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Wicked White Witch of Rose Hall

Rose Hall

Facts get swallowed up and regurgitated for what purpose? How do we measure an understanding so that we may operate from a point of truth? And when there is a fabrication for the purpose of poetic licence is it the duty of the author to make it clear that the entertainment is fictional? When I listen to poetry I understand the purpose of the setting.

Brocade wallpaper

So when I found myself recently at Rose Hall aka The Great House in St James, Jamaica I was left with an instinctive sense that what was being told during the visitor’s tour just wasn’t adding up. Not merely because of the hauntings that are suggested to take place at the house. This may or may not be the case, but even if there were such things as phantoms ghoulishly causing fear about the Great Hall it is unlikely that they are being executed by the “wicked and evil” Annie Palmer. But let’s make it clear that I’m not a medium, but a  person who asks questions.

According to legend Annie Mae Patterson was raised by her Haitian nanny after her parents died of yellow fever. As she matured, Annie became an expert at Voodoo. At the age of 18, her nanny died and she moved to Jamaica in search of a rich husband.

Shortly after being married to John Palmer, she grew tired of her new husband and began taking slaves as lovers. One day she was caught making love, and John beat Annie, igniting her bitter temper, which resulted in her poisoning him to death with coffee. Annie went on to inherit Rose Hall, take on many lovers, gleefully torture slaves, murder two more husbands and inherit their wealth.

According to my guide, the husbands were buried by slaves who she would kill before they returned to the estate.

This crazy wickedness gained her the title “The White Witch of Rose Hall”.

The story heavy with plots was actually written by Herbert de Lisser, a journalist and author, in 1928. The story has since been woven twisting truth with fiction to create a fabricated narrative that acts as a fantastical backdrop for visitors on a tour of Rose Hall. You are led to believe the story is fact, leaving the audience in a heightened state of marvel.

A mad white promiscuous female slave owner, victimised white men, beaten and sexually objectified slaves, romanticised voodoo tales. All of which would be fine if we all left the stage clapping an encore. However, most visitors and Jamaicans believe this myth to be true. To me, the story merely serves to support stereotypes and theatre. As a true narrative, there is no inquiry, purpose or analytical questioning.

The tour ends with a visit to Annie Palmers grave tomb that sits in the garden a short distance from the house. I’m almost seduced to believe that Annie’s ghost still haunts the grounds, but I vaguely recall reading that the story is merely a myth. The tour draws to an end with our tour guide singing a verse from the song The Ballad of Annie Palmer by Johny Cash. It is entertainment.

The building boasts a stately excellence that was developed and renovated to its present-day glory by Michele Rollins (former miss world) and John Rollins (entrepreneur and multi-millionaire).

Originally built in 1770 the building of Rose Hall was completed. Hon John Palmer married Rosa Kelly, his 2nd wife in 1768. John was Rosa’s 4th husband. They were happily married until she died in 1790 leaving Rose Hall to John Palmer in her will. He then went on to marry Rebecca Ann James.

Hon John Palmer died in 1797 leaving the property to his two son’s who showed little interest.

Rebecca moved to England and married a Dr Nathaniel Werks from Barbados. She died in Sidmouth, Devon late 1846 early 1847. Like most plantation owners Hon J Palmer lived on credit. Due to debt Rose Hall fell into the hands of the Court of Chancery who were responsible for administering such properties. They saw the administration of slave labour, plantation supplies, food, medical supplies, doled out punishment and sold sugar and rum. Their accounts were submitted and logged with the court and can be found in the Jamaican archives in Spanish Town. From 1792 onwards it is presumed that Rose Hall was empty.

In 1818 John Rose Palmer, nephew to Hon John Palmer came to Jamaica to attempt to recover Rose Hall from the Court of Chancery. The trip was unsuccessful. He was so in debt he mortgaged to Henry Martin Ancrum of London.

Annie Mary Patterson was born in 1802. She married John Palmer, March 28, 1820, at Mount Pleasant, St James. The couple lived at Rose Hall in debt. 7 years later John Rose Palmer died £6000 in debt. Annie Palmer sold her rights to Rose Hall for £200 sterling to Dr Bernard in Bristol in 1830. Annie Palmer died in 1846 in Bona Vista, near Anchovy and was buried in Montego Bay churchyard by Rev T Garratt on July 9th.

Annie Palmer is a fact smothered by myths regurgitated for the purpose of persuasion, or in this case entertainment. Locals that anchor onto the myth are further drawn into the story by findings, according to ghostbusters and mediums who have reported ghosts measured by whatever tools they use to quantify their investigations. You can find them on youtube if you google Rose Hall, St James, Jamaica.

If such things as haunting do exist, I would guess that it’s more likely to be spirits other than Annie Palmer with an entirely different reason to haunt. And if it is Annie Palmer she’s probably freaking out at the idea that a myth portrays her as a psychotic promiscuous femme fatale.

An alternative truth. Reminds me of our attachment to story. The brain/mind will perceive something as true no matter what until proven otherwise and sometimes with no flexibility. For some Jamaican’s and visitors, this story is perceived as true, full stop. This opens up for me the question regarding the influence of the colonies over those enslaved that were forced to accept Christianity in its abusive form as it was during the transatlantic slave trading. Thereby driving out the indigenous belief system. Of course, there were also many that resisted enslavement and brought about the abolition of slavery at the same time maintaining their cultural identity and beliefs, whilst adopting that which was new.
Human nature will adapt to survive. This poses many questions that I’ll have to bookmark.

Rose Hall has been renovated to a high standard using original and replicated antiques that create a period gone but not forgotten. It is most definitely worth a visit and I understand they have scary nights staged to frighten the crap out of you if you like that kind of thing.

The boundaries between entertainment and fact I prefer to be clear when dealing with a period so abhorrent as the transatlantic slave trade. The renovation of the plantation site is impressive no doubt but the blur between fact and fiction left me slightly irked.

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