The Origins of the White Witch of Rose Hall

Letters of May 2 and 4, 1895, that sparked a national public debate

In 1895, the Kingston Daily Gleaner published a letter from a Gentleman who, after visiting the monument of Rosa Palmer in Montego Bay, wrote a letter to the Gleaner expressing doubts that such a woman could have done the crimes outlined in a pamphlet published twenty-seven years earlier in 1868 by the Falmouth Post. This prompted a letter in response from John Broderick, an overseer at Rose Hall who who claimed to be the source of much of the original story.

The initial letter from the Gentleman sparked a public debate that went on for four months. At the heart of the debate was the identity of who the perpetrator of the crimes described in the story.

The following are digitized images of the first two letters that were published in the Gleaner in May 1895, followed by images of the other letters on subsequent pages.

May 2 - The Letter that Sparked a Public Debate

Published in Kingston-Gleaner-May-02-1895-p-7

Trip to Montego Bay


I took the opportunity of having a good look at Mrs Rosa Palmer monument in the Parish Church. I can hardly bring to my mind that such a lovely looking creature(as the monument represented) could have been guilty of the charges laid (by tradition) against her, viz: of killing five husbands. The inscription on the monument which was erected by her husband, the Honble. John Palmer who held the high and important office of Custos of St. James, reads as follows: "Near this place are deposited the remains of Mrs Rosa Palmer who died on the 1st of May, 1790. Her...

[JGH: following text is removed from the newspaper image to save space - photo of monument and inscription is shown on main page]
...manners were open, cheerful and agreeable, and being blessed with a plentiful fortune, hospitality dwelt with her as long as health permitted her to enjoy society. Educated by the anxious care of a reverend divine, her father, her charities were not ostentatious, but of a nobler kind. She was warm is her attachment to her friends, and gave the most signal proof of it in the last moment of her life. This tribute of affection and respect is erected by her husband, the Honble John Palmer as a memento of her worth and of his esteem."

The "blood" on the base of the monument was pointed out to me, by my friend, but as to this I will quote the words of a correspondent to the GLEANER who visited Montego Bay in 1891: "It was striking like splash of crimson blood, but on closer examination proved to be part of the variegated marble pobably as species of jasper." A pamphlet was published on the life of Mrs. Palmer, and a friend of mine in Kingston has promised to lend it to me for a read.


May 4 - Letter in Response from the Overseer of Rose Hall

Published in Kingston-Gleaner-May-04-1895-p-7

Mrs. Palmer.

To the Editor of the Gleaner.


Seeing a letter to a friend from a gentleman in Kingston in your to-day's issue, in reference to the late Mrs Palmer of "Rose Hall Estate" St James-- I beg to say I was once an overseer or manager of that property and was a great aid to a gentleman in getting up a pamphlet -- on the life of Mrs. Palmer by giving most of the information. "Palmer her fourth husband, consequently she could not have killed five. She killed three. One was a Military Officer, one & Barrister and one a Clergyman. On one of her tigers was -- "If I survive -- I will have five but this was never fulfilled. I could never learn how she killed the first. The second she poured molten lead in his ear while he slept, the third she caused one of her slaves to cut his throat while he slept. The marks of the blood sitains were still on the floor when I was removed to take another estate.

Mrs Palmer from cruelty to her (domestic) slaves Was smothered between the Mattresses in her room at Palmyra (also her own estate) while punishing them for not rubbing the floor, having sat a trap for them on retiring to bed, by dropping the sperm here and there on the floor which would enable her to see where was not rubbed next morning. When her body was found between the mattresses she still held tbe horse whip. They say "Palmer" was afraid of her, and he was the instigator (slaves in those days especially females, would not have thought of such a thing.) A great deal of this information is based on information from an old and respectable gentleman on the adjoining estate where he could hear every Sunday the lash of Mr. John Cattle Whip on the slaves, her only day of punishment. The death of Mrs Palmer occurred during the races in Montego Bay. The Jurors from the course were all warned from the Course. The late Mr. J. W, Davis who was on the Course was my author, but why an inquest where was the evidence? In those days a slave could not or dare not speak and it was as much as their heads were worth to touch or be seen with a bible. As to the monument at Montego Bay, not only are they spots like blood at the feet but there is a blue streak around the neck.

The Rose Hall house was one of the great Mansions of this Island. In my time I superintended the taking down of the music rooms of the grand promenade around the upper part of the mansion where many times I had the pleasure of accompanying the Chief Justice and gentlemen of notoriety whose names were then to be seen (their own signature) on the wall, and very many they were. Under the grand staircase is another leading to the cellar. After cutting the throat of her third busband she had his body taken down the stair case -- then down the one leading to the cellar and their laid the body. I am, &c


25 James St., May 2nd 1695.

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