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The Rosa Palmer/Annie Palmer connection and major lies in Jamaican history

BY SHALMAN SCOTT

Sunday, February 04, 2018

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The story of the legendary Rose Hall property, with its Great House as its epicentre of intrigue, witchcraft, jealousy and murder … is intriguing, to say the least.

In Herbert Delisser's book White Witch of Rose Hall, the author, in the pursuance of the protection of his own integrity, was cautious to point out explicitly that the story is fictitious, which meant in Jamaican parlance that the story was made up. Yet, it continues to be the “official” version of the story of Rose Hall.

A tour of the Rose Hall Great House centres on one of its mistresses — Annie Palmer. The tour guides employed there have been trained to glibly narrate the story of Annie's prowess and how she was killed in a bedroom, with the bloodstain from her murder still leaving an impression on the mahogany floor of that room, the pattern of which persists until today. This was approximately 187 years ago. Stories abound among the slave population that Annie Palmer, a Haitian miracle worker, was able to come out of her skin, according to some reports. None of this was either true or scientifically possible. Annie Palmer was killed not at Rose Hall but at Palmyra Great House south of the hills of Rose Hall.

Haiti, a former French colony and known to be steeped in the advanced culture of the mother country, France, reflects also one area of significance in French influence back then, which was in the area of beauty culture. So a false hairpiece common to a Haitian upper or middle class white woman but not to an African slave woman, having not seen such a thing before, the impact of the culture shock and fright led the Negro to conclude that, on opening Annie Palmer's bedroom door, what she saw lying on the mistress' bed was evidence that the witch had left her skin behind.

Palmyra, part of the Rose Hall Estates, was connected to the Rose Hall mansion by way of a bridle track. The record shows that it was along this track, in the dead of the night, that Annie Palmer would ride with her riding whip in hand and, for no apparent reason except to give vent to her nature, flogged her slaves unmercifully. She also, on one occasion, had the head of her maid (whom she suspected of trying to poison her) hung above the corn house in Palmyra until it festered in the sun.

She met her tragic end also at Palmyra: her strangled body found flung across her bed. And not one of her slaves cared to find the culprit, or came forward to help bury the woman whom they feared and hated... Annie Mary Paterson, aka Annie Palmer, in the month of January 1820, came from Haiti to Jamaica and subsequently married John Rose Palmer, grandnephew of John Palmer. It is claimed that it is at that juncture that Rose Hall became notorious. However, Rose Hall's prominence dated back to a period long before Annie Palmer's arrival.

Rosa Kelly, after whom Rose Hall is named, was the first mistress of the famous great house in Montego Bay. She was the daughter of the Rev John Kelly, Anglican rector for the parish of St James. Rosa, the first mistress of Rose Hall, was of a different temperament from her successor Annie Palmer the “White Witch”, who took up residence 43 years after Rosa Palmer's death at Rose Hall in 1777.

Rosa, the owner of a large number of Kelly slaves, had three husbands. She was first married to Henry Fanning of St Catherine in 1746. Fanning began to build the Great house which cost 30,000 pounds back then. Rosa's second husband, George Ash, finished it. Her third marriage was to the Honourable John Palmer, custos of St James, a marriage which lasted for 10 years.

Rosa Palmer died leaving a will which stated: “I give and bequeath all my residue of my estate real and personal unto my dearly beloved husband John Palmer, who is most deserving.” By now readers would discern that it was Rosa Palmer who had three husbands and not Annie Marie Palmer “the White Witch of Rose Hall”. Annie did not live long enough. Clearly we should not live in the past, by any means, but it is a wonderful place to visit. For in so doing, those who sought to befuddle and hoodwink us, particularly the descendants of the slaves, will awaken to the ploy and be alert to the integrity … or lack thereof, in respect to the quality of information that long ago, at the time of emancipation, was to be fed to the descendants of ex-slaves.

How was this substantial amount of foolishness passed down to us? It was conspiratorially arranged to feed us the information principally through the school system. The then Colonial Department of Education-whose only aim was to promote British glorification and mystification and the membership of which was controlled by the planters and pen keepers, all descendants of the former slave owners — decided on the curriculum for the children of the former slaves …. meaning us!!

This explains why the two history books: History of Jamaica written by Clinton Vane de Brosse Black (Italian lineage with 'Black' added for diversion, believability and marketing) and the Making of the West Indies, written by a group including Professor F Augier, did not include the Sam Sharpe Rebellion in their work. There has been some feeble attempt to explain why the Sam Sharpe Rebellion story was not narrated in the two prominent history books used in our education system for well over 30 years, but the truth is that if the authors of those books wanted them to be “accepted” and approved by the Colonial Board of Education,which means making money, then the omission of the Sam Sharpe 1831/32 Rebellion was the way to go. That is what the market — the Colonial Board Of Education — wanted and so the grand and palpable historical omission was nothing more than a strategic business decision by the authors of those two principal Jamaican history books, in the opinion of numerous business-informed and perceptive compatriots.

Additionally, Clinton Vane de Brosse Black was further compromised (or is it compensated?) as he was appointed chief archivist of Jamaica and the rest of the anglophone Caribbean by the British Government in 1955. Given his background, he was more than fully aware of the Sam Sharpe Rebellion which he left out of his History of Jamaica book.

The first time that the Sam Sharpe Rebellion story fully came to light was around 1975 at the time that “Daddy” Sharpe was made a national hero under the leadership of prime minister, the late Michael Manley. Clearly, this was the consequence of a progressive policy change towards the enlightenment of the masses, with the Honourable Arnold Bertram, minister of information and then minister of education, the Honourable Howard Cooke Sr, being the political point men in the whole affair.

Academicians extraordinaire solicitor Richard Hart, professor the Honourable Rex Nettleford, and Kamu Braithwaite, in their inimitable proactive styles, added profoundly substantive texture to the explosion of the Sam Sharpe conversation. This rebellion played a most catalytic role in bringing down the edifices of the system of black enslavement and opened up the mind of our people to not only envisioning that day of freedom from chattel slavery, but to realise it.

Over 137 years passed before the school system began to teach, albeit extremely squalidly, about the Sam Sharpe Rebellion of 1831/32. But other British-approved texts and literature were allowed to “educate” us about English “heroes”: kings, queens and even pirates, buccaneers, privateers, military generals in the battles fought for Great Britain ... and to condition us through these “Kakanabu” stories how happy we should be to know that the “mother country” is winning in the world. But we were never taught that each British victory was a further consolidation of our poverty through a deeper entrenchment of the ignorance of the Negro. And how the economic system particularly has been rigged to perpetuate lack of strategic and sustainable ownership for the children of the economic underclass while structurally, through fertile land possession with economy of scale, on the alluvium plains, enriching the heirs and successors of the traditional ruling class and their assorted cabal at the expense of all else.

What the secular education system failed to achieve, the religious system of education, hopefully, would finish. My abhorrence as I write this piece is with the web of deception and disrespect in the reportage of our history, and is absolutely not about resentment towards anyone based on ethnicity or race. I have no time for such wasteful, shortsighted and unchristian preoccupations which, were that the case, would undermine my own moral authority to rebuke what has gone wrong with the recording and propogation of Jamaica's history.

The two “father-mentors” in my life as a maturing youngster were Hugh Lawson Shearer and Tony Hart, both in whom was no hint of racial hatred of blacks or whites. I have copied their wise examples. The lies, omissions, half-truths and twisting of our history are made manifest, again, by the two tales of Rosa Palmer and Annie Palmer of Rose Hall, St James. This example of officialisation of foolishness in Jamaica's history is both deep and widespread. And Jamaica's political independence in 1962 has not changed some things much either.

It is still being taught in our schools, for example, that the Maroons are our heroes!! What a dilemma? For that also is a blatant lie! Much shocking and jaw-dropping information on this particular matter is forthcoming in short order, paving the way, hopefully, for the binary imperatives of confession from and forgiveness of the Maroons. And clearing the way for us all to move on without the albatross of the barefaced, manipulative misinformation and ginnalship masquerading as Jamaican history.

Such a shame, really.

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