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.
Annie left Haiti for Jamaica where she married John Hall.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although Rosa was a widow three times none of her husbands died under mysterious circumstances.
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.
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.
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.
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…….