American Folklore

American Folklore: Tennessee

American Folklore: Tennessee

Tennessee has had a long history of human habitation, going back at least 12,000 years. Most of that history is unknown, lost to the mists of time. However, plenty of its more recent history has been written down, and has become the source of some intriguing local folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.

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Admitted to the union in 17960 at the 16th state, Tennessee has been inhabited by humans for at least 12,000, going by the current archaeological evidence. The names of the tribes of Native Americans who inhabited the area before the first known Europeans arrived are not known, though the area has gone through several named cultural phases, such as the Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian. Hernando de Soto led the first known European expedition into what is now Tennessee in 1540, under the flag of Spain. The Muscogee and Yuchi tribes were living in Tennessee at that time, and are the first known named tribes of that area. Later, as European diseases and incursion on their territory drove these tribes out of the area, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee tribes moved in, with the Cherokee being the last to come to Tennessee in 1838.

The first permanent European settlement in Tennessee was built by the British in 1756. It was the westernmost British outpost to that date. European settlers gradually moved to the area in larger numbers, with most of them being of English, Scottish, and Irish descent.

Tennessee has had a long and storied history with humans and has plenty of folklore of its own associated with it. Here are some of the highlights of this wonderful folklore.

The Legend of the Bell Witch

John Bell and his family settled in Robertson County, Tennessee in 1804, and began farming the land. They soon became quite prosperous. They were happy in their farmland home and community until 1817, when strange things began happening on their property. Odd, unidentifiable animals appeared on the land, they heard knocking inside and outside the house with no obvious source, they heard invisible chains being dragged around the house, as well as all sorts of other creepy noises. After a year of this, John Bell told one of his neighbors about it, and the town formed a committee to investigate what was going on at Bell’s farm.

Whatever was at Bell’s farm, it seemed to draw energy from the crowds who came to assist in the investigation. Eventually, some of the investigators began saying the source of the happenings, who never assumed a physical form, was speaking to them. The presence was dubbed the Bell Witch.

Those to whom the Bell Witch spoke said that she knew things about the past she could not possibly have known without being psychic, and could also accurately predict the future. They also said she could be in two places at once. Her goals were, apparently, to kill John Bell and to stop his youngest daughter from marrying a neighbor boy. She succeeded in both.

John Bell’s health deteriorated during the Bell Witch investigation, and he died in 1820. His daughter’s engagement was broken the next year. Investigators said the Bell Witch told them she would go for a time but would return to the Bell farm in seven years. She did just this, visiting John Bell’s son (who had inherited the farm) in 1828, during which time she discussed the past and future with him, and told him there was a reason John Bell had to die, though she never revealed that reason. She spent a few weeks with Bell’s son and left once more.

After leaving Bell’s son, she said she would return once more in 107 years. Though there were no reported encounters with her in 1935, there are those who believe she has been in the area this whole time, thanks to bizarre events that have and continue to go on in the town and in the Bell Witch cave in the nearby woods.

Old Green Eyes

The Civil War battlefield of Chickamauga in Tennessee is a hotbed for the supernatural. Its magnetic quality for the supernatural appears to have begun during the Civil War when the bodies of many Union soldiers were left on the battlefield for months in 1863 before they were decently buried. Since then, there have been reports of many differently ghostly experiences in Chickamauga, such as headless ghosts riding horses, disembodied screaming and crying, and the appearance of Old Green Eyes.

The legend says that Old Green Eyes was a Confederate soldier whose head was removed from his body by gun or cannon fire during a Civil War battle. His spirit is said to roam the grounds of Chickamauga looking for his body, which was missing and never found after the battle. Other people believe Old Green Eyes is an ancient monster of some kind who roams the surrounding woods and sometimes walks across the battlefield.

The Mary Statue that Cries Blood

The Old Trinity Church in Mason, Tennessee was supposedly desecrated by a Satanic cult in the 1930s or 1940s. Since that time, a statue of the Virgin Mary that marks one of the more prominent graves in the church’s cemetery has sometimes dripped blood from its neck and eyes.

Because of this legend, be it true or not, the church has become a target for modern Satanist groups, and a caretaker of the church took measures to install booby traps to keep them out of the building when it was unattended. These traps included trip wires raised at neck height. People still sometimes manage to enter the church, either Satanists or regular people looking for the supernatural. Those who do say that they have seen strange lights there, and have heard noises they believe to be from the spirits of those who are buried there, who are upset about the desecration of the graves at the church.

The Ghost of Hank Williams, Sr.

There is an old auditorium in Nashville that has hosted some of the most famous names in country music over the decades. Because it was one of the places he played quite often, the ghost of Hank Williams, Sr. supposedly still visits the place. People have reportedly seen him backstage there, and a white mist took center stage there once that many people believe was him.



Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been assisting researchers for over 25 years to reunite them with their ancestors.