What Do Granny White and Kate Batts Have In Common? Me Looking for Their Graves

Sometimes you just get an itch you have to scratch and this weekend my itch was the western part of Robertson County. I drove all down Catholic Church Road, though I did not find a Catholic Church. I did find the Scott graveyard, because they have a hand-painted sign that points you to it. And it’s tobacco time, so I found smoking barns and men out harvesting and, well, you’ll see.

This morning I was on the south side of Nashville doing a park, so I convinced the Butcher to take me to the grave of Granny White. She’s one of my ghosts this year. It’s cool to consider how she had her inn/tavern. If you’re coming up from the south, there’s like a wall of hills and just these little ways of snaking through and even now, it’s kind of freaky to be winding around them. And then, bam, just as you’re like, I can’t possibly do this any more, there would have been her house. And I think there’s pretty much a house right there on the spot where her house would have been. I hope they excavated the land before they built the house.

Anyway, my purpose for being up in Robertson County was to try to find the Glen Raven plantation. I have been trying to get a feel for how the Washingtons had their homes arranged. I know Washington Hall burnt down at some point, and Wessington is still there. But I didn’t know if Glen Raven still was. So, I didn’t find it yesterday, in part because I turned on 49 instead of on Maxey Road. So, I came home to look at Google Maps to see what I’d done wrong and I notice that there’s a Batts Cemetery in Cedar Hill.

This blew my mind, because, as you may remember, in early iterations of the Bell Witch legend, it was said that the Bell Witch was “Kate Batts,” an old lady unhappy with how a slave deal had gone down with Mr. Bell and so cursed him. Well, fuck me, Martha, as the saying goes. I had to go check this out, right?

So, I drive over there and I still turn too soon and miss motherfucking Maxey Road but by now, I know where I am when I’m lost, so I get to Batts Cemetery no problem. I look at all the graves. They are all Battses and all of the right era. But none are named “Kate.” But I do notice something interesting. The next road north is “Harding.” And one of the Batts girls married a Harding who is in that cemetery. Now, it’s clear from the shape the Batts cemetery is in that the Battses weren’t hurting for money. But throw a Harding in… Well, if he’s one of our Hardings (of the Belle Meade Mansion), that’s a lot of money and power that the Battses were married into.

Now, the Bell Witch incident supposedly started around 1820, but the first written account was almost seventy years later. It’d be interesting to know what might have been going on with the Bells and the Battses in the 1880s, you know?

Anyhow, I’m not convinced that Kate Batts existed, but there were for sure Battses in the area.

So, I drive down from there, down Old Washington Road and I do find the front gates to Washington Hall (just off Old Washington, south of Cedar Hill, on Log Cabin Road), and down the road, Wessyngton. So, now, I’m thinking, the third house has to be a reasonable distance to travel by carriage. It’s got to be around here someplace. So, I go past Wessyngton and it’s up on a hill, When you get to the bottom of the hill, you can either turn left onto Flewellyn or keep going around the bottom of the property. I crossed a creek and then there was a tiny road (Carr Road) that went steep up to the right.

I went up it. It was the kind of awesomely spooky road you beg Tennessee to shoot you every once in a while–narrow with trees canopied in great arches over it and nothing, for a long time, but you and fields of cows, cows, who, I might mention, had figured out that the barbed wire fence was not that tight. So, when we came upon them, they were all out in the road, but then they just pushed their way through the fence and got back in the field. They didn’t even mind the dog barking at them. It was awesome.

And where should Carr Road end but Glen Raven road? And what is there, right on the other side of the creek but what I can only assume is Glen Raven. I couldn’t see the house from the road, but the land is huge and it looked to even have a farm store and there were two houses that had these kind of octagonal silver roofs, I guess for… I don’t know. They looked too nice to be for sharecroppers.

Anyway, it was awesome. Those Washingtons have got to have a hell of a cemetery some place. I looked for one, but I didn’t find it.

14 thoughts on “What Do Granny White and Kate Batts Have In Common? Me Looking for Their Graves

  1. I don’t know where Kate is buried, but it’s entirely possible that her grave, wherever it is, isn’t even marked.

  2. Well, this is an interesting prospect, isn’t it? Did Kate Batts exist? I’m scrolling through Census records and i don’t find her. Now, on the one hand, that doesn’t mean much–if she were married and she died before 1850, she might never have made the Census.

    EXCEPT that throws a major wrench in the story, too. Because, if she was married, she couldn’t have sold a slave to the Bells. Only her husband could have made that kind of sale of such a large asset. So, she’d have to have been a widow.

    And, if she’s a widow, she’d be a head of household. She should be in the Census records.

    The earliest Batts in Robertson County seem to be Elizabeth and Jeremiah. But could Kate have been Jeremiah’s mom?

    I’ll have to look into that.

  3. I did, however, discover that the Battses were pretty influential (as I suspected) Jeremiah Batts helped settle the Dorris estate and if you live in Robertson County, you’ve seen plenty with Dorris on it.

    Where’s Bridgett when we need her?

  4. She could be a widow living with a son or son-in-law who would have been considered the head of household.

  5. Ooo, okay, I found a North Carolina story about Kate Batts who was supposedly married to Frederick Batts who came to Tennessee in the group that included the Bells.

    They were both still alive and old in 1840.

    It’d be interesting to hear from some Battses about this.

    But, hey, we had Demonbreuns stop by. I think we can hope that some Robertson County Battses will come by to tell us what’s going on with their family.

    I just want to say, too, that, from the newspaper story, Kate Batts sounds awesome–drank a lot, harassed assholes, comforted wives.

    In some ways, she sounds a lot like Elizabeth Bennett, the gal Demonbreun took up with.

    There’s a strain of pioneer women who kind of make me delighted. Unless she actually killed John Bell and then that’s not cool, of course.

  6. And I leave it to you to discover whether that hell-raising branch of NC Williamses is mine own or some other line.

  7. Cate Williams was the niece of Lucy Williams Bell. She (Cate) and her husband emigrated from North Carolina to Tennessee before 1810 and settled at Red River, about a mile from John and Lucy Bell. Their house stood at the 90-degree curve on South Bell Cross Rd, which turns off of 256. Frederick became an invalid at some point, which forced Mrs. Batts to run their farm. They had five children. Frederick Batts had at least two brothers, Jeremiah and Benjamin. Jeremiah was married to Elizabeth Williams, sister of Lucy Williams Bell. There were in fact two Bell-Batts connections.

    In 1816, John Bell sold a slave to Benjamin Batts, Cate’s brother-in-law. Batts would need time to make living arrangements for his new slave, so he asked Bell to keep the slave for a few extra days. Bell did so, and charged Batts interest. Batts filed a complaint with Red River Baptist Church (the mediator of most disputes in the settlement), and the church found Bell not guilty of “Usery.” Unsatisfied with the verdict, Batts appealed to the Robertson County Court, who found Bell guilty. As a result, the church reneged on their original verdict and excommunicated Bell.

    Benjamin Batts himself was convicted of stealing bacon, several years later. Benjamin B. Batts had a son named Benjamin F., who died in the Civil War, along with Jeremiah Batts, Jr.

    Cate and Frederick Batts’ signatures (marks, actually) are on an old legal document in the Robertson County Archives, attesting to a real estate deal. Cate (Kate) Batts was very real, although there’s no credible evidence to support the notion that she was the “Bell Witcn.” If anything, she was the scapegoat.

    There were two unrelated lines of Batts’ in Robertson County back in the old days. The wealthy Batts’ for whom Batts Blvd. in Springfield is named, and whose graves you came across, are not from Cate and Fred Batts’ line. Their line almost fell into extinction, with only a few descendants left today. Cate, Fred, Benjamin B, Benjamin F., Jeremiah, Elizabeth, and several other Batts’ are buried in a private cemetery, on a farm, about a quarter-mile from “downtown” Adams, TN, near the intersection of 76 and 256. Cate and Fred’s children–the ones who didn’t move away-are buried at various cemeteries in the Adams-Cedar Hill area.

  8. Pat, I am so ticked you came by. I love your website (I think that’s obvious, but I just wanted to say it). I think you do a great job of getting right at the heart of things–that the legend is interesting and cool, but that the real lives of these people are just as (if not more) interesting.

  9. Hi, Aunt B,

    Thanks for the nice welcome message. :)

    The passage of time–almost 200 years of deceased witnesses, lost documents, and umpteen embellishments–has obscured many details of the case. But fortunately, we still have a plethora of information about the characters’ lives. And it gets more interesting.

  10. I am a descendant of the Batts family. My grandmothers maiden name was Batts. She had her last name changed twice. Once Thorne, now Thomas. I am at this point trying to gather as much information on the alleged Kate or Cate Batts story told by people in writings that mentioned her name. Any information regarding her in any shape or form such as were she is buried, any documentation or more of the story behind her with the Bell witch story would receive my deepest gratitude.


    Adam Thomas.

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