St. James was one of the second group of parishes formed in Jamaica and is said to have been named by Sir Thomas Modyford in about 1655, for the Duke of York (who later became James II) and was the reigning monarch at the time.
Located in this parish is “Mellila”, the site of the first town built by the Spaniards in Jamaica. It is believed that the first Jamaican migrant set sail with Colombus from “El Cabo Buen Tiempo” (Montego Bay’s original name), for life in the “Old World”.
Remains of Jamaica’s original inhabitants, the Arawaks, have been located along the coastal area of St. James. These “early natives” are now affectionately referred to as the “Fairfield people”, in honour of a site near Montego Bay where characteristic examples of their pottery have been found.
One of the main roadways used by the early settlers (from Oristan in Westmoreland to an area around the Martha Brae River), also passes through this parish and many legends have been handed down about supposed treasure left behind by the Spaniards.
After the English conquest of the island, St. James remained somewhat sparsely settled as the interior was inhabited by the Maroons (of whom the settlers were terrified) and the parish was some distance from Spanish Town – the then seat of Government.
156,152 (STATIN, 1991)
262 per sq. km. (680 per sq. mile)
(Oct. 1993 STATIN figures)
• East- Central – Rose Hall, Somerton, Spring Mount
• North- West – Montego Bay Central, North Eastern, South Eastern, Western, North, and South Divisions
• West Central – Salt Spring, Mount Salem, Spring Garden, Grandville
• South – Cambridge, Welcome Hall, Maroon Town, Catadupa.
• Great River- 46 km (29 miles)
• Montego River- 24km (15 miles)
Stretching from St. Elizabeth, the Nassau Mountains extend diagonally across St. James, ending in hills at a point south of Montego Bay.
Hospitals and Health Centers
• Cornwall Regional Hospital
• Health Centers 22
Other main towns: Cambridge, Catadupa, Ipswitch, Anchovy and Montpelier.
The name of the most urban town in St. James has varying stories surrounding its origin. Christopher Columbus named the bay there, “El Cabo de Buen Tiempo”, or “Fairweather Gulf”, and it is said that the entire area was named for Montego de Salmanaca, an early colonizer. A more popular (and probable) idea however, is that the name “montego “was derived from the Spanish word “Manteca”, meaning lard or butter. An early map of Jamaica has the Montego Bay area listed as “Bahia de Manteca” or “Lard Bay”. This region was densely populated with wild hogs which the Spanish are said to have slaughtered in large numbers, in order to collect lard for export to Cartagena.
Several parts of Montego Bay were destroyed by fires in 1795 and 1811. The town was rebuilt, only to be ravaged by one of the largest slave uprisings in Jamaica’s history – the Christmas Rebellion of 1831-32, led by Sam Sharpe.
Sam Sharpe planned that after Christmas holidays of December 25 to 27, 1831 the slaves of St. James would begin a programme of passive resistance whereby they would refuse to work unless paid. The programme however, did not go as planned as a group of slaves became violent, setting fire to buildings and cane fields. This action spread from estate to estate, and was viciously quelled by the white plantation owners.
Sharpe eventually turned himself in and was charged for unlawful actions and rebellion. He was hanged in Montego Bay market-place on May 23, 1832.
Sharpe has been declared one of Jamaica’s National Heroes.
During the 18th century, the interior areas of St. James were virtually the sole preserve of the Maroons. When Cudjoe (Maroon leader in the western part of the island) signed a peace treaty with the British in 1739, the Maroons were given 1,500 acres of land in St. James. They named the area Trelawny Town, after the then governor, Edward Trelawny.
Some fifty years later, in reaction to the flogging of a fellow Maroon who had been caught and accused of pig stealing, the Trelawny Town Maroons rebelled. Thus began the “Maroon War”, in which some 300 Maroons were pitted against almost 1,500 English soldiers.
The Maroons held out for a time but eventually surrendered. They agreed to negotiate a peace settlement, but were tricked into signing by the Governor, for no sooner had they signed, than they were captured and placed on board a ship for Nova Scotia, Canada. Most of the Maroons were not able to survive the piercing cold and other hardships in this their new “home”. Those who lived eventually migrated to the township of Sierra Leone along the African coast.
Not long after the Maroons were shipped from Jamaica, barracks for the British troops were built on the old site of Trelawny Town. Some of the land was also given to the Accompong Maroons, who had not been involved in the fighting. The soldiers remained in their “Trelawny Town” barracks until the middle of the 19th century.
As the island became more settled, there seemed to be no more need for a military presence, so the soldiers departed and the barracks at Trelawny Town fell into ruins. Years later, people from the area began to call it “Maroon Town”, and it is still known by this name today even though it is not a Maroon settlement.
Montego Bay’s first “city status” was taken away in 1865 because of the upheaval of the Morant Bay rebellion. In spite of this setback, the town grew into an important trading centre, and by the early 20th century, Montego Bay enjoyed significant commercial activity. Sugar, rum and coffee were the main exports, but tourism has also dominated the economy of this parish since the late 40s and early 50s.
The earliest resorts built were the Montego Bay Hotel, the Casa Blanca and the Ethelhart Hotel, as well as several guest houses, including Sunset Lodge and Beach View. The famous curative powers of the Doctor’s Cave Bathing Beach also helped to make the Montego Bay area a prime visitor attraction during this early period.
The industry has since embraced surrounding plantations and canefields no longer in use, laying them bare for the construction of hotels and the resulting infrastructure needed for urban growth. Most of the resort area stretches along the coastline, from Rose Hall in the east to Great River in the west. In the early stages of planning, the Bogue Islands, a group of offshore cays, were reclaimed and merged with the town Montego Bay to form the Montego Bay Freeport which is now and important industrial centre.
Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner, providing employment for hundreds of Jamaicans. Montego Bay, and one could say, the entire parish of St. James is over 80 per cent dependent on this industry for its economic survival.
On May 1, 1981 (a publicly decreed holiday in St. James), Montego Bay was accorded city status. And Jamaica’s second city continues to do her country proud in this most vital area of its economy- tourism.