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Annie Palmer: The Voodoo mistress of the Rose Hall mansion, Jamaica

Boban Docevski

The story of The White Witch of Rose Hall is a Jamaican legend concerning English plantation owner Annie Palmer. Annie Mae Patterson was born to an English mother and Irish father. Born in England in the late 18th century, she and her family moved to Haiti when she was just ten years old. Annie spent her formative years in Haiti.

Her parents died of yellow fever, and she was raised to adulthood by her Haitian nanny, a well-versed practitioner of voodoo ritual. She brought her up, teaching her witchcraft in the process. Annie was 18 when her nanny died. After her death, she decided that it’s time to get away from the wretched island. She packed her bags and moved to Jamaica, hoping to find a wealthy husband. Annie was supposedly beautiful and very petite (4 ‘ 11 ” tall), and she probably didn’t have difficulties with finding a spouse.

After a while, Annie met John Palmer, the owner of the Rose Hall estate, which included a great house and a 7,000-acre sugar plantation with 2,000 slaves. The two of immediately liked each other, and soon they got married. Things start to go darker from this point – but first, a few words about the estate. Rose Hall is a Jamaican-Georgian-style mansion built in the 1770s. Subsequently, it became the property of John Palmer. The land, and the adjoining plantation “Palmyra”, was passed down to John Rose Palmer from his great uncle, John Palmer.

 

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Engraving from James Hakewill’s A Picturesque Tour of the Island of Jamaica (drawings made in the years 1820 & 1821), it shows the Rose Hall Estate. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

 

John hadn’t ever suspected that his wife Annie, and her knowledge of black magic, could harm him in any way. Things soon started to go wrong. After a few months, she grew tired of him and began to bring male slaves in her bed chamber. On one occasion, John caught her in the act and beat her up. Soon after, John Palmer was found dead, and one of the main suspects was his wife. This was never proven, but according to some stories she wanted to take revenge and poisoned his coffee, probably with some voodoo concoction.

After the tragical events, Annie inherited Rose Hall and all of John’s property. Apparently, she went spent very little time grieving. She became the absolute ruler/mistress of the mansion and continued to make love with the slaves. John was not her first and only husband, she got married twice more, and both marriages ended up with the husbands dead. Again, there was a suspicion that Annie killed them. She treated slaves terrible, shouting orders from her balcony, torturing them, and killing them when she was not satisfied. There are stories that they are buried in unmarked graves around the mansion, together with Annie’s husbands. All of this led to people calling her “The White Witch of Rose Hall.”

 

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Rose Hall, Jamaica today. Source: By Urban WalnutOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4490497

 

The widely accepted story tells us that Annie was brought to an end by a slave named Takoo. Allegedly, she put a curse on the granddaughter of Takoo, the local “obeah” man (black magic practitioner). Annie was trying to win the love of an Englishman called Robert Rutherford, but he was in love with Takoo’s granddaughter. The curse she used is called “Old Hige” – a visit from a ghost whose presence causes the victim to slowly wither and die. After his granddaughter had died, Takoo gathered an army of slaves and strangled his mistress.

The slaves then buried Annie and all of her possessions in fear that remnants of her spirit might still exist within them. They also performed a voodoo ritual during the funeral to prevent her ghost visiting the living world. It is said that the ceremony wasn’t completed successfully, and her spirit still haunts Rose Hall and terrifies people to this day. There have been sightings of a figure in a green velvet riding a black horse across the property. Screams and sounds of somebody running in the mansion have also been reported.

 

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This tomb at Rose Hall, Jamaica is allegedly the one in which Annie Palmer is buried. Source: By Urban WalnutOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4490441

 

The story about Annie Palmer sounds unbelievable, and its authenticity is questionable. Benjamin Radford, who investigated the legend in 2007 explains that the whole story is made up and based on the main character in a Jamaican novel called, The White Witch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser (published in 1929). Although a real Annie Palmer existed, she was not related to Rose Hall, and all the evidence show that she wasn’t sadistic or evil. According to another investigator, Annie Palmer may have been confused with Rosa Palmer, the real mistress of Rose Hall. Rosa had four husbands, but she is far from the evil Voodoo Queen, mentioned in the events above.

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Rose Hall before it was restored in the 1960s. Source: By Jasonbook99Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18455732

Wherever the legend is true or not, Annie Palmer is a major attraction on Jamaica, and it has been referred to in pop culture on a few occasions. The legend even caught the interest of Johny Cash once! He did a song about it called “The Ballad of Annie Palmer.” In the song, Johny Cash mentions that he visited the place and then he sings:

On the island of Jamaica
Quit a long long time ago
At rose hall plantation
Where the ocean breezes blow
Lived a girl named Annie Palmer
The mistress of the place
And the slaves all lived in fear
To see a frown on Annie’s face

Wheres your husband Annie
Where’s number two and three
Are they sleeping beneath the palms
Beside the Caribbean sea
At night I hear you riding
And I hear your lovers call
And I still can feel your presence
Around the great house at rose hall…

(the song continues)