This post is a real throwback or fling back as we Jamaicans would say. Today, I revisit my first trip to the Rose Hall Great House in Montego Bay, St. James.
When I was younger, there were numerous school trips to Rose Hall that I always missed because I just always fell ill.
I finally broke my Rose Hall virginity in 2012 on a Rotaract trip.
Rose Hall Great House is one of Jamaica’s most famous historical sites with an even more popular duppy (ghost) story which has for years captured the interest of locals & tourists alike.
In my research for this post, I realized that the story of the White Witch has overshadowed the actual history of the Great House, so information was HARD to find. One variation of the great house history stated that George Ash was commissioned to build the house for then custos John Palmer. The version of history that was showing up most though was the one below.
Rose Hall’s first mistress was Rosa Palmer (nee Kelly), a daughter of Irish immigrants living in Jamaica. In 1746 Henry Fanning, an Englishman, was anticipating marriage to Rosa so he purchased a 290 acre plot of land in St. James Parish on which to build their married home. The two were married in 1747 but Fanning died within months of the marriage.
Rosa married again in 1750 to George Ash, a landowner in St. James. Ash spent £30,000 building a marvelous home on the land with ornately carved mahogany doors, floors and staircases. The estate was named Rose Hall in Rosa’s honour. Sadly for the couple Ash did not survive long after the property was completed and died in 1752.
The following year Rosa entered a brief and unhappy marriage with the Hon. Norwood Witter, a widower from Westmoreland. Witter died in 1767, leaving Rosa a widow for the third time.
Rosa finally found happiness and a lasting marriage the following year when she married the Custos of St. James, John Palmer who owned the neighbouring Palmyra Estate. Palmer was a widower with two sons living in England. The two were happily married until Rosa died in 1790, leaving Rose Hall to John Palmer in her will. As a tribute to his wife, Palmer commissioned renowned artist John Bacon to carve a memorial to her in the St. James Parish Church. John Palmer later died in 1797, leaving Rose Hall and Palmyra in trust for his sons in England. They never visited Jamaica or had children by the time they died so the estates passed on to Palmer’s grand nephew John Palmer.
John Palmer moved to Jamaica to take charge of Rose Hall and soon married Annie Patterson (the lady who became the subject of the White Witch of Rose Hall legend).
The Legend of Annie Palmer
The great house is definitely a Georgian gem but the true attraction of Rose Hall is its infamous White Witch mistress Annie Palmer. It is alleged that her spirit still haunts the corridors of the main house to this day.
I grew up hearing tales of Annie’s reign of terror & numerous trysts with slave lovers which took place in between her murdering her husbands.
This is the legend I grew up hearing…
Annie Mae Patterson was born to an English mother and Irish father who moved to Haiti when they she was just 10 years old. Whilst in Haiti, Annie became interested in Voodoo and learned about it from her Haitian nanny. Her parents died of yellow fever whilst in Haiti and she was raised to adulthood by her nanny, becoming an expert at Voodoo as she grew. At the age of 18 her nanny died and she moved to Jamaica in search of a rich husband as a means to acquiring her fortune. She was said to be very beautiful and very petite (around 4 ‘ 11 ” tall).
She met and cast a spell on the owner of Rose Hall Estate which included the great house and a 7,000 acre sugar plantation with 2,000 slaves, John Palmer, to trap him in marriage. Thus, she became the second mistress of the vast and prominent plantation that was once, and still is by many, regarded as the finest Great House on the island.
If there was ever happiness in their marriage, it was not widely publicized because shortly after they had settled down to the business of married life, Annie poisoned her husband for control of the plantation. Not long after, Annie married again, this time to another English planter who she eventually stabbed to death. Not one to be lonely for long, Annie married a third time, and tiring once more of this husband, she strangled him with the help of one of her many slave lovers, Takoo.
Annie began her reign of terror on the estate and her cruel behaviour coupled with rumours of her Voodoo rituals earned her the name “The White Witch of Rose Hall”.
Annie’s fatal mistake was to put a curse on the granddaughter of Takoo, who was also the local obeah man. Annie was trying to win the love of an English book keeper named Robert Rutherford. However, Rutherford was in love with the Takoo’s granddaughter, Millicent. Annie cursed Millicient with an “Old Hige” – a visit from a ghost whose presence causes the victim to slowly wither and die. Outraged by his granddaughters death, Takoo, accompanied by an army of angry slaves strangled and killed Annie.
She was immediately buried in a very deep hole on Rose Hall estate. The slaves on the estate also burned her possessions for fear that they were tainted by her spirit. A voodoo ritual was carried out when she was buried but it is said that this was not carried out correctly and her spirit still haunts Rose Hall to this day.
It is said that the subsequent owners of the Rose Hall estate suffered early and tragic deaths, leading to the estate being unoccupied for over 130 years. Locals have reported seeing a shadowy figure in a green velvet habit riding a black horse across the estate. There are also tales of screams and hurried footprints being heard in the empty great house.
This version of Rose Hall’s dark history was based on H.G. de Lisser’s 1928 novel The White Witch of Rose Hall. According to records, the real Annie was nothing like her literary persona.
Little is known about the lives of Annie and John but all evidence points to then being a happily married couple and model citizens. John Palmer died in 1827, his death was widely reported in Jamaica but there has been no recorded suggestion of foul play. There is evidence to suggest that Annie Palmer vacated Rose Hall by 1830 and died in Bonavista near Anchovy in 1846.
My Trip to the Rose Hall
I couldn’t contain my excitement about the trip at all. The morning of the trip I got up so early my family thought I was ill.
Inside the House
This was definitely one of my favourite tours that I have been on & of course I plan on revisiting, hopefully, for the night tour.
Apart from tours of The Great House, the estate has played host to numerous luxury parties and weddings.
There is also a golf course named The White Witch in honour of Annie.
For more information check out Rose Hall Great House’s website here
Until Next Trek…