Elizabeth Bellamy died 181 years ago today at the age of 18. She is the woman best known today as the “Ghost of Bellamy Bridge.”
Her passing attracted note in newspapers as far away as her home state of North Carolina:
DIED. . . at Rock Cave Plantation, near Marianna, Florida, on the 11th ult. Mrs. Elizabeth Jane, wife of Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy, and youngest daughter of the late Gen. William Croom, of Lenoir County, N.C. aged eighteen years. – Also, on the 19th, Alexander, her only child, aged eighteen months. [I]
Rock Cave Plantation, where Elizabeth and Alexander died, was located about three miles northwest of Marianna. Its northernmost properties included the site where the parking lot of today’s Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail is located.
Elizabeth’s real story is very different from her legend. The following is excerpted from historian Dale Cox’s book The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge: 10 Ghosts & Monsters from Jackson County, Florida:
The lands of Rock Cave Plantation were indeed beautiful and rich, but they were also deadly. The swamps of Baker Creek and the Chipola River were breeding grounds for mosquitoes and fevers and chills were common enemies of early settlers, black and white alike. The Bellamy family was not spared.
On December 6, 1836, Hardy Bryan Croom wrote to his wife that Samuel, Elizabeth and baby Alexander were all sick with a fever that must have been malaria. Sometimes called the “intermittent and remittent fever” by doctors of the time because patients often recovered only to suddenly collapse and often die in vicious relapses of the illness, malaria – along with its cousin, yellow fever – was far deadlier to the early settlers of Florida than Seminole attacks and any of the other disasters that often befell families in the new territory.
It was fever and not fire that claimed the life of the beautiful young woman named Elizabeth Jane Bellamy on May 11, 1837. Her 18-month old son, baby Alexander, died seven days later on the 18th.
That Elizabeth Bellamy died of fever in her bed and not of a tragic wedding night fire is indisputable. Her obituary appeared in the Tallahassee Floridian and other newspapers of the time and her passing was mentioned in the letters of both Samuel C. Bellamy and Hardy Bryan Croom. She was laid to rest not at Rock Cave, but at the Terre Bonne plantation of Edward and Ann Bellamy where Bellamy Bridge stands today. Baby Alexander was buried beside her.
The decision to bury her there probably was made so that her sister, Ann, could watch over her grave. The little cemetery was within view of she and Edward had built.
The death of his 18-year-old wife and 18-month-old child devastated Samuel Bellamy. Legend is correct in its assertion that he descended into the pits of alcoholic despair. The transition from prosperous young planter to depressed alcoholic, however, did not take place immediately.
Determined to make a life for himself in Florida despite the loss of Elizabeth and the baby, he accepted a position as the Marianna appraiser for the Union Bank of Florida. Bank records show that Samuel was awarded 148 shares worth $14,800 on February 10, 1838, for use in building a new home. The awarding of shares was the way the Union Bank loaned money. Land owners mortgaged their property to secure the value of the shares they were awarded and then used the money for the purpose for which they needed financing.
Based on the value of currency in 1838, $14,800 was an impressive sum. The money, of course, was used to build Samuel’s magnificent mansion in Marianna. It was not a wedding gift for his blushing young bridge, but instead was financed and built roughly one year after her death.
Samuel’s status in the community was also reflected by his selection to be one of Jackson County’s four delegates to the Florida Constitutional Convention of 1838. He served on the convention’s banking committee and took an active part in drafting Florida’s original constitution. He also addressed the assembled delegates on the importance of the work entrusted to them:
…Many of us…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.
His participation in the Constitutional Convention of 1838 as a respected planter and bank appraiser was perhaps the high point of Dr. Samuel Bellemy’s life in Florida. Tragedy and misfortune continued to stalk him with a persistence that must have been overwhelming. The series of events and family disasters that began with the deaths of Elizabeth and Alexander had continued on October 9, 1837, when Hardy Bryan Croom, his wife and their three children died in the steamship Home disaster on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Within six
months, seven members of the Croom and Bellamy families suffered tragic deaths.
…The Union Bank failed in 1843 and Congressional investigators later determined that its officers had engaged in extravagance and that it had loaned money in amounts far exceeding its resources. Investors in the bank lost fortunes. Among those who owed the bank far more than the values of their lands was Samuel Bellamy. He was indebted for $27,710 by the time the bank closed its doors. His fortune was gone.
…He turned more and more to alcohol as a remedy for his troubles and soon found himself battling severe alcoholism and depression. Things got worse as his brother Edward exerted more and more control over Samuel’s properties, leaving him with little or nothing upon which to live. By 1848, Samuel was running ads in the Florida Whig newspaper in Marianna, appealing to his friends to support his medical practice as he had no other means of supporting himself due to what he considered the wrongdoing committed against him by his brother.
He tried to battle alcoholism by joining the Chipola Division of the Sons of Temperance and on July 4, 1849, addressed a large crowd in Marianna about the evils of alcohol. “The cup is offered,” he said. “He seizes it with the avidity a drowning man would catch at a straw, and buries alike his sorrows and his senses in oblivion.” His battle for sobriety, however, would fail.
Despite his well-known battle with liquor, Samuel served as Clerk of Courts for Jackson County and in 1852 was named deputy clerk of the Supreme Court of Florida. On December 28, 1853, sixteen years after the death of his wife and child, Dr. Samuel C. Bellamy cut his own throat with a straight razor in a tavern and inn at Chattahoochee Landing. Dr. Charles Hentz, a prominent local physician, noted that Samuel was “laboring under delirium tremens” at the time of his death and had been “exceedingly intemperate for years past.”
Samuel Bellamy was only 44 years old when he took his own life. In a final, sad footnote to his life, he left instructions in his will for 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 of mine.” Samuel’s estate eventually did prevail against Edward, but most of the assets were seized to satisfy the debts owed the Union Bank.
Edward and Ann continued to live in Jackson County for a time, but left Florida for Mississippi shortly before the beginning of the War Between the States. Their house near Bellamy Bridge was eventually destroyed in an accidental fire and today nothing remains but a barely discernible cistern to indicate the grand mansion ever stood at all. Elizabeth’s grave likewise has been lost to the public and is now on private property and no longer accessible. So far as is known, Samuel rests in an unmarked grave in Chattahoochee.
– End of Excerpt –
So how did this real and very sad story turn into the legend of a burning bride at Bellamy Bridge? Watch for that part of the story tomorrow at www.twoegg.tv!
To learn more about the ghost story, please consider Dale Cox’s book The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge: 10 Ghosts & Monsters from Jackson County, Florida.
Also, be sure to check out the great song on the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge by Ernest Toole & Sarah Toole: The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge (feat. Sarah Toole).
You can also enjoy our free mini-documentary at the Two Egg TV channel on your Roku device or by watching right here:
[I] North Carolina Standard, June 28, 1837.