Continutinuation of the 1895 letters to the Kingston Daily Gleaner about the origins of White Witch of Rose Hall.
The Kingston Daily Gleaner published a letter that sparked a controversy over the story and identity of the White Witch of Rose Hall in 1895. This public debate went on for several months through the publication of several letters to the Gleaner, catching the attention and interest of the general public and ultimately shaping it into the story we now know.
Published in Kingston-Gleaner-May-15-1895-p-7
To the Editor of the Gleaner Sir,
Relative to the recent letters which have appeared in your columns on the subject of the notorious Mrs Rosa Palmer of Rose Hail Estate, St James. I beg to corroborate your correspondent Mr. John H. Broderick" in regard to the following which I was told when a youth by my grandmother who died in 1879. She heard this from her husband, my grandfather, who pre-deceased her many years he was proprietor of a coffee plantation in Manchester, and used to visit Montego Bay about the period between 1830 and 1845.
Mrs. Palmer was reputed to have killed her three husbands and it was rumoured that the fourth "Mr. Palmer" having cause to fear a similar fate incited she female slaves to kill ter, which they did in the manner described by Mr. Broderick.
I distinctly remember being told of the circumstance that she dropped molten grease on the floor to detect whether, these domestics had failed to polish same and on finding her ruse successful attempted to horsewhip them which resulted in her murder. I do not remember ever hearing of any other Mrs Palmer in respect of these traditions, and in view of the foregoing I certainly think "Mr. Broderick's" information authentic -- I am, &c.,
T. S. C.
Kingston, 13th May, 1895.
Published in Kingston-Gleaner-May-15-1895-p-7
A correspondent sends the following copy of a letter with reference to the case:-
Letter from late Hon. Richmond Hill to a friend of his in Montego Bay.
30th November, 1868.
The advertisement by Mr. Castillo [JGH: author of the pamphlet that spawned the debate] of the Falmouth "Post" that he has published a pamphlet entitled the "Legend" of Rose Hall led me to peruse the story of the events said to have happened at Rose Hall, I find the narrative altogether wrong You know the beautiful monument erected by Bacon the sculptor of Mrs. Rosa Palmer, the Mrs Palmer after whom Rose Hall was called, and you know the inscription. I do not want that inscription nor do I want a notice of that monument, I have both. Mrs Rosa Palmer who was a Miss Rosa Whitter, an aunt of the Chief Justice Thomas Whitter Jackson, whom your Father will remember was the estimable wife, whose decease, and memory, Bacon's exquisite statuary refers to. There is a second Mrs. Palmer whose character and conduct are the subjects of tradition, and who perished by the hands of her slaves whom her cruelties as the mistress of Rose Hall had driven to desperation. I think Mr. Palmer had settled Palmyra upon her and there she was strangled and suffocated by her slaves, and it is on the floor of that house there existed for years the stains of her blood. In the pamphlet entitled the "Legend of Rose Hall," these facts are all mistaken and what was true of one Mrs. Palmer are ascribed to another. The Mrs. Palmer who was murdered at Palmyra was an Irish Immigrant girl with whom Mr. Palmer in his infatuation after the death of Mrs. Rosa Palmer of the monument married. In her service as the servant, I speak only of the probability of things, of the first Mrs. Palmer, she had successfully become the wife of the several husbands whom she had secretly got rid of. Mr. Palmer became her fourth husband and she is said to have worn with her wedding ring a ring with the inscription, "If I survive I will have five." Mr. Palmer is said to have found by the humiliation he suffered by her secret licentionsness, and her slaves, by her ceaseless cruelties, that she could tell by breaking hearts as well as by the administration of poison, and she was removed out of the world by midnight violence. I give the true history of the murdered Mrs Palmer. She is not the Mrs Palmer of the figure in the monument in the church. If my sister Ann had lived she could have cleared up all the mystification about the wives bearing the name of Palmer. Is there any one living at Montego Bay who could be appealed to for the true traditionary facts? I know no person more likely than your Father except it be Mr Neil Malcolm. My father and mother lived in the times of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer and I have written down what they had to say. It is a narration of licentious cruelty. The young negress remarkable for her beauty -- who was sentenced to death under the law of the times, that made plantation courts compressed of two neighbour Magistrates, and three freeholders, a Court inflicting death, and punishments of bodily mutilations, had decided that the negress's head should be cut off and kept for exposure on the estate, and Mrs. Palmer preserved it in spirits and exhibited it to her friends who might visit her, saying look at the pretty creature". My sister now with me mentions as hearing this attested by Mrs Machardy who lived at Montego Bay, and by a second marrying became a Mrs. Fitzgerald. I particularise this because your Father may likewise recollect it. The negress who was so executed was the mistress of young John Rose Palmer, the son of Mrs. Rosa Palmer, who like Abraham's Hagar displeased her mistress but was not thrust into a desert to perish. From the plantation dungeon, she was led out to be strangled in the plantation yard, and to have the head stricken off in the presence of the estate gang, and delivered into the hands of Mrs Palmer for preservation as a malignant trophy.
The "Legend" printed by Mr. Castello represents this Mrs. Palmer as a Mrs. Ann Palmer whose monumental record in Montego Bay Church is a marble tablet delicately carved, plain and single representing a broken pillow, an overturn lamp, a dead tree, a declining head stone, a setting sun and a scroll grouped together. What I want you to ascertain for me is whether there is such a monument. What is the date of it, and what does it record. My mother used to tell my sister that riding down from the back country road to Rose Hall she sought shelter there from a coming shower of rain, that the Mrs. Palmer of torturing celebrity was seated superintending the domestic concerns of the household that she found her affable and kind in her demeanour, but that while she remained sheltered in the house with Mrs. Palmer, who was unmistakably Irish, she heard the infliction of punishment on the females about her with a perforated patter that draws blood, and she was then told that wooden soles of shoes with blunted pegs were kept at hand for the standing torture of the girls sewing about her. It is possible that similar facts are known to your father. "There are three things says the wise son of Serach that the hear feareth and for the fourth it is sore afraid, the storm of a city, the gathering together of an unruly multitude and a false accusation, all these are worse than death. To these heads the fourth: an evil wife as a yoke shaking to and fro on the neck of the ox, saying that he that taketh hold of such a wife is as though had a scorpion The traditional history of Mrs. Palmer the murdered person of Palmyra was a realization of all these hateful things. Poor Mr. Palmer on his death bed in his disclosure to the Reverend Mr. Ricord who I dare say was the Rector who christened your father, declared that his privity to the murder of his wife was an indirect intimation that in his absence at some time his slaves would rid themselves of the woman whose life of secret profligacy and open cruelty was an unendurable infliction. I am so impatient under popular errors that I cannot rest until I correct them. There were many coloured families decended from Palmers that your father must have known.
There was Phebe Palmers from whom Samuel Adams came -- whom we all knew and reputed. He was a man of strong nervous sensibility and died unsound in mind. Rose Hall beautiful and magnificently furnished must have been erected in 1760. In 1767 Mrs. Rose Palmer was by the record married to the Honble. John Palmer. According to Bacon's monument she died in 1791... think my Mother's recollection of Mrs. Palmer the Irish immigrant was in 1793 Mr. Palmer's fascination with her must have been within a year after the decease. The record in the Bishop's office make the death of Mrs Palmer an event of 1790. Here is one year of error -- Bacon finished his monument in 1794 according to the inscription on it. Two years must be allowed for shipment and the erection of it in the church. In 1795 and 6 was the Maroon war. In 1798 the town of Montego Bay was two thirds burnt down. In the midst of delay in erecting Bacon's monument occurred the mystifications which mistock one Mrs. Palmer for the other.
Published in Kingston-Gleaner-May-15-1895-p-7
To the Editor of the Gleaner
Sir, -- I do not write for the purpose of entering into a controversy with Mr. Broderick about Mrs Palmer of Rose Hall. I wrote to correct any wrong impression which Mr. Broderick in his assumed knowledge of the mysteries might dissiminate. Although Mr. Broderick was overseer on Rose Hall Estate and saw pictures on the walls of the house, &c. &c., yet he declares himself ignorant of the existence of Mrs. Rose Palmer the 1st wife.
I am a native of Montego Bay and while a youngster my grandfather who knew the Palmers in their life time and was intimate with the Hon. John of Rose Hall told me some interesting stories concerning Rose Hall.
The late Honble. Richard Hill who was also a native of Montego Bay compared his notes with mine and published an account or short historical sketch of the Palmers and mysteries of Rose Hall and Palmers.
For the information of John Hyslop Broderick who heard of only one Mrs. Palmer and never of two let me mention again that the Hon. John Palmer of Rose Hall married Rosa Witter who became the lawful mistress of Rose Hall. This estimable lady died in 1790 In Mr. Palmer's will all his interests were left for Mrs. Rosa Palmer, not one word was mentioned about Mrs Ann Palmer, who became the wife (the alleged wife) of the master of Rose Hall fully five years after the death in fact the same year the monument was placed in Montego Bay Church. Irish girl was then alive.
This Irish emigrant girl who had the will of iron and the temper of the devil was "Rebecca Ann James" mentioned in the codicil of Mr. Palmer's will dated March 1797 wherein provision was made for her "if she survived him." This was 7 years after the death of Mrs. Rosa Palmer.
Mr. Palmer had two sons by his wife Rosa, namely, John Rose Palmer and James Palmer, Mrs. Ann Palmer the lady friend of Palmyra and Rose Hall had no issue for Mr. Palmer, she had one daughter by her first husband.
Mrs. Palmer died in Montego Bay March, 1797, at Miss Williams' lodging and was interred in the rear of the monument of his first wife. -- R.I.P.
Thanking you for space in your journal.
10th May, 1895.
Published in Kingston-Gleaner-May-15-1895-p-7
To the Editor of the Gleaner.
Sir -- In the Tri-Weekly GLEANER of 4th inst. I read a letter signed "John W. Broderick" which would have been interesting but for the fact that it afforded no data for consideration, about when or what year did all of which this gentle man has written, take place one reasonably asks.
Having two years ago seen an original letter now in the possession of a lady of this town. I called upon her today and I requested her to allow me to publish it for the information of readers and travellers from time to time who visit the parish Church here for the purpose chiefly of seeing the exquisite marble statue of Mrs. Rose Palmer, associated as it is with the notorious legend of Rose Hall, a piece of art having only its equal in the Island in that of Lady Elgin's monument in the Spanish Town Cathedral, while the attributes of a blue mark around the neck as well as the dark blood like stains in the marble pedestal are evidence. This lady very readily and kindly consented to my doing so and I now enclose you copy of that letter the genuiness of which I vouch for.
It is clearly shown from this letter of the Hon'ble Mr. Hill's, that the monument in the Parish Church here is honest in purpose and substantial in fact, and truly represents the character of a virtuous and exemplary woman; and whose remains are interred on the left hand side not far from the front entrance door on approaching the Church as indicated by the inscription on the tomb stone informing us that Mrs. Rosa Palmer, died on 1st May 1790, aged 72, and this inscription is corroborated by the Mural Tablet in the Church.
Mr. Hill it is true wrote of the Palmers as of 21 years after the death of Mrs, Rosa Palmer, but this was from information received from the lips of his parents; He tells who Mrs. Rosa Palmer was, and he also tells that his mother not only knew Mrs. Ann Palmer of notoriety but had sat with her in her house in Rose Hall and talked with her. Your readers will therefore be able to draw their own conclusions of the "Rose Hall Legend" and the monument, in the church from Mr. Hill's letters, a gentleman whose far known merit and veracity requires no comment from me.
These points I should like to urge apon the attention of your readers as taken either from the figures on the tombstone, the memorial tablet in the church or Mr. Hill's letter:- Mrs Rosa Palmer must have been born in the year in 1718 and (according to Mr. Hill) married 1767, died 1790, aged 72; therefore her age at the time of her marriage must have been 49, and she would have been 23 years married and 72 years of age at the time it is alleged she was strangled in 1790. Is it reasonable to suppose that the patience and endurance of her husband and slaves would have lasted for a period of 23 years? Is it not more likely and probable that they would have resorted to that vengeance on her earlier and shortly after her married life than defer it for 23 years when she was at the advanced age of 72?
I must offer two apologies before I close. 1st for having had to rake up in judgment now the name, memory and wrong doings of the unfortunate Mrs. Ann Palmer. I have not named her from a morbid uncharitable greed to gloat over her shady character while she lies in her grave, better by far could her name not be mentioned, but unfortunately this is inevitable, and while one admires the "good Mrs. Palmer." Sympathy that such a woman as the bad Mrs. Palmer should ever have been born must and does intrude upon one's more charitable feelings and 2nd for having been promoted to scribble in your paper and for which pray excuse. -- I am, ete,
J. W. GRUBER.
Montego Bay, 11th May, 1895.
[The extract referred to has already been published in a letter from another correspondent.-ED. GLEANER]