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The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge

Local historian Dale Cox has written extensively about the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. I, like most youngsters growing up in Jackson County, heard the story of the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge at an early age. As the tale goes, or at least the version that I grew up hearing, Elizabeth Bellamy died a tragic death on her wedding night in the 1800’s. Supposedly she and her wedding dress had gotten too close to a fireplace or candle and the dress caught on fire. In a panic she ran from the antebellum home in which the wedding was taking place and tried to make it to the Chipola River to douse the flames.

Unfortunately she was not able to make it to the river, which was near the site of what would become Bellamy Bridge, and she succumb to the flames. The legend, which is at least over 100 year old, has it that the ghost of Elizabeth Bellamy roams the woods and riverbank at Bellamy Bridge.

Dale Cox has researched how the legend came about and found a very interesting story in itself as to how the legend evolved. Elizabeth Bellamy was a real person, was married to a well to do early planter in our area named Samuel Bellamy and did in fact die a tragic death in the vicinity of what became Bellamy Bridge. But Samuel and Elizabeth had been married in their native state of North Carolina in 1834. Soon thereafter they packed up their bags and moved to the newly developing territory of Florida and settled in the rich fertile lands along the Chipola River near Marianna. In 1837 the family all came down with fever, mostly likely malaria which was common in the mosquito filled swampy areas of the Chipola River. Elizabeth died on May 11 and a week later their 18 month old young child also died. Samuel Bellamy somehow survived the deadly disease and buried his wife and child under an oak tree on the east side of the Chipola River, not far from the Bellamy Bridge area (see attached photo).

So how did the real facts of Elizabeth’s death morph into the ghost story? Caroline Lee Hentz, was a 19th century novelist and in one of her books published in 1853, titled Marcus Worland or The Long Moss Spring, she described a tragic wedding night death on the Bellamy Plantation. The bride to be had her dress catch on fire and died soon thereafter. However the incident she described was based on events that had taken place in Columbus, Georgia not Marianna. But is just so happened that Caroline Lee Hentz then moved to Marianna, where she spent the final days of her life. After her death she was laid to rest in the cemetery of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Marianna and over the years it would appear that the folks of Jackson County came to incorrectly believe that her novel had been based on Elizabeth Bellamy’s death. Hentz is most remembered these days for her 1854 novel “The Planter’s Northern Bride” which is a southern rebuttal to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Being the true historian that Dale Cox is though, he is quick to point out that he is not saying there is no Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. He just points out that the facts of how that ghost story came to be don’t match the real facts of Elizabeth Bellamy’s death. As far as this writer is concern, I tend not to believe in ghost. I can recall more that a few nights as a teenager back in the 70’s hanging out at Bellamy Bridge. And I remember one evening when the fog started rolling in late in the night. While I am sure we were in an altered state of mind, it was the 70’s you know, we began to see things in that fog that sure made us ask “Is that the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge?” To the best of my recollection we didn’t hang around long enough to find out. So is there a Ghost of Bellamy Bridge or not? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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My Dad......The Soldier

Contributed By Ernie Padgett

How many of us as young kids would listen to a parent and accept every word as absolute? Then as we grew into teenage and young adult years, started to question these absolutes. Many of us would just remain silent and form our own conclusions without openly questioning a parent.

As for me, and I'm sure many others, as we grew older, sometimes circumstances and time became the great teacher.

I was raised on the "south side of the tracks" in Marianna in an area known as Daffin Bottom. My Dad worked for many years at Robert Andrews store. Located on the corner of South Jefferson and South Street, Andrews was probably the busiest store in town. It was a gas station, grocery store, meat market, grease rack, bait shop, and radiator shop. The old store, though closed for many years, still stands.

"Mr. Robert" and my Dad would let me work there at a very young age, probably about 10 years old. My job was to "watch the front" as Dad put it. A car would drive up to the gas pumps and I would kick into gear....pumping gas, checking the oil and tires...and last but not least...washing the windshield.

I spent many hours listening to Dad and his friends talking about their WWII experiences while gathered around the drink box at Andrews. This was before the days of coffee groups meeting at McDonalds, Hardees, or the Gazebo. Back then people would stand around a local store to discuss whatever was on their mind.

When I was very young, I believed it all. As I grew older, I started to think that some of it was true and some of it may have been exaggerated. These guys were my Dad's war buddies....and his drinking buddies.

They would talk about the battles they fought in and the cold winters in Germany. They talked (with each other) about friends, some from Jackson County and surrounding areas, that died in combat.

Many of these conversations took place in the late 1950's when I was 10, 11, and 12 years old. My Dad passed away in 1982. Many years later, in 2005, I requested his military records from the Department of Army.

When his records were sent, I was both happy and sad. Sad because after reviewing all the information sent to me...I realized that my Father had not exaggerated anything.

I received a letter from the National Personnel Records Center that stated, in part, the following:

"For veteran Ernest L. Padgett, Sr. we are pleased to verify entitlement to the following awards:

Bronze Star Medal

European - African - Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star

World War II Victory Medal

Combat Infantryman Badge 1st award

The Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII

The letter further stated, relative to the Bronze Star award, the following "The Bronze Star Medal (BSM) was established in February 1944. Announcement of the criteria of the award was made several months later. At the conclusion of World War II, General George C. Marshall, upon reviewing the number of awards received by infantrymen, was disturbed to learn that comparatively few had received recognition and that infantrymen accounted for more casualties than any other branch or element of the U. S. Armed Forces. In order to rectify this disparity and oversight, the criteria was established for Combat Infantryman Badge and Combat Medical Badge recipients during the period December 7, 1941 to September 2, 1945 to receive the Bronze Star Medal."

After serving our country in World War II, in 1944 and 1945, my Dad received an honorable discharge on October 16, 1945.

The records I received show conclusively my Dad had been in combat many times. I'm writing this article on May 28, 2012, Memorial Day.

My Dad and so many others didn't have to exaggerate anything...they lived it. They fought and many died for our freedom.

By this article I'm saying to all of them, Thank You.

I feel my Dad knows this.

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Death on a Pale Horse By Dale Cox

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. - Revelation 6:8.

The Reconstruction era in Jackson County took an ominous turn early in 1866 when a Union officer named Charles M. Hamilton arrived in Marianna. To quote the verse from the Book of Revelation, "Hell followed with him."

Hamilton came to Marianna to head up the local office of the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands (commonly called the Freedman's Bureau). This was the organization tasked by the U.S. Government with overseeing the transition of the former slaves into their new roles as citizens of the country. In most areas of the South, the Bureau's work went without violence. In Jackson County, however, that was not the case and Hamilton himself was the cause of much of what followed.

When he first arrived in Jackson County, Hamilton was surprised to find that the local whites were "pretty well disposed to the freedmen" and that no significant problems were taking place. This was because the people of both races, after hearing from the governor the previous fall, had moved forward with making arrangements to get the county's farms back into operation.

Governor William Marvin, the appointed military governor of Florida, had addressed public meetings in Marianna on September 16 and 17, 1865, explaining to the freed people what it meant to be free:

...You must be contented with having your freedom, and what else you have you will have to get by work. And when you shall have made it by hard work, you will know how many days of hard toll it cause you to get it, and then you will rightly value it, and take care of it. You now are at liberty to go to work for yourselves; you have none other to work for. You belong now to no man; you have ceased to be property; you never will be sold again; and if you will struggle hard and do right, live as good men and women, and you will prosper, if not, you will suffer.

The governor had urged all of the county's citizens, both white and black, to cooperate and do what they could to begin producing badly needed food as quickly as possible. And the citizens had responded. Per the governor's instructions, they entered into hundreds of contracts.

These contracts basically were sharecropping agreements. Few of Jackson County's landowners had any real money left after the war, so they offered a share of the crop plus housing, food and other supplies to the freedmen in exchange for them helping to return the farms to production. Surviving examples of these contracts show that they were well done and that the landowners tried to be fair.

When Charles Hamilton arrived in early 1866, before even the first post-war crop could be planted, he immediately and illegally invalidated these contracts.

Under Florida law, the labor contracts were under the regulation of the county judge and nothing in either state or federal law gave the Freedman's Bureau any control over existing agreements. Hamilton, however, overruled the law and assumed responsibility for the contracts himself.

Not only did he require that all agreements be made using a printed form he prepared himself, he also required that both landowners and freedmen pay him fees for stamps to be placed on the documents. It was the first step in an assumption of power by the Bureau that far surpassed anything attempted anywhere else in Florida.

The consolidation of power by Hamilton and the Bureau was the spark that soon led to the first outbreaks of violence in Jackson County. The agent's arrival in Marianna, reasonably could be called the first "shot" in Jackson County's Reconstruction War. This was the opinion of John Wallace, himself a freedman, who had served in the Second U.S. Colored Troops and fought on the Union side at the Battle of Natural Bridge during the Civil War. He went on to become a teacher and legislator in Florida after the war and summed up his opinion of the cause of the violence in Jackson County as follows:

...The two races became arrayed against each other in deadly hostility, which led to frequent occurrences of violence and bloodshed. This state of things was not due to the enmity of the whites to the blacks, nor their opposition to the new law enfranchising the latter - though they were opposed to it, of course - nor was it due to any natural bad temper or hatred of the whites on the part of the colored people, for under ordinary circumstances there are no more peaceable people in the world than the inhabitants of Jackson County, of both colors, and they would have passed through the ordeal of reconstruction without a jar or disturbance, had it not been for the evil influence of the very men who were delegated to preserve peace, to administer justice, and to promote good fellowship and kindly relations between the freedmen and their former owners.

It did not take long after Hamilton's arrival for things to begin to change in Jackson County. His arrival, whether on a pale horse or not, had surely brought death with it.

Editor's Note: Writer and historian Dale Cox is the author of ten books on Southern history. They are available at Chipola River Book & Tea on Lafayette Street in downtown Marianna or online at www.exploresouthernhistory.com.

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