On last week I had the opportunity to visit the historical Rose Hall Great house in Jamaica. The tour guide was exceptional and provided a comprehensive prevue of what life was like on the former plantation site. This visit solidified there was a real Wicked Witch of the West and her name was Annie Palmer aka The White Witch of Rose Hall. Annie Palmer was given the name “White Witch of Rose Hall” due to her sociopathic ways of treating not only her enslaved individuals, but also her freed lovers and husbands.
Per the tour guide, Annie and her parents were of English and Irish heritage and moved to Haiti when Annie was around 10 years old. Annie’s parents unfortunately died of yellow fever which led her to be raised by a Haitian nanny who taught her the ways of voodoo. Annie eventually moved to Jamaica with the intent on marrying someone of great wealth. Gold digging was a skill set that she mastered, and by the age of 18 she married the wealthy owner of the Rose Hill Plantation named John Palmer. Legend has it she put a spell on him to say yes. Little did John know he not only married a woman after his money, but someone who was also a sadistic, psychopathic, deranged, heartless killer. Control was Annie’s name and pain was her game.
Annie killed John via poisoning in order to gain complete control over the plantation which also included making several enslaved and freed Jamaican men her concubines. She would marry two more men and kill them as well, both over a 9-year span. Every bedroom in the home minus one, a husband had been killed in. Her second husband was stabbed to death and the third husband was strangled to death by herself and enslaved lover named Takoo.
In addition to the joyous sight of watching her husband’s die, she also enjoyed observing her enslaved suffer from brutal beatings by the hands of overseers. She would sit out on the balcony at the back of the house and watch happily as they would strip the enslaved down and whip every part of their body. Perhaps the most volatile act was ordering bear traps from other countries to use for runaways. Jamaica had no bears…however, she found good use for the traps in the name of torture. She ordered the overseers to place traps in places known for runaways so they could be caught. Once hearing the gut-wrenching screams of those trapped, she would make it a point for other enslaved individuals to view the torture, leaving the person trapped until they bled to death.
It was inevitable an enslaved person with no good use of their leg(s) is more of a hinderance than not, so there was no use for him or her to live in the eyes of Annie. Ridding her enslaved was not an issue and would not bring questioning by the locals because enslavers…especially wealthy ones, were above the law. Ridding her husbands was a completely different scenario, but one she had well thought out. The home had a secret door that led to the dungeon which also was home to the jail cells for her enslaved. The route allowed her enslaved to easily dispose the bodies of her husband’s due to it led directly to the ocean. Yellow fever was an epidemic at the time and serves as the cause of death for each of her husbands. If the song smooth criminal was composed during that time period, I think the popular song lyrics “Annie are you okay?” would’ve been a valid question.
Throughout this whole love triangle, Annie made a big mistake by killing Takoo’s granddaughter Millicent. Annie was chummy over another enslaved individual who had no interest in her due to a crush on Millicent. When Annie’s advances were denied, she took it up herself to kill Takoo’s granddaughter. This is like a real-life soap opera, right? Takoo of course loved his granddaughter and sought revenge for the killing. It has been said Annie died either by Takoo’s strangling or her enslaved taking over the plantation and pushing her off the very balcony she would watch them being beat day in and day out. The community as a whole rejoiced once hearing about the death of Annie. She was originally buried at a sight 5 miles up the road from Rose Hall.
Once DNA testing confirmed it was her body buried at the site, she was transferred back to the Rose Hall Planation site and placed in a tomb. A Voodoo ritual was performed in order to keep her spirit in place. When it was time for the ritual to begin, the voodoo priestesses recognized her spirit was roaming, which led to an unsuccessful return; therefore, her spirit roams freely. The Rose Hall Plantation and its dramatic folklore is adorned by many worldwide. The plantation legend drew the attention of country singer Johnny Cash who lived in nearby the Cinnamon Hill Great House and led him to write as song titled The Ballad of Annie Palmer. During the sites renovations in the 1960’s, Johnny Cash gave a grandfather clock to the estate to add to its efforts. In Johnny’s quest to solve the mystery, he bellowed the lyrics below:
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
Where’s 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
Well if you should ever go to see the great house at rose hall
There’s expensive chairs and china
And great paintings on the wall
They’ll show you any sitting room
And the whipping post outside
But they won’t let you see the room
Where Annie’s husbands died
Johnny Cash Lyrics: The ballad of Annie Palmer
As wonderful as this tour was and tantalizing the legend may be, we must take it with a grain of salt. Folklore legend can be delivered differently over the passage of time, allowing the validity of history to be received by some with a bit of trepidation. For me…I’m going to roll with it and bask in the education of Annie and slavery in Jamaica Mon!
Peace and blessings folks!