A Great House Haunts Me

I didn’t sleep well last night and I think it’s because I was remembering scenes from the book The White Witch of Rose Hall by H. G. DeLisser written  in 1929.  I started reading it yesterday after we had visited a haunted plantation house near Montego Bay Jamaica. 

I’ve been wanting to see a ‘great house’ – a home of former plantation owners. Many were burned during the slave uprisings in Jamaica but a dozen or more remain on the island. One of them Rose Hall was the great house for a 6000 acre sugar cane plantation with 2000 slaves. It was in quite a state of disrepair when it was bought in the 1960’s by a former Miss USA named Michelle Rollins and her husband John.  They restored it to its original condition and began giving tours. Although by now the place obviously needs maintenance and upgrading it remains a popular Jamaican tourist spot. We were met at the front door by our guide Latoya. She told us the story of the beautiful Annie Palmer who lived in the house.  Annie moved to Haiti with her parents from Paris and when they died was raised by a nanny who taught her voodoo. She became the witch in the book title.

Touring the sitting room at Rose Hall

Annie left Haiti for Jamaica where she married John Hall.

First we were shown the bedroom where Annie killed John by putting poison in his coffee

and then another bedroom where Annie killed her second husband by stabbing him and then pouring hot oil in his ear and…….

then another bedroom where she killed her third husband by strangling him. 

Latoya showed us the bear trap Annie used to capture runaway slaves before imprisoning them in the house’s dungeon. She was known for her cruelty towards her slaves and her harsh treatment of them, though she had many slaves as lovers.

We also saw the trap door that led to the sea. Annie sent slaves there with her dead husband’s  bodies and on their return she killed the slaves to keep the murders a secret.

Day bed where Annie may have entertained her lover Robert

Her book-keeper and lover Robert Rutherford kept a journal where he recorded all of Annie’s misdeeds which is why we know about her story.  When Millicent a beautiful young negress fell in love with Robert, Annie put a voodoo spell on Millicent in anger and she died. 

We also saw the bedroom where Annie was murdered. Millicent’s grandfather Takoo a former slave of Annie’s, as well as her former lover, got revenge for his granddaughter’s murder by strangling Annie. 

Dave on the front Rose Hall balcony looking out to sea.

This is a balcony where a maid died in 1905.  A family who had bought Rose Hall sent her ahead to clean the great house for them and it is believed Annie’s ghost pushed her to her death.

Latoya sings The Ballad of Annie Palmer written and recorded by Johnny Cash

We also saw Annie’s grave and while we stood around it Latoya our guide sang us the song Johnny Cash wrote and recorded about Annie called The Ballad of Annie Palmer.  She even told us that the ghosts of Annie’s dead husbands and the maid who fell to her death are said to roam Rose Hall and there are tourists who claim to have seen them. 

Guest bedroom where visitors to Rose Hall have claimed to see ghosts.

At no time on our tour did the lovely Latoya tell us the whole story she’d spun was fictional and taken straight from the book The White Witch of Rose Hall.  

I only found this out later when I discovered the true story of Rose Hall online.  The house is named for Rosa Palmer an Irish woman who came to Jamaica and had three husbands- Henry Fanning who bought the land for Rose Hall, George Ash who built a great house on the land and John Palmer who merged the Rose Hall plantation with his neighboring one.

Diningroom at Rose Hall

Although Rosa was a widow three times none of her husbands died under mysterious circumstances.  

A portrait possibly of Annie Palmer at Rose Hall. Here eyes follow you wherever you are in the room.

A great-nephew of John Palmer’s eventually inherited Rose Hall and married an Annie Patterson. They were happy together and model citizens. When John died in 1827 there was no suggestion of foul play.

Annie Palmer’s grave

His widow Annie eventually had to sell Rose Hall to pay off her husband’s debts.  That’s the real story. Not dramatic and scary but true.

Dave with Mildred Beach and Ruth Janzen who were also on the tour with us.

However not the kind of mundane tale that draws tourists to a place, so when author DeLisser set his racy novel in Rose Hall it probably seemed more lucrative to adopt that as the story of the plantation house.

View of the sea from the front steps of Rose Hall

So if I know the whole story I heard at Rose Hall is pure fiction why couldn’t I sleep last night? 

Other posts about Jamaica…….

A Snorkeling Trip That Was A Little Too Exciting

Visiting our Jamaican Kids at their Public School

A Terrifying Tale Politely Told

Walking Into A Bob Marley Tourist Trap

The Flowers of Jamaica

Meeting the Parents of Jamaica’s Next PGA Golfer

Dead Yard Party

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Filed under Books, History, Jamaica, Travel

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