Jackson County Times

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge is Popular Local Legend

By Dale Cox

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 Florida. It takes its name from previous spans that crossed the river at that point, but it is undoubtedly best known as the centerpiece of a fascinating legend.

The Bellamy Bridge ghost story is Jackson County’s most enduring legend. It revolves around Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, a young woman who died in 1837. Her lonely grave is just a few hundred yards from the old bridge. As the story goes, she was the young bridge of Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy, a prominent member of early Florida society. They supposedly were married in Marianna on May 11, 1837, but Elizabeth somehow came into contact with an open fire and her beautiful wedding gown burst into flames. She ran from the house in panic and engulfed in fire. After lingering for days, Elizabeth supposedly died from her injuries and was buried beneath a grove of trees near today’s Bellamy Bridge.

As the years passed, a story grew that Elizabeth’s lonely ghost could be seen roaming the swamps around Bellamy Bridge. It was described in various ways, but most often as a silent figure that could be seen moving through the trees late at night. It is a fascinating tale and a unique reminder of the time when story-telling was a leading form of entertainment among local residents. As is often the case, though, the real story is quite a bit different than the legend.

Family letters indicate that Samuel and Elizabeth were actually married in North Carolina on July 15, 1834, three years before the date of the supposed Florida wedding. They settled on the Rock Cave Plantation northwest of Marianna (near Baker Creek) and had a son named Alexander.

In 1836, however, the entire family was stricken with fever. Malaria was then a scourge on the people of Jackson County and was no respecter of wealth or social status. Samuel eventually recovered from the illness, but Elizabeth and the baby did not. According to an obituary that appeared in the Tallahassee Floridian at the time, Elizabeth died on May 11, 1837. Her baby, Alexander, followed seven days later. The two were buried side by side in the little cemetery near Bellamy Bridge. The site was then on the plantation of Samuel’s brother, Edward.

Dr. Samuel Bellamy went on to build a magnificent mansion in Marianna and represented Jackson County at the Florida Constitutional Convention at St. Joseph (today’s Port St. Joe) in 1838. He became an alcoholic, however, and killed himself at the tavern at Chattahoochee Landing in 1853 by slashing his own throat.

The true story of the Bellamy family is tragic enough to have created a ghost story in its own right, but the idea was also helped along by a novel written by the famed 19th century novelist Caroline Lee Hentz. Mrs. Hentz lived in Marianna near the end of her life and many of her books eventually came to be associated with Jackson County, even though they were written about other locations. In one, Earnest Linwood, she told the story of a young girl who died in a tragic wedding night fire and then came back to haunt the area around her grave. The plantation where the incident took place was owned by a family named, of all things, Bellamy.

Mrs. Hentz wrote in the introduction to her book, however, that the name was imaginary and that the incident was based on a real event that happened near Columbus, Georgia.

These facts became forgotten over time and it appears that the story told by the 19th century writer became combined in local tradition with the lonely grave of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy near Bellamy Bridge. A ghost story was born. It is a fascinating case of real history combining with literature to create a legend that survives even 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 fire, perhaps Elizabeth Bellamy walks there still. If you would like to read more and see an actual photograph of the “ghost,” please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/bellamybridge.

Editor’s Note: Writer and historian Dale Cox is the author of several books on local history, including Two Egg, Florida and The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years, both of which include detailed accounts of the Bellamy Bridge story. His books are available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or online at www.amazon.com.

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