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

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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.

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