The Caribbean has its fair share of ghost stories and tales of the supernatural. The story of the “White Witch of Rose Hall” is one of the most famous.
The legendary tale of Annie Palmer, or “the White Witch of Rose Hall”, became so famous that Johnny Cash recorded a song about it in 1973.
However, unlike the happy, upbeat nature of Cash’s song, Annie’s story is sinister and unnerving. According to legend, she was born in Haiti, but her parents were Irish and English. After they died of yellow fever, a nanny took over Annie’s care, and taught her witchcraft and voodoo. After her caretaker passed away, Annie moved to Jamaica. There she married a man named John Palmer, the owner of Rose Hall Plantation.
Sadly, Annie was unhappy with her life on the plantation. She apparently cheated on her husband with a few of their slave workers. When John caught her in the act, he beat her. Enraged, she killed him the next day by poisoning his coffee.
Reign of terror
Now that Annie had Rose Hall to herself, she could do as she pleased. The story goes that she tortured some slaves, and had romantic liaisons with others. In addition, she was even so cruel as to require slaves to whistle whenever they were around food in her pantries or kitchen, so that she could ensure they weren’t eating any of it. Those that didn’t whistle lost their heads, since Annie could only assume they were busy chewing instead of whistling. This kind of behavior, plus her tendency to practice voodoo, earned Annie the title of “White Witch of Rose Hall”.
Annie went on to marry two other men. However, she killed them both to obtain their money. She continued her gruesome “reign” for many years, until she finally met her downfall at the hands of one of her slaves and former lovers. This slave, called Takoo, killed Annie after she used voodoo to cause the death of his granddaughter.
The true story
Like many Caribbean ghost stories, facts are mixed with fiction to create tales that are interesting, but not historically accurate.
In 2007, American writer Benjamin Radford conducted a thorough investigation of the story, and concluded that it is mostly fiction. He said that the tale is most likely a conglomerate of a character from a famous Jamaican novel called The White Witch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser, published in 1929, and the actual mistress of Rose Hall, whose name was Rosa Palmer. Apparently Rosa had four husbands, but was never involved in murder, adultery, or voodoo.
Visiting Rose Hall
Today, you can tour the real Rose Hall, which is a stately Georgian mansion built in the 1770s. Located near Montego Bay in Jamaica, the house was restored in the 1960s. The current owner is former Miss World USA Michele Rollins.
The curators at the Great House pay homage to the legends of the White Witch of Rose Hall, offering nighttime tours that are “not for the faint of heart”, according to the Rose Hall website. In addition, you can play golf on an 18-hole course named after the white witch.
Main image source: Wikimedia Commons