Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bellamy Bridge, Part Six

This is part six of a continuing series on the true story behind Jackson County's popular legend of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. To read the previous posts first, please scroll down the page.
The leap of the story of Samuel and Elizabeth Bellamy from real fact to legend began in 1853 when 19th century novelist Caroline Lee Hentz published an intriguing book titled Marcus Warland or the Long Moss Spring.
Although she would spend the last three years of her life in Florida and die at Marianna in 1856, Mrs. Hentz was actually a resident of Columbus, Georgia at the time she wrote the book. Because of her later association with Jackson County, many have assumed the "Long Moss Spring" of the book was a description of Blue Spring near Marianna. According to her "Address to the Reader," however, the book was actually set in and around Columbus.
One of the subplots of the book, however, was the wedding night death of a young slave named Cora:
…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 story bears an obvious similarity to the Bellamy Bridge ghost legend: A young bride's gown comes into contact with an open fire on her wedding night, leading to tragic results.
The connection becomes quite clear when one notices the name given by Mrs. Hentz to the mistress of the plantation where the fire took place. The character was named, as you probably have guessed by now, "Mrs. Bellamy." The story, in fact, reads almost like a recitation of the Bellamy Bridge story:
“Mercy! Mercy!” she shrieked. “Oh! Mistress, save me, save me.” Rushing through the hall and down the stairs, the flames flashing more wildly round her, she still screamed, “Mistress, save me!” Mrs. Bellamy, who was in the room below, heard the sudden terrible cry of human suffering, and flew to relieve it. When she beheld the blazing figure leaping towards the open door, and recognized the voice of Cora, shrill and piercing as it now was, regardless of self, she sprang after her, and seizing her with frenzied grasp, tried to crush the flames with her slender fingers, and smother them against her own body. While she was thus heroically endeavoring to save the beautiful mulatto at the risk of her own life, Hannibal, who had dragged the carpet from the hall, wrapped it closely around the form of her he so madly loved….
Hannibal was a male slave on the "Bellamy" plantation that the fictional Cora had passed over in favor of another man, King.
When our series continues, we will look at how Caroline Lee Hentz's fictional story became part of the Bellamy Bridge ghost legend. In the meantime, you can read more by visiting: The complete story is also included in my book, Two Egg, Florida: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Legends and Unusual Facts, available now through, or for order through most bookstores. It is also available at Chipola River Book and Tea in downtown Marianna.

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