James Island

James Island

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James Island is basically a small rocky outcrop in the middle of the Gambia River, where you can see the remains of an old slaving fort. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to document the island. In 1456 a Portuguese sailor dies and is buried on the island, which was named Saint Andrew Island after him. In 1651 the servants of the Duke of Courland built the fort in order to establish an empire in this part of the world. Only 10 years later the Germans lost the island to the British, who renamed it James Island.

In 1695, 1702 and 1704, the French seized the fort, blew up some parts of it, but lost it to the British again every single time. In 1698 the fort was reconstructed, but soon after, a fire partially destructed it. In 1703 the damage was repaired, but six years later the British abandoned the fort. In 1714 they reconstructed it once again. In 1719 pirates seized the island and carried off all the goods and slaves.

Between 1720 and 1729 there were numerous raids by the French, who were based in nearby Albreda, on the northern bank of the Gambia River. In 1721 the fort was reconstructed. After the explosion of the powder magazine more repairs were necessary.

In 1768, some 500 'Niumi' men attacked James Island, but their attack was unsuccessful. In 1779 the French seized the island without firing a shot and they finally destroyed the fort. The British outlawed the slave trade in 1808 and James Island was completely abandoned in 1829.

During the period of the slave trade, slaves were brought to James Island from nearby Jufureh (Juffure). The slaves spent several weeks on the tiny island, while waiting to be transported to the Americas. Fort James almost entirely covered the island, leaving little living space for slaves. James Island was originally larger than it is nowadays, but the natural processes of decay and erosion, combined with the destruction of the fort in 1779, causes the island to slowly disappear.


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