The White Witch of Rose Hall: The Truth Behind This Jamaican Ghost Story

Updated on July 4, 2020
Stephen C Barnes profile image

Stephen, along with his wife Kim, is an avid traveler who enjoys collecting interesting stories from the places he visits.

Rose Hall
Rose Hall | Source

Rose Hall

Rose Hall is an eighteenth-century plantation manor house, and the home of Jamaica's most famous ghost—the White Witch of Rose Hall. Of the 700 great houses that once served as the homes of Jamaica's wealthy plantation owners, only fifteen remain today, the others having been burned to the ground by slaves during the Great Jamaican Slave revolt of 1831–32. Of these remaining manor houses, Rose Hall is the most well known—and the most infamous.

The story of Rose Hall begins in the year 1746, when an Englishman by the name of Henry Fanning, in preparation for his upcoming marriage to Rosa Kelly, the daughter of Irish immigrants living in Jamaica, purchased a 290-acre plot of land to cultivate and build a home on. Henry and Rosa were married in 1747, but unfortunately, Henry died just a few short months after the wedding.

Three years later, in 1750, Rosa married George Ash, a wealthy landowner in St. James Parish. Ash immediately set about building a beautiful mansion house for Rosa. Many believe that he named Rose Hall in her honor, but it appears more likely that it was actually named for the Rose family, to which George was closely associated. Sadly, George died in 1752, shortly after the construction of the home was completed.

A year later, Rosa married Norwood Witter, a plantation owner and widower from Westmoreland. The marriage was, by all accounts, an unhappy one. Witter apparently spent all of his wife's money and left her with considerable debt. The unfortunate union ended with Witter's death in 1767.

In 1768, Rosa married John Palmer, the owner of the neighboring Palmyra estate and the Custos of St. James Parish. Palmer was also a widower who had two sons living in England. John and Rosa had a happy marriage that lasted until Rosa's death in 1790. John died seven years later, in 1797.

This statue of Rosa Palmer, at St. James Parish Church, Jamaica, was commissioned by her husband, John, upon her passing in 1790.
This statue of Rosa Palmer, at St. James Parish Church, Jamaica, was commissioned by her husband, John, upon her passing in 1790. | Source

Because John and Rosa had no children together, the Rose Hall and Palmyra estates were left in trust to John's sons in England. The sons never went to Jamaica to claim the estate, and neither had any children to pass the estate on to, so, upon their deaths, the ownership of the estates passed to Palmer's grandnephew, John Rose Palmer.

In 1818, John Rose Palmer moved to Jamaica and took charge of Rose Hall. Soon afterward, he married Annie Patterson, making her Annie Palmer, and it is she who became known as the White Witch of Rose Hall.

Portrait of Annie Palmer, "The White Witch of Rose Hall", that hangs in the great house.
Portrait of Annie Palmer, "The White Witch of Rose Hall", that hangs in the great house. | Source

The Legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall

There are, as with most legends, many variations to the story of the White Witch of Rose Hall, but there are common threads that run through all versions. It is these common threads that will be used to tell the story here.

As the legend goes, Annie Palmer was born Annie Patterson, the daughter of an English mother and an Irish father. When Annie was just ten years old, the family moved to Haiti. There, Annie learned Voodoo from her Haitian nanny. When her parents later died of yellow fever, Annie was left to be raised by the nanny, under who's continued tutelage she became an expert in Voodoo. At the age of eighteen, following the death of her nanny, Annie moved to Jamaica in search of a rich husband. It is here that she met and married John Palmer, who was by this time the owner of the Rose Hall estate.

Annie Palmer's Bedroom at Rose Hall
Annie Palmer's Bedroom at Rose Hall | Source

Within a few months of the wedding, Annie began to tire of her husband. She started taking slaves as lovers. When John caught her at this, he beat her with a riding crop. The next day, John was dead. It was believed that Annie had killed him by poisoning his coffee.

With John dead, Rose Hall went to Annie, who now had the estate to herself. Thus began her reign of terror. She continued to take slaves as lovers, murdering them when she became tired of them. She would regularly torture her slaves and even kill those who displeased her. She set traps all around the property so that the slaves could not escape. Slaves that worked in the house and had access to the kitchen were required to whistle whenever they were around food so that she would know they were not helping themselves to any of it; they could not whistle with their mouths full. If any were caught not whistling, she would cut their heads off as punishment for the supposed theft of food. Due to her extreme cruelty, and regular practice of Voodoo, the slaves took to calling her the White Witch of Rose Hall.

Annie married two more times, murdering both husbands for their money. It is said that she killed her second husband by stabbing him in the chest while he was sleeping. She then poured boiling oil in his ears to make sure he was dead. She killed her third husband by strangulation, with the help of her slave lover, Takoo.

Annie's downfall began when she fell for an Englishman by the name of Robert Rutherford. Rutherford had no interest in her as he was in love with Takoo's granddaughter. To get the granddaughter out of the way, Annie cast a Voodoo spell on her. Known as an "old hige," the spell was said to bring about a visit from a ghost that would cause the person whom it visited to slowly wither and die. Takoo became so angered at the death of his granddaughter that he attacked Annie and strangled her to death.

The slaves took her body and buried it in a deep hole on the estate. They then burned all her possessions, for fear they might be tainted by her spirit. Then a Voodoo ritual was carried out to insure that her spirit could not escape its deep grave. The ritual was, however, performed incorrectly, freeing Annie's ghost to haunt Rose Hall.

It is believed that Rose Hall escaped the fate of most of the other great houses during the slave rebellion because the slaves believed that burning the house down would release Annie's spirit from the property, freeing it to go wherever it choose. It is also said that subsequent owners of the estate met with early (and often gruesome) ends, and that this is why the great house has stood empty for more than 130 years.

This legend makes for a great ghost story and has proven a boon to Jamaican tourism, especially at Rose Hall, but a ghost story is all it is. It could not be further from the true story of Annie Palmer.

Rose Hall as it appeared prior to its restoration.
Rose Hall as it appeared prior to its restoration.

The True Story of Annie Palmer

The true story of Annie Palmer is certainly much less dramatic than the legend. Annie Palmer was born Annie Mary Paterson, a Jamaican of Scots decent. She was not brought up in Haiti, nor did she have a Haitian Nanny, and she most certainly had no training in Voodoo.

In 1820 she did marry John Rose Palmer, the great-nephew of the original John Palmer. John Rose Palmer was Annie's first, and only, husband. There is little known about their life together but it seems to have been a relatively normal, and peaceful, existence.

Their time at Rose Hall was a short one, and neither of them died there. The huge debts attached to the Rose Hall and Palmyra estates were more than John Rose Palmer could absorb, or the estates recover from. Both properties eventually passed into the hands of the receivers. The Rose Hall great house stood abandon for more than 130 years, falling into a terrible state of disrepair, before a massive restoration returned it to its former glory.

Annie Palmer did not kill her husband, or anybody else. John died in 1827 of natural causes. There is also no record of her ever having tortured or mistreated a slave. In fact, the estate had been cared for by just one or two slaves for years, and once it was turned over to the receivers, John and Annie kept no slaves at all. When John died, what little interest Annie still had in the estate she sold for £200. When Annie herself died in 1846, fifteen years after she was supposedly murdered by her slave lover, she left what little she had to her God-daughter Giolia Mary Spence.

So how did such an innocent woman, living such a quiet and uneventful life, become the subject of such a horrendous story? How did Annie Palmer become the White Witch of Rose Hall?

The Rose Hall Plantation as it looks today.
The Rose Hall Plantation as it looks today.

The White Witch of Rose Hall: The Making of a Legend

The seeds of the legend were sewn in 1868 when a Falmouth newspaper editor published a booklet containing many of the elements of the current tale. The difference was that this story had Rosa Palmer as the White Witch, and the murders and other terrible deeds attributed to her. The fact that she had actually had four husbands helped to give the story some "credibility" and, as happens with legends, others added their own parts to the story. In 1911, a book on the history of St. James was published which retold the story but with Annie as the central figure.

Then, in 1929, Annie Palmer's fate was forever sealed, as fact and fiction became inextricably intertwined in the Herbert G. de Lisser novel The White Witch of Rose Hall. It seemed to matter not to people that this was a work of fiction. Whatever elements had been left out of the legend by the other two erroneous publications had now been supplied, and people were happy to believe it.

Though claimed to be the tomb of Annie palmer this is most likely false, as Annie had not been living at rose hall at the time of her death, and in fact, had sold her remaining interest in the place nearly 20 years earlier. It could be Rosa's tomb.
Though claimed to be the tomb of Annie palmer this is most likely false, as Annie had not been living at rose hall at the time of her death, and in fact, had sold her remaining interest in the place nearly 20 years earlier. It could be Rosa's tomb. | Source

Is Rose Hall Really Haunted?

Whether or not Rose Hall is truly haunted is hard to say for certain, as much depends on individual beliefs. Many people claim to have seen a shadowy figure, dressed in a green velvet riding habit, riding a black horse across the estate grounds. Others say they have seen the figure of a woman dressed all in white on the stairs outside of the great house, and to have caught glimpses of the same figure moving about inside the building. There have also been reports of screams and the sound of running footsteps heard coming from various rooms throughout the house, especially the cellar area, which now serves as the gift shop.

If the place is actually haunted it can be said for certain that it has nothing to do with a white witch, murdered husbands, tortured slaves, or Voodoo rituals. Though it could very well be Annie Palmer, come back from the grave to try to clear her tarnished name.

The cellar at Rose Hall that now serves as the gift shop.
The cellar at Rose Hall that now serves as the gift shop. | Source


  • Powers A. (2011) The White Witch and a Cautionary Tale –
  • Lee (2009) The Legend of the White Witch of Rose Hall –
  • Waddell J. (2013) The Most Haunted Places I'd Love to Visit –
  • Black D. (2016) Who is the White Witch of Rose Hall? –
  • Stefko J. (2013) White Witch of Rose Hall: Annie Palmer –

Questions & Answers

  • Why did people lie about Annie Palmer being a wicked person?

    It is not so much that people lie. It is, as with many legends, a case of stories growing and changing as they spread. Whether by word of mouth or in writing, embellishment happens. and it is, for the most part, unintentional.

  • How do you know that the husband died of natural causes? What are your reliable sources?

    The cause of death is a matter of public record, and was also reported at the time, as he was a prominent business man in Jamaica. There is also information that has been made public by the family.

  • How do you know the White Witch actually died of natural causes? It obviously stated that her lover, Takoo, killed her.

    The legend states a slave lover killed her, but this is not consistent with the evidence. I could find nothing to support this, or much else, about the legend. Records show that Annie sold her interest in the estate in 1927, for £200, after her husband died of natural cause. Records also show that Annie died of natural causes in 1846, fifteen years after the legend says that she was murdered by her slave lover.

  • Did Annie Palmer kill all of her husbands for real, or is the story fake?

    Annie Palmer actually had only one husband, and he died of natural causes.

  • Did American Horror Story (TV series) use the fictional story by Herbert G. de Lisser for their 3rd season called the Coven?

    I do not know for certain but it seems unlikely. All stories of witches have certain common elements, just as all stories of vampires, werewolves, or other such. Though some of these common elements exist here I believe that that is all it is.

© 2017 Stephen Barnes


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    • Stephen C Barnes profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephen Barnes 

      9 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      I'm glad you enjoyed it Charlene, and your welcome.

    • profile image

      Charlene Lawson 

      9 months ago

      I love this article but to all those stories that i've heard i really don't know what to believe anymore reality speaks for it self. And i really love this thank you for letting me release some fear that i have.

    • Stephen C Barnes profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephen Barnes 

      9 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Thanks Tim, glad you enjoyed it. A fake news story may have started the legend but stranger still is that most of the legend comes directly from a work of fiction.

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      9 months ago from U.S.A.

      Good story. It's amazing how a little misinformation can span a legend. Who says fake news is a modern thing? Thanks.

    • Stephen C Barnes profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephen Barnes 

      10 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Only those of use old enough to remember when there were no such things as toilets that flush themselves know how frightening that must have been. Thanks for sharing that Wayne.

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      went there in 1978 on a school trip. me and a group of other classmates were in the bathroom when one of the toilets flushed by itself. we all ran out.

    • profile image


      17 months ago

      Everybody in Jamaica know the true history of White Witch of Rose Hall because of the ancestors who’ve lived throughout that time. How could 2 slaves own or run an estate during slavery? Foolishness. Nice try at whitewashing history. This is no y’all tale. The white witch of rose hall was thee white woman to ever touch Jamaica and our history tells the true story.

    • profile image

      Lowell Copeland 

      19 months ago

      I spent the night at the foot of the front wall of Rose Hall in July of 1954 with my brothers, my step-father and one of our servants, Shakat Nanji. During the night a large piece of stone fell from the wall of the upper story of the building and missed killing Shakat by about a foot. We never went back to the land again.

    • Stephen C Barnes profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephen Barnes 

      19 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      That's an interesting story Mary. I wonder if anyone else has had a similar experience at that same resort.I will have to do some investigating and see if anything turns up.

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      I have been to the Rose Hall on several occasions I have not experienced and strange happenings But i must tell you that Well at the resort a few minutes from the rose hall. I saw a aperation in the water early in the Pres drink time only coffee. It was a woman in a white 1 piece bathing suite standing sideways facing west. she had her head turned looking at me she looked like a regular woman she was up to her thighs in the water swaying back and forth her hair was bleached orange color . I was thinking that woman has alot of energy to be us so early out in the water like that, I turned to tell my sister in law who was standing a few feet from me to look at the woman in the water... and she was gone. no there My sister in law knew i had seen her as i was so insistent she she was there.. that was 9 years ago this month I will never forget that as long I i live she was there no doubt what or who it was i may never know.

    • Stephen C Barnes profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephen Barnes 

      2 years ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Many people claim to have seen and heard strange and unexplained things at Rose Hall, and just because the story of Annie Palmer is not true does not mean that the place is not haunted.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Love the ghost story! I was in her bedroom and heard her bed squeezing! Really!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      It is a ghost for real

    • Stephen C Barnes profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephen Barnes 

      2 years ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Thank you Rafael, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do try to put a little extra effort into the research and present as much fact as possible, instead of just retelling the same old ghost stories.

    • Rafa Baxa profile image

      Rafael Baxa 

      2 years ago

      Great article Stephen! All these haunted houses and places seem to have a tragic and complicated story behind them. I have never heard of Rose Hall before this. The story of the haunting in Lumley castle in UK, and Kuldhara in India made me do some research in haunted places, and your article is very detailed and well written! Kudos!


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