JAMES ISLAND AND RELATED SITES:
Importance of the River Gambia
Prior to the period when Europeans began traveling to the Western
Sudan they had been obtaining information about the region from Arab
merchants and traders who had been there, as well as from Arab
historical writings. News of the vast quantities of gold and other
goods that could be obtained from West Africa sparked interest in the
region on the part of European Entrepreneurs. Towards the early 1400s
Portuguese sailors began searching for a sea route to India. By
1455-56 they had reached the mouth of the River Gambia.
For a long time, the River Gambia was considered a more valuable
trading place than Guinea, Sierra Leone or Ivory Coast. It was closer
to both Europe and America. There was ample opportunity to trade, and
because of its natural harbours, ships could safely anchor in the
River which is one of the most navigable in the region, and had great
potential for reaching the vast hinterland. Numerous merchants and
explorers came to purchase gold, ivory, hides and skins, gum,
bees-wax, cloth and above all slaves; in exchange for European goods
such as jewellery (beads), guns and spirits.
By 1651 some servants of a company of Baltic Germans founded by the
Duke of Courland (now part of Latvia) acquired St Andrews Island (a
small island 20 miles up the River) from the King of Niumi and
proceeded to build a fort. In 1661 the Fort was seized by the Royal
Adventures of England, and the Island was renamed James Island after
the Duke of York.This set in motion a trend which saw Island change
hands between the various European powers, including the French and
the Dutch, as their fortunes waxed and waned in Europe.
and 1778 when the Island was finally captured and bombarded by the
French, the Fort passed into various hands including a band of Welsh
pirates, who in 1719 captured the Island and dismantled the
fortifications. This persistent fighting and take over is partly
responsible for the present ruined state of the fort, one of the most
fought over slave forts in West Africa.
Whoever had control over the Island, and therefore ruled over traffic
on the River, automatically had the lionís share of the slave trade in
the area. The Island was finally abandoned around 1783 when it had
outlived its usefulness because British merchants had turned their
attention to elsewhere in The Gambia and appeals for funds to repair
the fort were ignored by the British government.
The Albreda / Juffureh / James Island complex is forty minutes by road from Barra which is connected to Banjul by ferry. The ferry crossing normally takes about 30 minutes. When running on schedule the ferry makes six to eight trips to Barra daily. Visitors can either join an excursion from Banjul, organised through a tour operator or they can make their own way by ferry and bush taxi. There is a rest house called the "Home At Last Hostel", for those wishing to stay in the village.