The White Witch of Rose Hall

Rose Hall is a visually impressive Georgian Mansion and the most famous great house in Jamaica. It sits high on the hillside, with a panorama view over the coast in Montego Bay. The subject of at least a dozen Gothic novels, it was immortalized in the H. G. de Lisser book, White Witch of Rose Hall.

The house was built from 1778 to 1790 by John Palmer, a wealthy British planter. At its peak, this was a 2,640-hectare (6,521-acre) plantation, with more than 2,000 slaves.

However, it is Annie Palmer, wife of the builder’s grandnephew, who became the heart of the legend of the White Witch.
Born in 1802 in England of half-English, half-Irish stock, Annie Mae Paterson, a beautiful 18-year-old spitfire measuring only 4′ 11″ tall, arrived at the Rose Hall Great House near Montego Bay on March 28, 1820, to take up residence with her new husband, the Honorable John Rose Palmer, the new heir of the domain.

She had moved to Haiti with her merchant parents when she was 10. When they died soon after from yellow fever, she was adopted by her Haitian nanny, who was rumored to be a voodoo priestess who educated her young charge in the arts of the occult. When the nanny died, the young white woman came to Jamaica, husband-hunting.

Several months after the marriage, when her husband discovered her affair with a young slave, he is said to have beaten her with a riding whip. John Palmer died that night. Before long, rumors were swirling that his young wife had poisoned his coffee. With her husband buried, Annie Palmer began a reign of terror at Rose Hall. She took slaves as lovers and then killed them off when they bored her.

Her servants called her the “Obeah (voodoo) woman,” the daughter of the devil, “Infamous Annie,”and “the White Witch of Rose Hall.”

When Ms. Palmer was found strangled in her bed in 1831, evidence surfaced that the murderer was Takoo, a freed slave and also a bokor seeking vengeance for a curse that Annie — in a fit of jealous rage — had placed on his beloved granddaughter, which had caused that granddaughter “to wither and die.” Her household servants, as well as the overseer of her plantation, Ashman, who recorded most of the grisly events in his diary, just wanted her buried as soon as possible in the deepest hole they could dig.

Fearing her return from the dead, the household servants hastily burned most of her possessions, fearing that they were permeated with remnants of her spirit. This occurred at the beginning of the slave uprisings which stretch from 1831-1838. Evidence of the building being haunted grew stronger as a succession of tragedies befell most of the subsequent owners.

Long in ruins, after passing through the hands of three owners, Rose Hall Great House was acquired by American millionaire John Rollins, who spent vast sums of money to restore the property to its former beauty in the 1960s. It boasts silk wallpapers, European antiques, chandeliers, mahogany floors, paneling and wooden ceilings. During the slave rebellion of 1831, 685 of the great houses were burned to the ground as hated symbols of the extravagant life styles founded on cruelty. Yet, one of the fifteen great houses which still remained was The Rose Hall Great House

   Location :    Rose Hall Hwy., 15km (9 1/4 miles) east of Montego Bay    
  Phone     876/953-2323    
  Prices     Admission US$20 (£10) adults, US$10 (£5) children 12 and under