The White Witch of Rose Hall
Painting of a ghostly looking woman. Rose Hall, the estate house of a former sugar plantation, in Jamaica. Source: (ancient-origins.net)
A popular tourist location in Jamaica, Rose Hall is an eighteenth-century plantation manor. While seven hundred such houses once existed in Jamaica, Rose Hall is one of only fifteen to have survived the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt of 1831-32. However, its claim to fame is due not to that fact but to the “white witch” which allegedly still haunts the house.
According to the legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall, the witch in question was a woman by the name of Annie Palmer, born Annie Patterson. She was raised in England until age ten when the family moved to Haiti. Not long after, her parents died of yellow fever and Annie was raised by her Haitian nanny, who trained her in Voodoo. The nanny died when Annie was eighteen, so she moved to Jamaica to seek a husband. There she met John Palmer, who was the owner of Rose Hall at that time, and the two got married.
Apparently, John was not enough for Annie and she began to take male slaves as lovers. When John learned of her infidelity, he beat her. He died shortly afterward, and the legend suggests Annie poisoned him. She inherited all of John’s estate, including Rose Hall. She continued to take slaves as lovers, torturing and murdering them when they no longer pleased her. It was this cruelty that led the slaves to nickname her the White Witch of Rose Hall. Annie married two more times and both husbands allegedly died at her hands.
Annie’s reign of tyranny came to an end after she cursed the granddaughter of Takoo, one of her slaves while trying to attract the attention of an Englishman named Robert Rutherford who was in love with Takoo’s granddaughter. The curse, called “ole higue,” involved a ghost visiting the victim, causing them to slowly wither and die. Takoo retaliated against Annie by enlisting an army of slaves, strangling her, and burying her body in a deep hole. They burned all of her possessions and conducted a ritual to prevent her spirit from haunting the living. This ritual apparently failed, though, as Rose Hall is allegedly haunted by Annie’s ghost to this day.
This story, however, is just a legend. The real Annie Palmer was a Jamaican of Scottish descent. She never had a Haitian nanny nor was she trained in voodoo. She did marry a John Rose Palmer - he was her first and only husband - and they did live at Rose Hall, but only for a short time. Neither of them died there and they kept no slaves during their time there. They fell into debt and lost the property. John died in 1827 and Annie died in 1846, both of natural causes.
Many believe that the actual White Witch of Rose Hall was not Annie Palmer, but instead Rosa Palmer. Rosa did have four husbands and three of them died, but not at her hands. Her first husband, Henry Fanning, purchased the 290-acre plot of land on which Rose Hall would be built. Sadly, he died just a few months after their wedding. In 1750, Rosa married George Ash and he began building Rose Hall. He died in 1752, shortly after the house was finished. Rosa remarried a year later to Norwood Witter, who left her severely in debt before his death in 1767. Rosa’s fourth husband was the original John Palmer. They were happily married from 1768 to 1790 when Rosa died. John died seven years later. The property went to John’s sons in England; however, they both died childless and the property eventually fell into the hands of John’s grandnephew, John Rose Palmer.
In the original version of the legend, published by a Falmouth newspaper editor in 1868, Rosa Palmer was named as the white witch. The name was changed in a 1911 book on the history of St. James. However, it was Herbert G. de Lisser’s novel, The White Witch of Rose Hall, which permanently linked Annie Palmer to the dark legend. While the book was written as fiction, its version of the events was accepted as nonfiction. As far as the stories about Rose Hall being haunted, the tales range from a shadowy figure in green to a woman in white to random screams and footsteps. Even if these stories are more than just the result of overactive imaginations, there’s nothing to link them to the legend of the white witch.
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