and posts.

In short, the witch haunted Edgecombe native John Bell and his family and others in Tennessee over as long as two centuries. Early on, she mostly tormented her victims but sometimes she was kind, singing hymns and serving fruit to the ones she liked. Ultimately, she poisoned and killed John Bell and then she disrupted his funeral by singing drinking songs while the mourners tried to sing church music. Following Bell’s death though, and continuing well into the 20th century, she seems to have mellowed, merely visiting and hanging out from time to time with residents and others in the region .

In her first appearance, the witch confronted John Bell in a Tennessee cornfield. Famously, on that occasion, she manifested as a dog with the head of a rabbit. (This account, of course, is very consistent with Edgecombe County history. Not a single sighting of a dog with a rabbit’s head has been reported in Edgecombe County since the Bells left in 1803.)

Later, the witch appeared in other forms and often she spoke or acted without taking visible form. On that first appearance, Bell ran her off by firing his gun at her. Later, she was more persistent.

Different accounts explain where she came from.

One holds that John Bell had an affair with an Edgecombe County neighbor, Kate Batts, and then broke it off. This provoked Kate to threaten to tell the neighborhood how he had mistreated her. In response, Bell locked her in his smokehouse and left her there, tied up, until she died. Bell then left North Carolina for Tennessee with his family and Kate’s spirit followed. She haunted him to his death.

A second account is that Bell’s Edgecombe farm overseer, John Black, took up with Bell’s daughter, much to Bell’s disapproval. Ultimately Bell killed Black. By this account, the overseer’s spirit pursued the Bells from Town Creek to Tennessee. The ghost was identified in Tennessee with the corporeal Kate Batts who was among others from Edgecombe County who had moved to Tennessee and settled in the same area as the Bells. She had disputes with them out there.

Either way, it started with sex in Edgecombe County. So many things do.

The Bell Witch haunting is a long and continuing Tennessee tale and it has won a place in Tennessee history. But the ghost came from Edgecombe County and for those who have grown up in Edgecombe and later left home, the notion that Edgecombe ghosts may follow you wherever you go comes as no surprise.

Nor does the idea that sex and sorrow leads to no good end.

 

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Cahiers de Hoummous: Lessons of public affairs for making your own hummus

Make and consume hummus (as usual).
Make contemporaneous memorandum.
Read Marcel Proust, À la Recherche du Temps Perdue.
Read Michel de Montaigne, Of Sadness.

Read Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Revise memorandum.
Repeat if desired.

I do not know which to prefer, the hummus, or just after.

 

 

“Who daddied this thing?” — NC’s system for oversight of legal services, where it came from, why, how & quo vadis?

Big questions are in play just now about the practice of law.  What is law practice? Who can do it? How should it be regulated?

Increasingly urgently, how can legal services be delivered to low wealth populations, to people who find themselves embroiled in legal processes about fundamental life issues and who cannot afford lawyers? How are they to resolve issues of child custody, divorce, spousal abuse, veterans rights and health care?

Across the country, lawyers essentially regulate themselves. The agencies that oversee legal services are composed of lawyers elected by lawyers. Some suggest that this creates built-in resistance to change.

Where did this system come from?

The system we have now was established in the 1930s. At the time, everyone generally agreed that persons who deliver legal services ought to have some verified level of knowledge about the law and should be subject to some oversight. A primary goal was to create an orderly system to facilitate national commerce. But the work required to set up and run the system looked so boring that nobody wanted to do it except the lawyers themselves.

In Rules for a Flat World: Why Humans Invented Law and How to Reinvent It for a Complex Global Economy, Gillian Hadfield writes:

No one … was much interested in thinking about such dry and arcane subjects as the uniformity of standards in commercial paper or the problems created by different standards for pleading a complaint. Nor did many care about the educational requirements for those who desire to earn a living from thinking about such things. No one other than lawyers, and elite lawyers at that, was eager to wade into these waters in the early twentieth century.

So, the American Bar Association and state bar associations took the lead. They established the system we have now: of bar examinations, law school accreditation, policing of unauthorized practice, and disciplinary standards.

The system they created has worked marvelously. The American justice system is a distinctive American resource that underpins a complex, creative economy and has fostered vast prosperity, quite apart from its core political function as mediator between government prerogatives and individual rights.

North Carolina was part and parcel of the national process. Former State Bar president, John McMillan has written a superb article that tells the story. The Long Road to Founding the North Carolina State Bar

After its leaders attended ABA meetings, the North Carolina Bar Association brought a proposal to the General Assembly that mirrored what was being done in other states. It would create the State Bar in which membership by lawyers and annual dues to operate the agency are mandatory. The State Bar would oversee legal services delivery. In words drawn from the Bar Association’s records of 1932 but that ring true today, John McMillan recounts that J.W. Pless Jr. warned that the Bar Association should not expect easy passage at the General Assembly. He said, “We don’t know what success we will have with the legislature. We have never had much.”

Pless was right. Lawyers in the General Assembly immediately suspected the Bar Association of elitism. Its proposal was “hotly contested,” “spirited,” and personal. John McMillan points to an exchange between a legislator and the spokesman for the Bar Association that was reported at the time by The Raleigh News and Observer:

“Who daddied this thing?” demanded the Senator.

“The North Carolina Bar Association at its meeting last year in Asheville,” replied Mr. Bailey.

“I’ll tell you that it passed by a very small majority and over protest,” asserted Senator Kirkpatrick.

“That is not true,” said Mr. Bailey.

“You aren’t calling me what I ain’t, are you?” queried the senator, his face turning crimson.

“I may call you what you are,” Mr. Bailey shot back.

The two were declared out of order.

Upon learning that lawyers would be required to pay State Bar dues of $4 a year, another legislator pronounced that “anything you want me to join that costs over $1, I don’t want it unless I can eat it or wear it.” Dues were cut to $3 a year.

Opponents suspected elitism from the start:

Mr. Grant … charged that the bill was concocted at the Asheville convention last summer and that the convention was attended only by railroad lawyers who rode there on passes while the poor lawyers were unable to stir from home.

But the bill passed and the State Bar was created.

Today, North Carolina, led by Chief Justice Mark Martin, is a national leader in scrutinizing the system and studying the future of legal services. Many of the old questions are back. Perhaps some of the old spirits are back, too.

A theme that’s surely back is the importance to North Carolina’s economy of keeping the State’s legal services delivery processes efficient and aligned with the national system.