Haunted Profile: Rose Hall
Rose Hall is widely regarded to be a visually impressive house and the most famous in Jamaica. It is a mansion in Jamaican Georgian style with a stone base and a plastered upper storey, high on the hillside, with a panorama view over the coast. It was built in the 1770s at a cost of about £30,000 and subsequently became the property of John Palmer. Hakewill visited the building and wrote:
"It is placed at a delightful elevation, and commands a very extensive sea view. Its general appearance has much of the character of a handsome Italian villa. A double flight of stone steps leads to an open portico, giving access to the entrance hall; on the left of which is the eating-room, and on the right the drawing-room, behind which are other apartments for domestic uses. The right wing, fitted up with great elegance, and enriched with painting and gilding, was the private apartment of the late Mrs. Palmer, and the left wing is occupied as servants’ apartments and offices. The principal staircase, in the body of the house, is a specimen of joinery in mahogany and other costly woods seldom excelled, and leads to a suite of chambers in the upper story."
Rose Hall was restored in the 1960s to its former splendor, with mahogany floors, interior windows and doorways, paneling and wooden ceilings. It is decorated with silk wallpaper printed with palms and birds, ornamented with chandeliers and furnished with mostly European antiques. There is a bar downstairs and a restaurant.
The estate, and the adjoining plantation “Palmyra”, was passed down to John Rose Palmer from his great uncle.
Rose-Hall estate had about 650 acres divided among sugar cane, grass, and about pasture for over 270 head of cattle. About 250 enslaved Africans were housed on Palmyra estate, which furnished about 1,250 acres.
It is currently owned by former Miss World USA Michele Rollins and her entrepreneur husband John Rollins.
Annie Palmer was not what you would call a sweet person, even though she owned a vast sugar plantation in Jamaica.
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. 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 balcony shown in the picture below, and issuing the orders of the day to the assembled slaves in the yard. (This is the rear of the building.) 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… Voodoo.
Many of the slaves were practitioners of the art, and in order to curry favor 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 practicing 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.
The spirit of Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Jamaica, still haunts Rose Hall, along with a host of other spirits… presumably those of her victims.
According to local legend, the White Witch still haunts the house, and would seize any intruders. Furthermore, according to the whispered stories, she could still be seen at night riding on Rose Hall and Ironshore estates, wearing a green velvet dress, seated on a large black horse, and flaying with her whip anyone who got in her way. Annie is also said to manifest most frequently as a series of hurried foots steps heard walking through the main hall to the back entrance of the Great House.
There are also stories of whispered voices in the dungeon, invisible footsteps on the stairs, and tapping on the walls. Some also claim to hear the cries of the babies she murdered, as well as old, old music as if from a long ago ball. The 18th century ghosts seem to have developed an affinity for electricity, delighting in turning lights on and off at random times.
The Great Hall fell into ruin over the course of 200 years, until it was purchased by a developer who built the Ritz-Carlton hotel on the grounds, and devoted considerable personal expense in renovating the old plantation house. Despite being abandoned all those years, the house was virtually untouched by vandals. Tales of disappearances connected to the old mansion, along with the strong belief in Voodoo and ghosts kept most would-be troublemakers away… just like in the days when Annie Palmer ruled the estate.
As usual, with renovations comes ghostly phenomena. Workmen reported tools being moved or hidden, only to reappear exactly where they were originally left… or more mysteriously, deposited in a place normally inaccessible. Some reported answering to someone calling their name, only to find that they were alone or out of earshot of anyone else. Newly refinished floors would become marred overnight, with what looked like old blood stains. Soon, most of the workforce were from off-island.
Eventually, the place was completed and furnished. Few of the items from the original house were recoverable, although there were several miraculous exceptions, including a few paintings and one old mirror. The mirror has come to play an important role in the Hauntings at Rose Hall.
The Rose Hall Great House is now a museum. Since it’s opening, a large number of people who have photographed the rooms and features of the old place have reported strange phenomena and images. Many have written back to the museum and enclosed photos to prove what their cameras recorded. A disproportionately large number of these photos include the mirror shown above. The most common phenomena is the appearance of someone in the mirror… someone not in the room when the photo was taken.
There are an equally large number of bogus or easily debunked images that I can easily tell are reflections and other tricks of the light. But the mirror issue is hard to explain. The images are displayed there at the museum, right next to the the ones we can easily discount, yet the mirror stands out as being truly eerie.