Home of the White Witch of Jamaica
Sugar was king in the 1800s, bringing immense wealth to the owners of Jamaica's sugar cane plantations. There were 700 plantation great houses, all built on high ground to oversee the thousands of slaves who toiled in the fields below. During the slave rebellion of 1831-1838, 685 of the great houses were looted and burned as hated symbols of the lavish life styles founded on cruelty.
Rose Hall cover illustration, "In Old Saint James," 1911
Rose Hall, Jamaica's most famous plantation, was named after the wife of George Ash, a wealthy English planter, who began work on the Georgian mansion in 1750. Ash died in 1752 before he could complete the house. Rose married three times more. John Palmer, her last husband, completed the house between 1770 and 1780. After their death, the house was willed to Palmer's grand-nephew, also named John. The nephew married Annie Mae Patterson in 1820, who ruled the 6,600 acre and 2,000 slave plantation for eleven years. The great house was nicknamed the "Calendar house" because it contained 365 windows, 52 doors and 12 bedrooms.
Legend says Annie was murdered in her bed in the beginning of the slave rebellion in 1831. During the slave rebellion of 1831-1838, the torches of the rioting slaves did not touch Rose Hall even after Annie's death, such was the fear of her voodoo powers. Annie, who was raised by a Haitan voodoo priestess, was buried in an unmarked grave by a neighboring plantation owner; his slaves immediately placed three crosses on three sides of her grave to contain her power even in death. The third side was left open in case her spirit desired to roam.
Rose Hall in Ruins, circa 1930
After Annie's death, the house changed hands three times before being abandoned. By the 1930s, it was in ruins. A young girl who played among the ruins claimed to have seen both bloodstains and ghosts. She ran, she recalls as an adult, despite her brother's taunts.
Fully restored restored to its former opulence in 1965 by John and Michelle Rollins of Wilmington, Delaware, Rose Hall's great house once again rises majestically upon its hill. Mahogany graces the interior. Floors, interior windows, doorways, paneling and wooden ceilings gleam with its rich, dark hues. Crystal chandeliers, their supporting chains wrapped in velvet to protect the metal from the damp, salty air, reflect their light onto antique furniture, mostly from Europe. Silk wallpaper adorns the walls, a beautiful background for art works as old the 17th century.
Rose Hall after restoration
Rose Hall's furniture and artifacts have an interesting tale to tell, reflecting the needs and customs of the 1700s, a time of lawlessness, slave traders, and piracy. Annie is said to have murdered each of her three husbands in three different bedrooms. It is claimed she stabbed her third husband in the toile room. Slaves carried their bodies to the shore via secret passageways. The returning slaves were also killed to keep her murderous secrets. Annie claimed yellow fever, a common malady of the era, took the lives of all three husbands. Three palms growing on the beach are said to mark their graves.
H.G. de Lisser's book, The White Witch of Rose Hall, described Annie as 4'11", slender, beautiful and cruel. Bear traps were strewn among the forested portions of her acreage to catch those who were sneaking away, either for a forbidden love tryst or to escape her sadism. An expert horsewoman, she galloped across the plantation's fields in the dead of night, hunting for runaway slaves, lashing those she found with a bull whip before bringing them back in chains.
The stairway where Annie's victims climbed to their death
Slaves who misbehaved were beheaded in the courtyard or chained in the dungeon without food or water. Annie's voodoo practices were rumored to include sacrificing slave babies, using their bones for rituals, and using her power to afflict those who opposed her. When she lusted after a new sexual partner, she often chose him from the ranks of slaves assembled for her inspection each morning. On most plantations, this would have been a great honor. At Rose Hall, this was surely the mark of death when she grew tired of his affections.
Country singer Johnny Cash lives nearby; he donated a beautiful drop leaf table to the estate, which resides in the lower gallery. Queen Anne chairs in the morning room; a four-pedestal Sheraton banquet table, 18th century Chinese dishes and a portrait of King Louis XVI of France in the dining room; an authentic Chippendale mirror, sewing box and bell pull in the sitting room; and an 18th century French gold dore chandelier in the ballroom are among the beautiful furnishings. It is possible Annie's dementia was caused by poisoning from her tin and lead dinnerware. Through continuous use, Annie might have ingested large quantities of lead, a poisoning that can cause brain damage.
Dinnerware may have caused Annie's dementia
Pierre De La Salle used silk wallpaper in the ballroom, printed with palm trees and birds in a pattern first used by Marie Antoinette in the Palace of Versailles. Annie poisoned her first husband, bringing hot cocoa to his bedside as a treat. Tour guides claim blood stains were found on the Toile Room's walls during the restoration, echoing the statements of the child who played there. The Toile Room is named after the pattern on its wallpaper. Annie stabbed her second husband while he lay sleeping in its bed. Some say she poured boiling oil in his ears when he continued to gasp for air and the gurgling frightened her. She strangled the third in the Crewel Room, another bedroom named after the patterned wallpaper.
Annie killed her second husband in the Toile room
Annie Palmer died in December, 1831. The legends surrounding her death vary. The most popular attributes her grisly death to Takoo, a freed slave and respected voodoo priest who blamed Annie for his granddaughter's death. Takoo came to her room via a secret passage, left open by Annie's trusted kitchen maid, and left the same way, but was hunted down in the hills and shot by Rose Hall's white overseer. A second legend claims Takoo was her lover. Variations on these legends allege she was murdered by a slave lover who feared she was plotting his own death or a slave overseer on her plantation who was avenging the murder of his daughter's fiance. Still another legend asserts several slaves plotted and carried out her death on the first night of the rebellion. This legend claims her corpse was mutilated and thrown out the window before they fled.
Annie was strangled to death in her bed
Rose Hall's Great House is now a historic park, open to the public, with regular tours and a gift shop located in the infamous dungeon beneath. Annie's Pub, also in the dungeon, is a quaint tavern that features a Witches Brew made from rum and pineapple juice. Tour guides claim Annie's ghost haunts Rose Hall and often joins the tours.
The White Witch of Jamaica