Debunking the Skeptics: Annie Palmer and the True Haunting of Rose Hall

On tonight’s episode of Ghost Adventures, the vacuous trio headed to Jamaica and searched for the legendary ghost of Annie Palmer, a wicked lady said to have haunted the Great House at Rose Hall – some six miles east of Montego Bay – for nearly two centuries. Also this week, the new issue of The Bent Spoon went to press, on the topic of ghost hunting. Coincidentally, Jason Korbus wrote an article for it debunking four haunted places in it, one of which was Rose Hall:

The White Witch of Rosehall by Herbert G. de Lisser

“In an investigation televised on Ghost Hunters International, the team visited the location and came away convinced they had found evidence of this ghost’s existence.  The problem?  Annie Palmer is completely made up. . . Annie Palmer is a fictional character, written about in a 1929 novel by Herbert G. de Lisser.”

In some ways, Korbus was right. Herbert G. de Lisser did, in fact, write The White Witch of Rose Hall published in 1929. It was a tale of a despicably evil woman named Annie Palmer who lived at Rose Hall and was murdered for her wretched deeds. And yes, it was a novel (although de Lisser was also a journalist and wrote a lot of non-fiction, historical work as well). But does that make Annie Palmer a fictional character?

Actually, no, she was a real person.

Not a whole lot of information is known about Annie, but former Assistant Government Archivist Geoffrey S. Yates collected his research and wrote about it back in 1965. She was born Annie Marie Patterson at The Baulk Estate near Lucea in the fall of 1802. Her father died shortly before her birth; Annie was raised by her remaining family (including grandparents, an uncle, and a stepfather) and, given the family’s social status, the idea that she would be schooled in voodoo seems more than a bit far-fetched. How Annie met her future husband John Rose Palmer isn’t known, but when Annie was 17, she married him on March 28, 1820 and honeymooned in England.

Ruins of Rose Hall before restoration

Financial trouble plagued the couple from the moment they returned to Jamaica and their new home, Rose Hall. Mr. Palmer was £6,000 ($465,156 today) in debt when he died seven years later. Destitute, Annie sold off all their possessions and land. According to an estate journal, only one slave (acting as a caretaker) was at Rose Hall from January 1829 until December 1832; rights to the house were sold for £200 ($15,505) during this time. She then moved to an estate called Bellevue in the town of St. James which was willed to her by her uncle. She never remarried and never had children. In 1846, Annie died at the Bonavista estate and was buried in the church cemetery at Montego Bay. Her grave has been lost; the unmarked grave at Rose Hall is unlikely to be her.

Korbus was right in a sense: the evil witch murdered by her slaves called Annie Palmer never existed. But the real Annie Palmer, exaggerated to make a good story, did exist according to historical archives. Does this mean that Annie Palmer haunts Rose Hall? No; I don’t believe there is enough evidence available to make such a statement. Rose Hall is a tourist attraction that loves telling its creepy ghost story instead of the sad, impoverished history of the plantation. And scary always seems to rule out over honest.

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