A local Florida tale:
The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge (as told by Dale Cox, local historian)
The story of the ghost of Bellamy Bridge is one of Florida's most
intriguing tales. The legend holds that the restless spirit of a young
woman named Elizabeth Jane Bellamy roams the picturesque
swamps bordering the Chipola River near Marianna on particularly
dark and foggy nights. The wife of one of Florida's early economic
and political leaders, Elizabeth is buried in an overgrown family
cemetery near the skeletal remains of one of a century old iron
frame bridge known locally as Bellamy Bridge.
The bridge is located on private property and cannot be accessed by
road, but the Chipola River is a state canoe trail and boaters pass
beneath the historic structure daily.
As the story goes, Elizabeth was the beautiful young bride of Dr.
Samuel C. Bellamy, a prominent Jackson County planter, politician
and an examiner with Florida's Union Bank. The two were
scheduled to be married in the back yard of a beautiful mansion built
by the doctor in Marianna, but in the hours following the wedding,
tragedy struck. Elizabeth, the story tellers say, was either dancing
with her new husband or reclining to rest in a comfortable chair
(stories vary), when her long gown suddenly came in contact with
either a candle or an open fireplace. The rich material burst into
flames and, before her husband or any of their guests could react,
Elizabeth ran screaming from the house.
Overcome by the flames, she was horribly injured. After lingering
near death for several days, she finally died and was buried in the
Bellamy family cemetery near the future Bellamy Bridge site. But,
according to the legend, the grave was unable to contain her
interrupted love for Samuel. A spectral figure dressed in white soon
began to appear at night along the banks of the river, prompting
local belief that it was the ghost of Elizabeth Bellamy.
So what is the truth behind this unique and tragic Florida legend?
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 buried.
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
, 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
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 legend:
…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 near Columbus:
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 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.