Ghost of Bellamy Bridge
Elizabeth Jane (Croom) Bellamy

Date Publication Category Author Illustration
10/30/1988 NEW WOM Y
STINKOUT OF THE PAST: Flaming Ghost is Said to Plunge into Chipola River
MARLENE WOMACK News-Herald Correspondent

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first article in a two-part series on a popular Jackson County ghost story. Through the years, several different versions of this legend have been told. Although some of this story is conjecture, the greater portion is based on historical fact.)

Some say she flees down the red clay road to the old iron bridge; others claim her flaming figure flashes through the mist-shrouded swamps; and still others say she descends from the dark night like a fireball to plunge into the slow-moving Chipola River.

But all agree that what they are seeing are apparitions of a young woman who burned to death on her wedding night.

Marianna was a wilderness village 150 years ago. The territory had opened for settlement in 1821. After learning of the rich hammock land from Andrew Jackson's soldiers who had crossed North Florida in 1818, many families flocked to the region. Most brought their slaves with them to work the red clay land, described as excellent for rowing cotton, corn and sugar cane, and to keep a watchful eye on the many Indians still living in the area.

For several years, ``Mariana,'' spelled then with one ``n,'' vied to become county seat with Webbville, a community further west. In 1829, after a bitter battle, Marianna won. By that time talk of statehood and the establishment of new banks had become the debated issues. Huge plantations were under cultivation with more adventurers moving into the area each year.

Samuel and Edward Bellamy, two brothers, moved to Jackson County during this period. Although both men were physicians from North Carolina, they came to ``Chipola Country'' to seek their wealth as planters. Born in 1810, Samuel Bellamy soon turned his attention to a site about 10 miles northwest of town where he acquired several hundred acres and began clearing the land, cultivating crops and looking for more ways to finance his operation.

Like many of the other well-educated planters in the region, Bellamy concentrated his efforts toward the establishment of the Union Bank, a planters' institution, created to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding business interests.

FAITH BONDS

In this bank, planters pledged their slaves and land to the territorial government with ``faith bonds.'' In turn, they received the bank's ``paper money,'' which served as currency and allowed planters to lead the opulent life. Through this system many intended to pyramid their holdings into vast fortunes.

Bellamy also took a great interest in the creation of statehood, which he believed would benefit Florida. His business interests brought him to the home of William Croom, a fellow North Carolinian. On this visit, the lone bachelor, who was shy around women, met Croom's daughter, Elizabeth. At the time of their introduction Elizabeth was seated in the garden, embroidering a fancy handkerchief with ``EJC.'' When Bellamy inquired about what she was sewing, she replied, ``My initials.''

Bellamy discovered that he and Elizabeth had similar interests and he became a steady visitor. Elizabeth's initials became an intimate joke between the pair, with ``Dr. Sam'' often coming up behind the bouncy, cheerful Elizabeth and whispering ``EJC, EJC,'' in her ear.

One day Bellamy asked Elizabeth to drive out with him to his brother's plantation. In 1835 Edward built the huge two-story, red-brick home on a rise of land about a half-mile from the river. The home stood at the end of a winding road, edged with huge live oaks and Lombardy poplars. It was constructed with tall white columns, marble mantles and a front double door that opened into an immense hallway which ran to the rear of the house. This hall was adorned with cut-glass chandeliers. When the candles were lit in these chandeliers, they illuminated the area outside the windows in a soft speckled glow.

From this location off the United States Road, the couple rode horseback to Sam's nearby land, where he intended to build a similar home. After viewing the slaves in the fields ``chopping cotton'' to remove the weeds, Sam took Elizabeth down to the Rock Cave, his favorite place along the river.

MARRIAGE PROPOSAL

By the light of a lighter-knot torch, Bellamy showed Elizabeth the cave's walls, blackened by the fires of Indians, and the long formations growing from the ceiling and the floor of the cave. As they headed back to the sunlit entrance Bellamy paused and asked Elizabeth to become his wife During the return ride the couple passed by the wooden structure across the river that became known as Bellamy Bridge. They stopped to admire the yellow spring flowers, and Sam kidded Elizabeth about needing to embroider new handkerchiefs. Once they were married, she'd be ``EJB,'' instead of ``EJC.'' Elizabeth smiled and laughed, content in these surroundings. Grabbing her hand, Bellamy said ``you're good for me, Elizabeth, you lift my dark moods.''

With theatrical groups, traveling circuses and phrenologists making their appearances in Marianna at that time, Bellamy decided to give his future wife the advantages of both city and country life. He began construction of a two-story Marianna ``town house,'' which when completed would be adorned with stately white columns and broad steps running the full length of the veranda. He also placed an order for expensive furnishings from Europe.

Weeks of preparation went into the wedding that was to take place in the new town house. Seamstresses fashioned Elizabeth's wedding gown from white imported fabric, then embroidered the dress with hundreds of tiny white roses. Atop her delicate long veil they attached the diamond tiara that belonged to Elizabeth's mother. At the final fitting Elizabeth also tried on her new satin gloves that extended to her elbows.

Guests began arriving in Marianna the week before the wedding. Some remained in town; others journeyed out to Bellamy Plantation, where Edward and his wife, Ann, warmly welcomed the people to their home Their parlor held many of the gifts for the bride and groom. Included in these gifts were Staffordshire pottery, silver candle holders, diamond bracelets and pins, a pearl necklace, crystal lamps and Grecian Temple Transfer Ware.

`ALWAYS'

The morning before the wedding Sam and Elizabeth rode out to the plantation to see their gifts. After visiting with the guests, they mounted horses and slowly guided them down to the river. In the quiet woodland setting, festooned with Spanish moss and blossoming magnolias near the bridge, Sam presented Elizabeth with his wedding gift. After she examined the large diamond-studded cross with ``EJB'' engraved on the back, she held it to her breast and murmered ``always.''

The wedding took place in the rose garden, behind the new town house the afternoon of May 11, 1837. Elizabeth's 10 attendants wore hooded gowns of pink and white pineapple silk. After the vows were recited, the guests dined on hams, beef, fried chicken and wedding cake, plus bottles of expensive Madeira and imported champagne.

In the early evening hours after the candles and lamps were lit, most of the people moved into ``the big room,'' where all furniture had been removed and straight-back chairs lined the walls. It was after Elizabeth had removed her long wedding veil that the tragedy took place. Sam and Elizabeth were whirling around on the dance floor, caught up in the music of a beautiful waltz, when the back of Elizabeth's gossamer-like gown brushed too close to one of the candelabras and caught fire.

Elizabeth screamed, but Sam and the other guests stood motionless for a second, not realizing what had happened. The panic-striken bride dashed outside as the flames leaped up her back toward her long black hair Edward quickly leaped from his chair along the wall where he had been chatting with friends. Together both he and Sam snatched the red oriental rug from the polished oak floor and raced after Elizabeth. As soon as they reached her they threw her on the ground and smothered the flames. After Sam carried Elizabeth upstairs to the bed chamber where they were to spend their wedding night, he snatched scissors and began cutting away the burnt section of her wedding gown. At first both Edward and Sam cared for Elizabeth, rubbing the burns on her writhing body with fresh lard. Sam alternated between acting the calm professional to shouting like a madman, and crying, ``How could this happen to my beautiful wife?''  When he realized it was only a matter of time, Edward administered morphine. Then Sam ordered his brother from the room so Elizabeth could die alone in his arms.

The next morning they transported Elizabeth's charred remains to Bellamy Plantation. In the great hallway family and friends streamed by the cypress casket covered with the long white bridal veil. Elizabeth carried her diamond cross, wedding ring and the pearls from her father with her to her grave.

They buried Elizabeth down from the house in a grove of live oaks at the family burial place, as the golden sun descended in the apricot sky and whippoorwills began their mournful cries.

Part Two

Date Publication Category Author Illustration
10/31/1988 NEW WOM N
OUT OF THE PAST
Tombstone lone reminder of Jackson County ghost tale
MARLENE WOMACK  News Herald Correspondent

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This article concludes a two-part series on a popular Jackson County ghost story. Through the years several different versions of this legend have been told. Although some of this story is conjecture, the greater portion is based on historical fact.)

Samuel C. Bellamy mourned several months after his bride's tragic death. In a depressed and bitter state, he bordered on ``madness,'' but erected a tombstone for his beloved bride that read: ``Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth Jane, late wife of Samuel C. Bellamy and daughter of Gen. William Croom of North Carolina, who departed this life at her residence, Florida, May 11, 1837, aged 18 years, 2 months.' That same year Bellamy became a Union Bank appraiser, according to J.H. Shofner's Jackson County, Florida.

In this position, Bellamy reappraised already mortgaged property at higher values that became the basis for new loans. On Feb. 10, 1838, the Union Bank allotted him 148 shares worth $14,800 to build his home and secure additional property.

Later that year Jackson Countians selected Samuel C. Bellamy as one of their four delegates to the Constitutional Convention at the boomtown of St. Joseph, territorial Florida's largest city A staunch believer in statehood by this time, Bellamy journeyed to St. Joseph with the other delegates from his area. On the second day of the convention, Dec. 4, 1838, when districts could not reach an agreement as to the manner in which they would represent their absent members, Bellamy admonished the group.

He stated that ``many of us ... who are here, are not politicians by profession; we do not look to politics as an object from whence to derive support for our families, we take no delight in party strife or political turmoil -- but have come here with another view, and are influenced by no other motives, than to discharge honestly the trust committed to us by our constituents, and to lay the foundation of the government, which we humbly hope is to advance the future prosperity and happiness of the good people of Florida.''

During the convention Bellamy served on the banking committee. In Marianna, Bellamy's house stood empty. Bellamy refused to live in the home, where traces of the fire which killed his wife could still be seen, nor would he allow any changes to be made.

According to J.R. Stanley's History of Jackson County, he eventually sold the home to C.C. Yonge, a U.S. district attorney in the 1850s. After the Civil War, William Nickels, keeper of Marianna's hotel and livery stable, purchased the home for $1,200. It became known as the old Nickels home and stood in the downtown area for many years, surrounded by Green, Clinton, Jefferson and Market streets. Several years ago the old home was torn down and replaced by county government buildings.

In 1840, the Florida territory began experiencing the rippling effects of the financial panic of 1837 that resulted in depressed conditions in the United States.

BUBBLE BURSTS

The following year the Union Bank was faced with default due to falling cotton prices, yellow fever and hurricanes. A congressional investigation in 1842 found the bank guilty of ``extravagance and overtrading.'' In 1843 the bubble burst and the Union Bank closed its doors. The bank's crash resulted in several court actions over the next few years. In the liquidation, the Union Bank brought suit against Samuel C. Bellamy for $27,710 on his unpaid mortgages. Although Bellamy was involved in this litigation, he did receive $1,000 to construct a new wooden bridge across the Chipola River in 1844, where baptisms were often held. He also served as a justice of the peace in Jackson County.

The Second Seminole War also took place during this period. With Jackson County at the edge of the frontier, several Indian massacres occurred. It is possible that renegade Indians robbed Elizabeth's grave during one of these uprisings. Her grave and many others were plundered extensively by grave robbers in later years.

FAMILY FEUD

In 1848, a bitter feud erupted between Samuel and Edward Bellamy. No one knows for certain what caused the disagreement. Edward did obtain control of his brother's ``Rock Cave Plantation'' at that time. Perhaps he purchased the property to keep it in the family or to hold it until Samuel's mental state improved; or he may have had less honorable reasons for obtaining the plantation.

Samuel Bellamy was outraged at the loss of his holdings. He caused a scandal by advertising in the Florida Whig about the wrongdoing committed by his brother. Bellamy reported that ``he had now no other means of making his living and therefore solicited the patronage of his neighbors'' by offering his professional medical services.

As a result of Samuel's defamation of Edward's character, the feud between the two worsened. This strife may have resulted in Edward's refusal to allow Samuel access to any of his property, including the family graveyard.

Samuel Bellamy next turned his attention to temperance and public schools. In a speech to the Chipola Division of the Sons of Temperance in 1849 Bellamy charged ``but miserable, miserable indeed, must be the condition of the man who first flies to intoxication as a remedy for the corroding cares of the world.''

According to records kept at the Constitutional Convention State Museum in Port St. Joe, Bellamy described this temptation in Marianna on July 4, 1849, saying: ``The cup is offered; he seizes it with the avidity a drowning man would catch at a straw, and buries alike his sorrows and his senses in oblivion.''

Apparently he spoke from his own experiences with alcohol and a depressed mental state. At that time Bellamy already had been a heavy drinker for many years, yet he was elected clerk of the Circuit Court of Jackson County.

As a proponent of public education, he stated in an address: ``Let the blessings of a good education be brought within the reach of the poorest child in your land.'' He then personally financed a school in Jackson County. And during another inspirational speech he reiterated his faith in the state's future, concluding it, ``Who does not wish that his children and his children's children ... with pride and exultation, may exclaim `This is my own, my native land ...'' The 1850 census shows 40-year-old Samuel Bellamy staying at the home of James Baker, his wife, Sarah, and their six children.

The enumeration also lists Edward Bellamy, 49, his wife, Ann, and their seven children. These records reveal a close bond between the two families with the fact that a 12--year--old son is named ``Croom,'' and a 7-year-old daughter bears the name ``Elizabeth.''

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

In his later years Bellamy often rode out to his brother's plantation. From the dirt road he would gaze at Edward's many children, riding ponies or chasing wooden hoops across the front lawn, and dream of what might have been.

Then after dark in the light of a full moon he would stare gloomily across the field at the graveyard where his beloved Elizabeth lay sleeping. The ghost story may have originated at this time, or in the late 1800s when the Bellamy mansion burned.

Bellamy never remarried, nor did he ever have any children. He did become deputy clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida in 1852.

Then in 1853 Bellamy revised his will. He instructed his executor ``to prosecute to the limit of the law against Edward C. Bellamy, until he shall be compelled to account for and pay over the last cent he has had of mine.''  Eighty-one slaves valued at $47,900 and several hundred acres of land were involved in this suit. Years later the court decided in Samuel Bellamy's favor, but little remained after the Union Bank's claims against the estate were paid.

In December 1853, the local newspaper reported that Samuel Bellamy had been ``exceedingly intemperate for years past, and was most probably laboring under delirium tremens.''

According to the Tallahassee Floridian and Journal, three days after Christmas, on Dec. 28, 1853, Samuel C. Bellamy committed suicide by lifting a razor and slitting his throat.

LONE REMINDER

Today, Elizabeth Jane Bellamy's tombstone is the only reminder of the tragedy that took place many years ago. It stands about a half-mile from the river in an overgrown field, near a few crumbling bricks and an old cistern, used to cool food and drinks during plantation days.

Around Halloween groups gather in the haunted area down by the river, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghostly silhouette. On the anniversary of the tragedy each May, several Chipola College students keep a midnight vigil. Some claim to have taken photographs of the ghost that reveal a strange white blur.

When Elizabeth's ghost appears, questions arise. Does she return to douse her burning body in the river? Is she looking for her stolen jewels? Or does she wander the swamps trying to find and protect her beloved husband?

Elizabeth Jane Bellamy's spirit has many reasons to be restless.

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