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Painting of a ghostly looking woman. (Public Domain) Rose Hall, the estate house of a former sugar plantation, in Jamaica.

Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall


One time I was down to Jamaica to a place called Rose Hall Plantation
…A lady named Annie Palmer who lived in that great house there
…Well they tell a lot of tales about Annie
They say she had three husbands one at a time I guess
…On the Island of Jamaica quite a long long time ago
At Rose Hall Plantation where the ocean breezes blow
Lived a girl named Annie Palmer the mistress of the place
And the slaves all lived in fear to see a frown on Annie's face
Where's your husband Annie where's number two and three
Are they sleeping neath the palms beside the Caribbean Sea
At night I hear you ridin' and I hear your lovers call
And still can feel your presence round the great house at Rose Hall hmm
-
The Ballad of Annie Palmer, Johnny Cash

Rose Hall Plantation – better known today as Rose Hall Great House – in Montego Bay, Jamaica is considered one of the most haunted houses in the western hemisphere.  It has such a notorious reputation that the famous American singer and songwriter, Johnny Cash, wrote a song popularizing the legend created by Herbert de Lisser who immortalized Annie Palmer in his book, White Witch of Rose Hall , published in 1929.    

Engraving from James Hakewill’s ‘A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica’ (drawings made in the years 1820 & 1821), it shows the Rose Hall Estate.

Engraving from James Hakewill’s ‘A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica’ (drawings made in the years 1820 & 1821), it shows the Rose Hall Estate. ( Public Domain )

History of Rose Hall Plantation

On the coast of Montego Bay sits the spectacular Georgian mansion, Rose Hall, built in the 1770s.  Georgian structures tend to be very symmetrical and resemble Greco-Roman architecture with its simplistic style. Georgian-designed buildings of the 1700s were an attempt to revive the ancient Greco-Roman edifices while infusing contemporary building materials such as wood or stucco into the overall construction. 

John Palmer, one of the former owners of Rose Hall, acquired the property from his great uncle, who owned and operated the mansion primarily as a sugar plantation.  Rose Hall was one of the largest plantations in Jamaica, reportedly having over 2000 slaves working its fields at one point in its history.   

Rose Hall, the estate house of a former sugar plantation, in Jamaica

Rose Hall, the estate house of a former sugar plantation, in Jamaica. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Annie Meets John Palmer

Annie Patterson was born in Haiti in the late 1700s.  Through an unfortunate twist of fate, she lost both of her parents to yellow fever when she was about six years old.  Annie’s caretaker took on the responsibility of raising her and it is while Annie was in her care that she allegedly learned witchcraft and Voodoo. During this time, Haiti was ripe with turmoil and was entrenched in a revolution waged by its enslaved population. This war made it very unsafe for its white inhabitants and may have influenced Annie’s desire to leave when she reached maturity.

Due to another twist of fate – or due to Annie’s seasoned Voodoo skills – John Palmer crossed her path when she was about 18 years old. He married Annie and took her from Haiti back to Jamaica with him.  Although John whisked this orphaned girl away as she had always dreamed, it is believed that married life was not the fairytale romance that she may have envisioned. John was supposedly very abusive to Annie, hence the source of her scorn. She was reportedly unfaithful, having taken several male slaves as her lovers. It is unclear if her promiscuity triggered John’s abuse or whether she took refuge in it because of his abuse and neglect.

Example of a Voodoo altar.

Example of a Voodoo altar. (Paul Mannix/ CC BY 2.0 )

Annie Palmer and the Mysterious Deaths of her Three Spouses

Annie’s marriage to John Palmer grew more and more estranged, until one day John caught her engaging in sexual relations with one of the male slaves. This incident sealed John’s fate because she is said to have used her Voodoo skills to poison him after he beat her. Annie was never accused of his death and went on to inherit the plantation and his fortune. 

After John’s death, Annie continued her lascivious ways with her male slaves.  But to quell potential rumors from emerging about her promiscuity, she re-married. Her other two husbands reportedly died under mysterious circumstances for which she was never accused. It is rumored that they are buried under the three palm trees that sit in front of the luxury condominium hotels near Rose Hall.

A sitting room with an allegedly ‘haunted mirror’ inside the Rose Hall Great House.

A sitting room with an allegedly ‘haunted mirror’ inside the Rose Hall Great House. (Sarah_Ackerman/ CC BY 2.0 )

Takoo - Annie’s Lover and Killer

The slaves of Rose Hall plantation despised Annie and knew that she was involved in the mysterious deaths of her husbands. She was described as a mean, cruel plantation mistress who tortured her slaves and treated them very poorly. After the death of each of her husbands, she increased the terror upon her slaves and continued her love affairs with certain male slaves. When she grew tired of them, she is said to have either cursed them with black magic or killed them. 

One of these lovers was an obeah man by the name of Takoo – a slave who stories say also had knowledge of the black arts. In one version of the tale, Takoo was Annie’s lover who had grown tired of her ill-treatment and used black magic to get rid of her before she had a chance to use it to get rid of him. In another version, Takoo was related to one of her lovers. Annie used black magic to kill Takoo’s relative and he returned the favor with a little black magic of his own. His spell supposedly weakened Annie and while in a vulnerable state he strangled her in one of the bedrooms in Rose Hall. Takoo then placed her in a concrete coffin on the plantation and marked it with crosses to keep her spirit from wandering and haunting the land.

This tomb at Rose Hall, Jamaica is allegedly the one in which Annie Palmer is buried.

This tomb at Rose Hall, Jamaica is allegedly the one in which Annie Palmer is buried. (Sarah_Ackerman/ CC BY 2.0 )

The Legend Continues

Annie’s murder coincided with a slave uprising that erupted in Jamaica in 1831.  After the uprising, Rose Hall fell into disrepair for a little over a century until 1960, when former Miss USA, Michele Rollins, and her husband John Rollins, purchased the property and refurbished it. 

Rose Hall before it was restored in the 1960s.

Rose Hall before it was restored in the 1960s. (Jasonbook99/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The legend of Annie Palmer is quite an entertaining tale because it is more fiction than fact. This hasn’t repressed the legend, however. Popular ghost television shows claim paranormal activities exist in the mansion and on its lands. Tour guides for this popular destination continue to recant tales about this marauding murderer who tormented people while she was alive and continued to haunt them after her death. These stories continue to add to the mystery and lure of the place. 

It is believed that there was no such person as Annie Palmer and that the wife of John Palmer was a woman named Rosa Palmer. Much of what is attributed to the plantation and John Palmer’s wife comes from the book written by Herbert de Lisser, who created this book because he believed that the rumors he had heard about the mansion’s hauntings were nonsense and he wrote this book to perpetuate the absurdity.    

Despite the legend having been proven as a hoax, the mansion continues to remain one of the biggest tourist attractions in Jamaica due to the on-going folktale. And like the lyrics of Johnny Cash’s song says, visitors to the mansion can feel Annie’s presence around the Rose Hall Great House.

Top Image: Painting of a ghostly looking woman. ( Public Domain ) Rose Hall, the estate house of a former sugar plantation, in Jamaica. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

By ML Childs

References:

Cash, J R. (1973) ‘The Ballad of Annie Palmer.’

Docevski, B. (2016) ‘Annie Palmer: The Voodoo mistress of the Rose Hall mansion, Jamaica.’ Available at: https://m.thevintagenews.com/2016/09/10/annie-palmer-voodoo-mistress-rose-hall-mansion-jamaica/

The Shadowlands (n.d.) ‘Annie Palmer and Rose Hall.’ Available at: http://theshadowlands.net/famous/rose.htm

Scariest Places on Earth. (2001) ‘White Witch.’ Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-v-bcm8tFk

Stefko, J. (2013) ‘White Witch of Rose Hall: Annie Palmer.’ Available at: http://decodedpast.com/white-witch-rose-hall-annie-palmer/3496

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