Tag Archives: Upper Town Creek

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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