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Rose Hall Great House

Rose Hall Great House is possibly the most famous plantation house in Jamaica and is said to be haunted by a villainous murderess and her victims. In 1746 Henry Fanning bought the 290 acre True Friendship sugar plantation and shortly thereafter on 16th July he married the Irish, Rosa Kelly. Within a year Fanning died leaving Rosa the plantation. She married again, this time to George Ash, an English planter who started the construction of Rose Hall great house in 1750, naming it after his wife. This was one of 700 such plantation houses onn the island. George died in 1752. The Honorable Norwood Witter then married Rosa in 1755, but Rosa was again widowed by 1767, when she married yet again, this time to the Honorable John Palmer, owner of the neighbouring Palmyra Plantation. Between them they completed Rose Hall by 1780. Rosa herself died in 1790, leaving Rose Hall to John and his family.

At the height of its productivity the plantation measured 6,521-acres and employed over 2000 slaves. The slaves were emancipated through the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 which co-incided with the end of the era in which Annie Palmer was mistress of Rose Hall. The house was left abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin for 130 years. It was however lavishly repaired and refurbished between 1966 and 1972 by the Rollins family. Michelle Rollins (former Miss USA) and her husband John also owned the nearby Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Rose Hall is now a famous tourist attraction.

The White Witch:
Rose Hall Great House will forever be remembered for Annie Palmer, a person who’s story has become a fine blend of fact and fiction, so I it is hard to find the real truth about her. According to local tradition Annie is seen as a sexual predator, associated with acts of vile cruelty to her slaves, murder, sadomasochism and practicing black magic. She has been referred to as the Voodoo (Obeah) Woman, Devil’s Daughter and the White Witch.

Born Annie Mae (or Mary) Paterson in England (or France), around 1802, she is described as being beautiful and standing between 4’ and 4’ 11”. According to one account her parents were merchants and she had moved to Haiti when she was ten. Her parents died of yellow fever and she was cared for by her native nanny, who, according to later stories was considered to be a Haitian Voodoo Priestess and was the source of Annie’s early training in the occult arts.

Following the death of her nanny she married the Honorable John Rose Palmer, Grandnephew of John Palmer, who had finished building Rose Hall and she moved to the house on 28 March 1820 after her usband had inherited the plantation.

Annie would take many lovers to her bed and would pick them from among the slaves on the plantation. It is said that within months of her marriage to Palmer he discovered she was having such an affair with a young slave. Taking his riding crop he beat her, which proved to be his last mistake, as he died that night. It is suspected that she poisoned his coffee. Other sources say they were married for up to six years before she killed him.

There is no evidence that Annie treated her slaves especially poorly, but according to tradition she was truly evil. After her husbands death she was then mistress of Rose Hall and the slaves were there to do her bidding and live in fear of her. The boy with which she had been caught was killed so that he could not blackmail Annie. It is said that he was gagged and flogged to death whilst she watched from horseback. According to local legend Annie would chose any male slave she took a fancy to and summon him to her bed. However, she was considered to be fickle and soon grew bored, having her lovers killed to make way for the next one. Apparently she made her way through many of the slaves this way. Apparently she ruled the plantation with a rod of iron and started each morning standing on a balcony behind the house issuing orders to the slaves gathered in the yard below. The daily orders were said to include executions and other such punishments.

Some of her slaves were said to practice voodoo and they taught her more of the art in order to save their lives. Some of what she learnt was said to include the sacrifice of young children.

Jeff Belanger in his book ‘The Worlds Most Haunted Places’ quotes Beverly Gordon, the manager of Rose Hall. “Where the ladies and gentlemen’s rooms are now, that’s what she used as her dungeon, and those two pits went 16 feet down. That is where she kept the slaves, if they were caught trying to run away from the property. She would get them there, throw them in the pit, and then leave them there to die without food or water, and no medical attention whatsoever. She was gruesome, awful”

Marrying had been profitable for Annie and being a young attractive rich widow brought the attention of other suitors. She is supposed to have married twice more. As with her first husband, the other two were to fall foul to her murderess nature. Her second husband is said to have been stabbed, then as if that was not enough, he had boiling oil poured into his ears. The third husband was strangled to death.

Annie herself was murdered and found dead in her bed in 1831. In one version of events the killer was identified as a freed slave named Takoo. His Granddaughter had been cursed by Annie in a fit of jealousy over a visitor from Britain called Robert Rutherford and the spell had caused the girl to wither and die within nine days. A more fanciful account of her death has her picking a young slave for her bed, a young man who was betrothed to the daughter of a powerful voodoo priest. They figured that she would follow her usual routine and play with the young man for a few weeks before growing bored and disposing of him. So the priest and daughter decided to spend those weeks seeking a way to save the boys life. But something went wrong, perhaps the boy would not sleep with Annie, whatever went on between the two of them cost the young man his life, immediately. The voodoo priest entered the house and in a fit of rage battled Annie (The White Witch) in a contest of occult and physical power. They both died in the epic struggle. Slaves then took her body to a special grave that was ritually prepared to prevent Annie from using her powers to rise from the dead. They somehow failed to bury her as the ritual required and that is why she is said to be able to haunt the plantation.

The story of Annie Palmer has been retold countless times, all around the world and involves many inconsistencies and half truths. The title White Witch of Rose Hall comes from the novel of events on the plantation by H G DeLisser (1929). I also suspect that the claims that she murdered her husbands may have been false and I am not sure whether any of the plantation owners of Rose Hall were found dead in their bed, murdered by their slaves.

The Hauntings:
There have been many varied claims of strange experiences in the house and grounds. Some are listed below. If you know of any more or can shed anymore light on Rose Hall, please do register and leave your comments below.

• In 1905 the maid of Rose Hall’s new owners was thrown to her death by an invisible force from a balcony which she was cleaning. It is said it was this balcony from which Annie gave her orders and watched her slaves being punished. I find this confusing as the building was a ruin until the 1960’s, therefore, is this an error or a piece of fiction?

• During the renovations the builders and their labourers reputedly reported a few strange experiences which resulted in many of the local workforce leaving the job and fresh people being brought in from off the island. There were the usual tools going missing and then being found in areas where it was considered they would not have been placed. Some of the work force claimed that they could hear voices calling their names and rather interestingly blood stains were found on recently finished flooring.

• On the ground floor of the Rose Hall Great House is a bar dedicated to Annie. The taps in the bar are said to turn themselves on and off from time to time.

• Doors and windows close by themselves.

• An apparition of a woman and that of a short man have been reportedly seen inside the house.

• Crying babies.

• Whispered voices in the dungeons.

• Footsteps heard on the main staircase.

• Taps heard on walls.

• Old music being heard playing.

• Lights turning on and off.

• There also seems to be a bit of mystique surrounding an old mirror that was one of the original household items they managed to salvage during the refurbishment. It is said that many of the strange photographs taken by visitors that are suspected of possibly showing paranormal activity tend to have been taken around this antique mirror.

This is one story I would love to be able to separate the fact from the fiction, look at the actual witness testimonies and then assess the claims of paranormal activity objectively.

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