The Great House of Ros
Johnny Cash-Ballad of Annie Palmer
e Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Annie Palmer was not what you would call a sweet person, even though she owned a vast sugar plantation in Jamaica.
In the 1700s, a woman’s route to wealth and power was usually via marriage, and Annie Palmer was no exception. Born in France, Annie was a petite woman (barely 4 feet tall, it is said) who moved to the beautiful island of Jamaica to be the wife of a powerful man who owned Rose Hall and thousands of acres of sugar plantation. Little is known of her early days at Rose Hall. We do not know if she came to the island already imbued with a streak of cruelty, or if she cultivated it under the demands of her husband and her duties as the mistress of The Great House. It is said that she pined greatly for the bright lights of Paris, and found life on the island to be a hardship.
Whatever the cause, Annie was feared by the slaves who lived on and worked the plantation. She ruled with an iron fist, and defiance, or even perceived insolence, was answered with public whippings, torture in the dungeon, or even death. Annie started her day by stepping to the small balcony shown in the picture below, and issuing the orders of the day to the assembled slaves in the yard. (This is the rear of the building.) Her orders often included punishments and executions.
Perhaps out of boredom, or sheer wantonness, Annie started taking slaves to her bed. When the Mistress of the House lavished her attentions on a slave, that man’s days were numbered. When Annie tired of her lover, she would murder him and have him buried in an unmarked grave. We know little of her first husband, John Palmer, except to say that she murdered him in his bed as well. Perhaps he caught her in the act, or maybe she just tired of him too.
These were rather lawless times, and the sudden death of the master of the estate seemed not to cause any investigation. Regardless, Annie cultivated the image of being a tough and merciless mistress, at least in part to keep her from appearing to be easy prey. These were difficult times to be a woman, particularly a rich widow in a country frequented by pirates and the like. Annie found another way to remain independent and in control… Voodoo.
Many of the slaves were practitioners of the art, and in order to curry favor and live longer, they taught Annie everything they knew about magic, particularly Voodoo. This was to include human sacrifice, particularly of infants, whose bones she used in practicing the black magic. Soon Annie was known far and wide as “The White Witch of Jamaica”. Her reputation for ruthlessness and magic powers served to keep her safe from those who would normally consider her a target. Even so, Annie found time and reason to marry two more husbands, which she eventually dispatched in a similar manner, acquiring their wealth in the process. One has to assume they were foreigners, unacquainted with Annie’s reputation on the island.
Annie’s Overseer was a slave known to be quite a powerful Voodoo practitioner, a fact he managed to conceal from Annie, at risk to his own life. The Overseer had a daughter who was engaged to marry another handsome young slave on the plantation. Unfortunately, Annie’s lustful eye fell upon the young man, and he was soon called upon to pleasure the mistress of the house. The Overseer knew what to expect, and began to make preparations to protect the young man from Annie’s “disposable lover” policy.
However, Annie did not follow her usual pattern, and she killed the young man that same night, instead of playing with him for a week or so. Perhaps he objected to her attentions and declared his love for another. Whatever the reason, the young man was dead, the Overseer’s daughter grief-stricken, and the Overseer was filled with helpless rage. Annie must die, at all costs.
A special grave was prepared in the woods, within sight of the Great House, using Voodoo ritual and markings. The Overseer then entered the house, confronting the White Witch, and engaged her in magical and physical battle. He succeeded in killing her, sacrificing his own life in the process. Slaves who were privy to the Overseer’s plan entombed the body of the White Witch in the specially prepared grave… a grave designed to keep her from rising and walking the plantation again. But they failed to complete the ritual properly, and the White Witch is said to roam the Great House to this day. (See the photo in My Visit).