Ghost of Bellamy Bridge?
This photograph by historian
Dale Cox shows what many
believe to be the "real" ghost
of Bellamy Bridge. Please
click the photograph to see a
larger version of the image.
The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge - Marianna, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, Florida
A few miles north of Marianna, the Chipola River flows silently beneath the rusting framework
of an old iron bridge. Historic in its own right, Bellamy Bridge is one of the last surviving such
structures in Jackson County. It takes its name from previous spans that crossed the river at
this point, but it is undoubtedly best known as the centerpiece of a fascinating Florida legend.
The Bellamy Bridge ghost story is Jackson County's most enduring legend. Several residents
of the county, all in their eighties and nineties, indicated in 1986 that they were told the story by
their parents, who had heard it from their own fathers and mothers. This would date the origin
of the legend to at least the late 19th century. The story also first began to appear in print at
about the same time, indicating that it was common knowledge by the beginning of the 20th
century. This is a reasonable timetable, since the legend revolves around a young woman
named Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, who died in 1837. Her overgrown and often-vandalized grave
is a few hundred yards south of Bellamy Bridge in the edge of the river swamp.
As the story goes, Elizabeth was the young bride of Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy, a prominent
member of early Florida society. Enamored of his young bride, who had promised to love him
forever, Samuel built a large columned mansion for her in Marianna. The wedding date was
set for May 11, 1837, and guests, it is said, began to arrive a full week before the wedding. The
two were wed in the rose garden behind the home, but their happiness was short-lived. There
are two stories of what happened next. The first holds that while dancing a waltz during the
elaborate reception, they moved too close to a burning candle. The other claims that
exhausted from the rigors of the day, Elizabeth sank into a comfortable chair to rest. Her dress
somehow came into contact with a lit candle. The young bride's elegant gown burst into
flames and before the groom or any of their guests could react, she ran from the house in
panic and was engulfed by fire. She lingered for days but ultimately succumbed to her injuries
and was buried beneath a grove of trees near today's Bellamy Bridge.
The grave, however, could not contain the love and devotion that had grown between Samuel
and Elizabeth. The young groom went nearly mad with grief, turned to the bottle and ultimately
committed suicide. He refused to ever live in the beautiful mansion he had constructed for his
bride, and for many years the finest home in Marianna remained dark and vacant. Elizabeth,
local residents say, was unwilling to leave her true love behind. An apparition began to appear
on dark and foggy nights, wandering the swamps around the small cemetery where she was
It is a fascinating tale and a unique reminder of the time when story-telling was a leading form
of entertainment among residents in Northwest Florida. The story is certainly old, but could it
be true? Because Samuel and Elizabeth Jane Croom Bellamy were prominent and
identifiable figures in early Florida history, the answers have been out there for years, just
waiting to be found.
The exact point at which Elizabeth Jane Croom became romantically involved with Samuel C.
Bellamy is not known. The two families had lived near each other in North Carolina and the
two may have been close friends for many years. Certainly following the courtship and
marriage of her sister Ann to Samuel's brother Edward, the bonds between the two families
tightened. As Elizabeth reached her mid-teens, she was courted by Samuel, who was her
senior by nine years. Samuel was at medical school in Pennsylvania for part of this time, so
much of the courtship was probably carried out by correspondence.
The true history of their marriage, however, departs significantly from the legend. Family
correspondence indicates that Samuel and Elizabeth were married in North Carolina on July
15, 1834, three years before the date of the supposed Florida wedding. The couple soon
moved to Jackson County, Florida, however, where they settled on Samuel's newly acquired
Rock Cave Plantation northwest of Marianna. The estate included hundreds of acres of
cultivated land and was farmed by the forced labors of more than 80 African slaves. King
Cotton was then booming and planting was an extremely profitable venture in Florida,
especially for individuals with the means to put together large gangs of slave laborers to clear
the fields and cultivate the cotton. The little family grew. Samuel and Elizabeth had a baby boy
in late 1835, giving him the name Alexander after several of Samuel’s ancestors.
The bottomlands of the Chipola River were indeed ideal for the production of cotton, but they
were also breeding grounds for vast swarms of mosquitoes. Deadly fevers, including malaria,
ravaged the growing population throughout the early history of Jackson County. The young
Bellamy family was not spared. According to a December 6, 1836, letter from Hardy Bryan
Croom, Elizabeth’s half-brother, to his wife, the fevers had hit particularly hard that fall.
Samuel, Elizabeth and baby Alexander were all suffering from what likely was malaria. The
deadly fever was often described by doctors of the time as the “intermittent and remittent” fever
because patients often improved, only to relapse and in many cases die. Samuel C. Bellamy,
in fact, did recover from the fever, but his wife and child did not. According to an obituary in the
Tallahassee Floridian, eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Jane Croom Bellamy, as her tombstone
records, died on May 11, 1837. She was not the victim of a tragic wedding night fire, but died
instead of a mosquito-borne fever. Eighteen-month-old Alexander, according to the same
obituary, died seven days later.
Elizabeth and the baby were laid to rest at the family cemetery on the Chipola River plantation
of Samuel's brother, Edward, near today's Bellamy Bridge.
Despite the legend to the contrary, the loss of his wife and child did not end Bellamy’s useful
life. After a time of mourning, he turned his attention to business and politics. He served as a
delegate from Jackson County at the 1838 Florida Constitutional Convention and also found
employment as an appraiser for the Union Bank. He borrowed money from his employer, in
fact, to finance the construction of a magnificent mansion in Marianna nine months after
Elizabeth's death. This was the home that legend holds he built for his young bride, but she
never actually saw the home as it was financed and constructed well after her untimely death.
Samuel, however, lost his fortune during the 1840s when the Union Bank collapsed due to
extravagant lending practices and he was unable to pay his loans when they were called due.
His brother, Edward, took possession of Samuel's Jackson County properties. Samuel later
sued for their return, but died at his own hand in 1853 before the case was decided. According
to newspapers of the time, he slashed his own throat at Chattahoochee Landing, ending a life
plagued by despair and alcoholism.
The story of the lives of Samuel and Elizabeth Bellamy is tragic almost beyond belief, and it is
not difficult to see how a ghost story could have grown from the terrible circumstances. But
how such a story could have evolved into the form it takes today is difficult to comprehend.
Elizabeth did not die on her wedding night and the cause of her death was fever, not fire. Yet
the story is so intensely believed in Jackson County that it has become an accepted part of
local history. The answer, surprisingly, may be found in the writings of a 19th century novelist
named Caroline Lee Hentz.
Mrs. Hentz lived in Marianna during the final years of her life and is buried at St. Luke's
Episcopal Church. In one of her books, she tells the story of a wedding night tragedy that
bears a striking resemblance to the story of Elizabeth Bellamy as told in the Bellamy Bridge
…Turning away she threw herself into a large easy-chair in front of the fire, and in spite of the
excited state of her feelings and the extreme want of sentiment evinced by the act, she fell
asleep in her downy nest. She had been up almost all the preceding night, on her feet all day,
and had been dancing with such extraordinary enthusiasm, that the soft cushion and gentle
warmth of the room soothed her to instantaneous repose. How long she slept, she knew not.
She was awakened by a sense of heat and suffocation, as if her lungs were turned to fire.
Starting up she found herself encircled by a blaze of light that seemed to emanate from her
own body. Her light dress was one sheet of flame, the chair she left was enveloped in the
same destroying element.
The unfortunate bride in Marcus Warland lingered near death for several days before dying in
the arms of her groom. It was not long before slaves on the plantation soon began to report
seeing her figure, dressed in a white gown, roaming the area around the grave. The name of
the family in the book, as you might have guessed by now, was Bellamy. The bride, however,
was a young slave named Cora instead of the darling daughter of Southern aristocracy.
Because Mrs. Hentz lived the final years of her life in Marianna, it was long assumed by many
local residents that she based Marcus Warland on events she observed in Jackson County.
Her use of the name "Bellamy" in her tragic story quickly became associated with the lonely
grave of Elizabeth Bellamy near Bellamy Bridge.
In truth, however, the story was not set in Jackson County, but rather in a rural area near
Columbus, Georgia, where Mrs. Hentz resided before moving to Florida. In an author's
introduction to the book, she explained that the story was based on real events that took place
The description of Mr. Bellamy’s plantation is drawn from the real, not the ideal. The incident
recorded of Mrs. Bellamy, of her endeavouring to rescue the mulatto girl from the flames at the
risk of her own life, occurred during the last winter in our city. The lady who really performed
the heroic and self-serving deed is a friend of our own, and we saw her when her scarred and
bandaged hands bore witness to her humanity and sufferings.
And so, it is easy to see, that the Bellamy Bridge legend is actually a combination of the real
and the imaginary. The story took root in the literature of a 19th century novelist who wrote of a
real-life event that took place near Columbus, Georgia. The story, over time, became
associated with a forgotten grave in Jackson County, Florida, however, and lives on to this day.
None of this, of course, proves that there is not a ghost at Bellamy Bridge. Many local
residents, in fact, swear to have seen something there. Although she did not die in a tragic
wedding day fire, perhaps Elizabeth Bellamy roams the quiet cypress swamps to this day.
Please click here to see a photograph that some believe shows the actual ghost of Bellamy
Bridge and be sure to read Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and
Unusual Facts for the most detailed account of the Bellamy Bridge ghost story in print. Visit
www.amazon.com for ordering information.
Editor's Note: This story is excerpted from the much more detailed version that appears in Dale Cox's 2007
book, Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts. The book is available
The True Story of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge, Florida
by Dale Cox
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.