The Ghosts of Rose Hall, Jamaica - a Halloween Travel Experience

Fascinated with the islands history and general beliefs in ghosts and hauntings I decided to pursue an investigation into the supposedly haunted mansion known as Rose Hall.

The legends and haunting of Rose Hall in Jamaica is known world-wide.

Its reputation as an active haunted location has been documented and showcased by several prominent teams of ghost investigators and individuals researching the paranormal.

Rose Hall has come to be known as the most evil, the most haunted and the most scariest place on earth.

I was about to investigate and come face-to-face with The White Witch of Rose Hall.

My investigation and research will, no doubt, shock some of the readers.

But first, I want to speak to the general belief of ghosts and hauntings in Jamaica. It seems, that everyone on the island has had an encounter, or a good ghost story to tell. Many avoid certain locations on the island and are quick to make an excuse to leave if I bring up the topic of a Duppy late at night.

Jamaican's believe in what is known as a Duppy. Duppy is a Jamaican Patois word of West African origin meaning ghost or spirit. Duppies are generally regarded as malevolent spirits.They are said to come out and haunt people at night mostly, and people from the islands claim to have seen them. The 'Rolling Calf','Three footed horse' or 'Old Higue' are examples of the more malicious spirits.

In many of the islands of the Lesser Antilles, duppies are known as Jumbies.

Duppy folklore originates from West Africa. A duppy can be either the manifestation (in human or animal form) of the soul of a dead person, or a malevolent supernatural being. In Obeah, a person is believed to possess two souls - a good soul and an earthly soul. In death, the good soul goes to heaven to be judged by God, while the earthly spirit remains for three days in the coffin with the body, where it may escape if proper precautions are not taken, and appear as a duppy.

Every once and awhile the local media will pick up on a duppy story and last year the news was engrossed by a boy in Kingston, Jamaica, who was said to be constantly attacked by a duppy.

And with a worldwide interest in ghosts and hauntings, Jamaica may open the island up to Duppy Tourism-

Duppy storytelling through the oral tradition was rife throughout the land, before the proliferation of electronic media technologies in Jamaica. It was part of the nightly entertainment in the absence of radio, television, telephone and the Internet. In parts of rural Jamaica, the elderly are still telling these stories to a reluctant young generation, but it is a fast-dying tradition.

However, there might soon be a revival, a resurrection if you will, of duppy storytelling. It is part of the idea of duppy tourism, now being tossed around by Countrystyle Community Tourism Network in Mandeville. Ghost-hunters are to be lured to Jamaica.

Diana McIntyre-Pike, community tourism consultant and trainer, said, "Our Countrystyle Community Tourism Village programme blends well with this niche market as every community has potential with the many old churches, houses and exciting duppy stories. For example, there is an abandoned St Barnabas Anglican church (known as Way Pen Duppy Church) near to Mile Gully en route to Balaclava, in a village called Green Hill, which is supposed to be so haunted that it scared away the congregation who have some amazing stories to relate of their experiences!

"Communicate this to the many passionate ghost-hunters and see how intrigued they will be to visit Jamaica, to experience and talk to the community ... which will result in income generation for accommodation, food and tours businesses. In Jamaica, we can pursue this lucrative market by researching the haunted places and areas with the assistance of the communities and develop an exciting marketing programme highlighting a 'duppy trail' throughout the country, which will take visitors to many diverse villages."

Visiting & Investigating Rose Hall, Jamaica

The Legends and Hauntings of Rose Hall surround one Annie Palmer, matriarch of Rose Hall and the surrounding sugar plantation.

In the 1700s, a woman's route to wealth and power was usually via marriage, and Annie Palmer was no exception. Born in France, Annie was a petite woman (barely 4 feet tall, it is said) who moved to the beautiful island of Jamaica to be the wife of a powerful man who owned Rose Hall and thousands of acres of sugar plantation. Little is known of her early days at Rose Hall but it is said she visited Haiti before arriving in Jamaica and studied Voodoo. We do not know if she came to the island already imbued with a streak of cruelty, or if she cultivated it under the demands of her husband and her duties as the mistress of The Great House. It is said that she pined greatly for the bright lights of Paris, and found life on the island to be a hardship.

Whatever the cause, Annie was feared by the slaves who lived on and worked the plantation. She ruled with an iron fist, and defiance, or even perceived insolence, was answered with public whippings, torture in the dungeon, or even death. Annie started her day by stepping to the small bedroom balcony and issuing the orders of the day to the assembled slaves in the yard. Her orders often included punishments and executions.

Perhaps out of boredom, or sheer wantonness, Annie started taking slaves to her bed. When the Mistress of the House lavished her attentions on a slave, that man's days were numbered. When Annie tired of her lover, she would murder him and have him buried in an unmarked grave. We know little of her first husband, John Palmer, except to say that she murdered him in his bed as well. Perhaps he caught her in the act, or maybe she just tired of him too.

These were rather lawless times, and the sudden death of the master of the estate seemed not to cause any investigation. Regardless, Annie cultivated the image of being a tough and merciless mistress, at least in part to keep her from appearing to be easy prey. These were difficult times to be a woman, particularly a rich widow in a country frequented by pirates and the like. Annie found another way to remain independent and in control – she practised Black Magic.

Many of the slaves were practitioners of the art, and in order to curry favour and live longer, they taught Annie everything they knew about magic, particularly Voodoo. This was to include human sacrifice, particularly of infants, whose bones she used in practising the black magic. Soon Annie was known far and wide as "The White Witch of Jamaica". Her reputation for ruthlessness and magic powers served to keep her safe from those who would normally consider her a target. Even so, Annie found time and reason to marry two more husbands, which she eventually dispatched in a similar manner, acquiring their wealth in the process. One has to assume they were foreigners, unacquainted with Annie's reputation on the island.

Annie's Overseer was a slave known to be quite a powerful Voodoo practitioner, a fact he managed to conceal from Annie, at risk to his own life. The Overseer had a daughter who was engaged to marry another handsome young slave on the plantation. Unfortunately, Annie's lustful eye fell upon the young man, and he was soon called upon to pleasure the mistress of the house. The Overseer knew what to expect, and began to make preparations to protect the young man from Annie's "disposable lover" policy.

However, Annie did not follow her usual pattern, and she killed the young man that same night, instead of playing with him for a week or so. Perhaps he objected to her attentions and declared his love for another. Whatever the reason, the young man was dead, the Overseer's daughter grief-stricken, and the Overseer was filled with helpless rage. Annie must die, at all costs.

A special grave was prepared in the woods, within sight of the Great House, using Voodoo ritual and markings. The Overseer then entered the house, confronting the White Witch, and engaged her in magical and physical battle. He succeeded in killing her, sacrificing his own life in the process. Slaves who were privy to the Overseer's plan entombed the body of the White Witch in the specially prepared grave... a grave designed to keep her from rising and walking the plantation again. But they failed to complete the ritual properly, and the White Witch is said to roam the Great House to this day.

That is the Legend. That is the story told.

With so much media exposure I was tainted and knew the story of Rose Hall and the Legends of the Great House. I was excited and ready to begin when I was told I was not allowed to do an overnight investigation, but was welcome to participate in a daytime or evening investigation. I was told that many of the previous paranormal encounters took place in the afternoon and that I was sure to get evidence and to be prepared.

My investigation began outside, in a peaceful garden area. I moved slowly towards what the caretakers called The Dungeon of the Great House. Historically, I called The Dungeon a previous Root Cellar and now a modern gift store. I was told that people feared the location, smelled blood and felt the horrible crimes of the White Witch. I felt nothing and continued to the first floor.

Rose Hall is a spectacular piece of heritage and the curators have created a fantastic and accurate portrayal of what the Great House used to look like. The US investor spent $1.5 Million to repair and restore the Great House. There is no doubt it was a wise investment - individuals are charged $22 each to take a self-guided tour and it is one of Jamaica's top visited tourist sites.

"The Dungeon" held books, collectibles and trinkets for the tourists. The sad part is, average Jamaicans would not be allowed to visit the site, nor be able to afford any of the gift shop's offerings.

I sat on the first floor alone for several moments and decided to move on.

Several of the bedrooms were mentioned as having ghosts – the murdered souls of Annie's husbands. Each bedroom, I waited, recorded, and investigated. And again, my senses told me nothing. My equipment revealed that I was completely alone.

I was beginning to feel a great deal of disappointment and decided to call out for Annie out loud - to ask her to reveal herself to me...and to my surprise I met her.

And there she was, looking right back at me, in full view.

The painting is said to be of Annie Palmer, The White Witch of Rose Hall. I stared in silence at the painting, trying to get an impression and I felt sadness and confusion.

The said Annie Palmer in the painting is smiling, youthful, and has an uncanny appeal to her. She does not look like the stereotypical Voodoo Mistress. But what do I know? Maybe her appearance is an illusion.

I continued throughout the bedrooms but did not capture any evidence on camera, nor with my EVP recorder. Each bedroom was said to be used by The White Witch to kill her husbands in gruesome ways, but I didn't even feel mildly apprehensive. I did feel the sense of history and majesty this place projects, but I did not once feel anything haunted.

I was then told to visit the grave of Annie Palmer outside as it was rumoured to be the most haunted location on the entire property. I proceeded outside and a woman was near the grave singing in Patois. She cautioned me about the White Witch's grave and to be really sure if I want to proceed.

I did.

And again, nothing. No feeling, no evidence no haunting – for me at least. I was gravely disappointed and decided to simply walk around the property on my own will to see if I could get anything. As you can guess, I did not record any evidence, nor feel any evil presence as I was promised I would. I did, however, manage to see a glimpse of Johnny Cash's mansion house. He was fascinated by the Annie Palmer and wrote a song about her.

After wrapping up the investigation I proceeded to do my research. I found countless tales of this haunting, each with their own perspective and story. Then I found documented history, irrefutable facts that makes me believe that Rose Hall is not haunted by Annie Palmer, and the story of the White Witch of Rose Hall, one of the “most haunted places on earth”, the “most evil place imaginable” is simply an Urban Legend, Jamaican style.

It is no surprise that those previous producers of Ghost Hunters International that visited Rose Hall did not do their research, and if they did, they ignored it completely, because after all they are simply there to entertain, not to inform, learn or share.

So how did this Urban Legend begin?

Geoffrey S. Yates, Assistant Archivist, Jamaica Archives explains in detail:

The melodramatic legend of Mrs. Annie Palmer of Rose Hall and Palmyra in St. James, a woman of unknown origins and of sinister beauty, who was murdered by her slaves as a retribution for her wickedness, is widely known and implicitly believed in Jamaica.

It is frequently retold in magazine articles, and visitors to the island are regaled with lurid stories of debauchery and death which are alleged to have taken place at this once splendid plantation house. Sometimes the scene of Mrs. Palmer's murder is transferred to Palmyra, a nearby property.

There have, however, always been bold spirits who have mentioned the conglomeration of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and over-writing which bedevils the whole affair. It is behind these spirits that I shelter when I come forward to brave the belief of the public and state categorically that neither Mrs. Rosa Palmer nor Mrs. Annie Mary Palmer was ever murdered by slaves at Rose Hall or Palmyra, that there is no evidence that either of them was involved in debauchery or unnatural cruelty, and that the commonly held tales of luxury and ___ers are without any foundation whatsoever.

For this, I rest my case on official archival evidence which has never before been examined in detail. I must also state that neither was Mrs. Palmer ever known to her slaves or contemporaries as "The White Witch of Rose Hall." This title was invented by H. G. DeLisser for his novel which was published in 1929, almost 100 years after the abolition of slavery.

Rose Hall, as we know it in it ruined splendour, was built by the Hon. John Palmer, Custos of St. James, somewhere between 1770 and 1780, at approximately the same time as Colbecks Great House and most other plantation residences of Jamaica. It was built on the site of a previous residence which was also known as Rose Hall, after its mistress Rosa Kelly, daughter of the Rev. John Kelly and Mary his wife, of St. Elizabeth.

Rosa Kelly was the Hon. John Palmer's second wife, whilst he was her fourth husband, and they had been married 25 years when she died in 1790. Her monument in the parish church at Montego Bay is well-known. Let me say here that there is no breath of suspicion that either Rosa or John Palmer was a murderer or murdered.

Shortly after Rosa's death, the Hon John married a young bride, Rebecca Ann James, of a prominent family in that past of Jamaica. In 1797 the Hon. John died at his Brandon Hill residence. Almost immediately Rebecca went to England, where she married Dr. Nathaniel Weeks of Barbados and eventually died at Sidmouth in Devon in late 1846 or early 1847.

During all those years, we must remember, Rebecca enjoyed a handsome annuity from Rose Hall and Palmyra under the marriage settlement, and it was this annuity which was the  ---g charge on all the profits and proceeds from these estates.

Like many other rich planters of the period, the Hon. John Palmer lived on credit, which was fine as long as the sugar boom lasted. His wealth was more apparent than real, and the more he spent on building and furnishing Rose Hall, the deeper he floundered into debt.

Eventually, in 1792, his creditors foreclosed, and he was forced to mortgage Rose Hall and Palmyra, moving to his more modest house at Brandon Hill, where, as we know, he died. To cut a long story short, the merchants, Messrs. Hibbert and Co., sold out their interests and the properties fell into the hands of the Court of Chancery. It was this court which was responsible for administering such properties by means of officially appointed receivers.

The receivers saw to the administration of slave labour, providing such plantation supplies, food, clothing, medical attention, (such as it was in those days), doled out punishment if necessary, sold and shipped the sugar and rum. They were responsible for submitting accounts which were officially lodged with the Court, and which survive in the Jamaica Archives at Spanish Town.

In all these accounts, there is no mention of money being spent on repairing or maintaining either Rose Hall or Palmyra Great House. The receivers, who were men of prominence, such as the Hon. William Miller, Custos of Trelawny, and William Heath, a solicitor, had their own houses. We can therefore assume that Rose Hall and Palmyra were empty, except for housekeepers, from 1792 onwards.

In all this legal embroilment centring round properties in debt, however, the real owner still retained some kind of title. In 1818, John Rose Palmer, the great-nephew and heir to the Hon. John, came to Jamaica, obviously with the intention of trying to wrest Rose Hall and Palmyra from the hands of the Court of Chancery, so that he might enjoy such profits as were left after the payment of Rebecca Weeks' annuity.

His brief life in Jamaica was signally unsuccessful for although he managed to become appointed official receiver to his own estates, he was so hard up that he was compelled to mortgage the receivership to Henry Martin Ancrum of London! I make these points to emphasize the fact that, although he may have had a case for claiming he was the true heir, he did not own the slaves on Rose Hall or Palmyra, nor could his wife, whilst he was alive, as they would belong to him by law.

Now, who is going to lend money for orgies whilst the properties are in the hands of lawyers? And what receiver is going to allow a woman to carry on, as Anna Mary Palmer is alleged to have carried on, when he must endeavour to make the places pay?

In November 1827, John Rose Palmer died at Rose Hall, aged 42. In those days of fever and rudimentary medical care there is nothing peculiar about this. During his brief life in Jamaica he had served regularly in Montego Bay as a J.P.; in 1824 he was appointed to administer the neighbouring estate of Running Gut whilst George Whithorne Lawrence, the owner, was absent in Scotland.

When his death was reported in the Royal Gazette and in the Kingston Chronicle some four or five days after it took place, his obituary read "His intrinsic worth, kind heart, and generous disposition obtained him the esteem of all his acquaintance, but to his family, and those friends who had the pleasure of being intimate with him, his loss is irreparable."

Even allowing for a measure of hyperbole, it is obvious he was quite a prominent citizen. It was his wife who was supposed to have murdered this well-known man, and to have lived on at Rose Hall enjoying the embraces of her lovers until she in turn was murdered.

But can anyone, who has ever read a detective thriller, suppose that such a murder at such a prominent place could have escaped detection and the attention of the newspapers of the day? Where is the evidence? And who was the supposed criminal anyway? The answer is there was no murder, no motive and no evidence.

Annie Mary Paterson, upon whom a malicious and unjust fate has bestowed such an evil and unmerited reputation, was born in the autumn of 1802, the only child of John Paterson, Esq., of The Baulk, near Lucea, and Julian his wife. Her paternal grandparents were Dr. John Paterson, a Scotsman who had settled in Hanover, and Deborah McKenzie his wife.

On the death of Dr. Paterson, the Hanover parish register noted he was "universally regretted." Her maternal grandparents were the Hon. William Brown, a Scotsman and Custos of Hanover, and Mary Kerr James his wife, of Kew near Lucea.

John Paterson married Juliana, the eldest Brown daughter, in 1801 but died at the early age of 24 before his daughter Annie Mary was born. The young girl was brought up by guardians, including her mother, her grandfather, her uncle and later her stepfather, for in 1812 Juliana Paterson married Capt. David Boyd, a retired naval officer and professional planting attorney.

William Brown died in 1817, Mrs. Boyd in 1832, and Captain Boyd in 1842, so that Annie Mary was not alone in the world even after she was married. Her mysterious and unknown origin, her training in voodoo-these must be abandoned in favour of upbringing on a property normal for her time and class.

We do not know how and when Annie Mary met John Rose Palmer, but on March 28, 1820, they were married at Mount Pleasant, St. James, then the home of Capt. And Mrs. Boyd, Annie Mary was 17. The young couple, so we are told by the Royal Gazette, were married again in England, on their honeymoon. This was not unusual as sometimes doubt was expressed as to the validity of marriages in those days.

After returning, the couple moved to Rose Hall, not to a life of luxury but one of money worries, as so often to newly-weds Annie Mary did not enjoy her married life for long for John Rose Palmer died seven years later, some £6,000 in debt. His personal possessions, including £350 worth of plates and some debts owing him totalled a mere £1,137.15. 10 1/2d. What was his wife to do? She had no money, no real claim to the estate, no slaves, nothing.

She left to seek shelter elsewhere, and eventually sold out whatever rights she may have had in Rose Hall and Palmyra for £200 sterling to a Dr. Bernard in Bristol. This was in 1830. However, Rose Hall was empty before this, as we know, for a variety of reasons.

In a Rose Hall Estate Journal quoted by Shore in his "In Old St. James" (1911) and now, alas! Of unknown whereabouts, but perfectly genuine, there were from the first week in January, 1829, to December, 1832, one slave attending the Great House and two with Mrs. Palmer. This first slave must have been a housekeeper or caretaker, for Mrs. Palmer was elsewhere. She was not at Palmyra, for as we know that too was empty except for a housekeeper, Mary Ann Hill, whom the receivers sold to her own husband, Frederick Earl, for £45 in 1833.

The two slaves may have been allowed by the receivers to accompany Mrs. Palmer to her new abode.  However, according to officially enrolled slave returns, she had in June 1829 four slaves, Cymir aged 30, Sarah Smith aged 30, and Sarah's two children Alexander and Charles aged 6 and 8 respectively.1

In 1833 she is listed as being at Bellevue, St. James, with 8 slaves.2 Bellevue and Bonavista3 are both shown by the Jamaica Almanacks as belonging to the Bernard family, and may well have been both part of the same property, as both names mean "Beautiful View."

In 1842, William Augustus Dickson, a Scottish merchant of Lucea, and her uncle by marriage, left a will which stated "my settlement in St. James called 'Bellevue' I leave to Mrs. Palmer for life."  It is not clear how he obtained Bellevue4, nor how Annie Mary acquired the slaves.  Probably Dickson obtained land at Bonavista or Bellevue from the dissolution of the Bernard family estates when they got into trouble, and left his niece in charge.  In any case, she was a connection to the Bernards, one of whom had bought up her rights to Rose Hall and Palmyra.

Annie Mary Palmer, for she never married again and had no children5, was not destined to live to a ripe old age.  In 1846 she dies at Bonavista, near Anchovy, and was buried in the church yard at Montego Bay by Rev. T. Garrett on July 9.  No tombstone has survived to mark the spot.

By her will, which may be seen in the Jamaica Archives, she left everything-which cannot have amount to much as it was not specified-to Giolia Mary Spence, her goddaughter, aged two, the child of Dr. & Mrs. Patrick Spence of Montego Bay.  This, then, was the true end of a woman-allegedly murdered twelve or more years before by her slaves-long after the abolition of slavery.

How then, did this monstrous legend grow up?  For an examination of the printed sources I should draw my reader's attention to an article by Miss Glory Robertson of the West India Reference Library entitled "The Rose Hall Legend:  was it really Annie?"  in the Jamaica Historical Society Bulletin of December 1964.

Briefly, all the commonly accepted sources are confused and contradictory, and Roby, in his serious "History of St. James" (1849) does not mention it at all.  Nowhere in the official archives of Jamaica is there anything I have yet discovered which links either Rosa or Annie Mary Palmer with any form of crime, debauchery or unnatural death.

It was a Rev. Waddell who first mentions the strangling of a Mrs. Palmer at Palmyra in 1830.  

Being an abolitionist, he would be inclined to accept evidences of the iniquities of planters.

There was indeed a 'bilbo room' or punishment cell at Palmyra which had been repaired by the reviewers for years after his visit!  This he did see when he preached at Rose Hall and visited Palmyra after Mrs. Palmer had left.

As Rosa was not murdered and Annie Mary Palmer was still alive, who could it have been whom he was told was strangled?  Probably he was told some confused story by a slave or plantation hand talking patois, which he did not understand correctly, and which related to some murder which took place perhaps a 100 years before, when such things were more likely.

Legend grows rapidly, smothering facts and attaching itself like a vine to places where it does not belong.  Statements are made only a few years after events have taken place, which on examination are found to be untrue.

Somewhere, a far-off tale of murder has become attached to Rose Hall and Palmyra and to the two Mrs. Palmers who lived there.  Hearsay rumours were taken as gospel truth, and once the legend was given currency, by James Castello in his pamphlet of 1868, it stuck.  B

Because it was in print, it became believed as true and then people started to look for blood stains and ghosts and saw them.

Delisser gave the legend far wider currency in his novel "The White Witch of Rose Hall" than did Castello.  The legend throve, the facts disappeared.  Now it has become so firmly established-and I frankly admit it is a good story-that a film is to be made of it.  Rose Hall has been bought and is to be restored at a cost of some £300,000.  Is it too much to hope that when all this money is spent, some tiny portion will be set aside to let Jamaica and her visitors know the true tale of Rose Hall?

Rose Hall is a Jamaican Georgian plantation house now run as a historic house museum. It is located in Montego Bay, Jamaica with a panoramic view of the coast. Thought to be one of the country's most impressive plantation great houses it is visited throughout the year, not just on Halloween!

For a great night tour check out the link below:

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