Saint James Parish
Saint James is located on the northwest end of the island and is bordered by Trelawny to the east, Saint Elizabeth to the south and Hanover and Westmoreland to the west. The parish was given the name Saint James in honor of the Duke of York who became King James II. Its capital, Montego Bay, was originally called Bahia de Manteca by the Spanish.
Saint James covers 230 square miles, making it Jamaica’s 4th smallest parish. It has a population of about 180,000. About two-thirds of the parish consists of limestone. The Nassau Mountains, which come from St. Elizabeth in the south, cross St. James; the highest point is about 5,000 feet above sea level. The two main rivers are the Great River and the Montego River. Other main towns in the parish are Adelphi, Cambridge, Montpelier, Catadupa, and Fairfield.
When the Spanish occupied the island, Montego Bay exported hog butter (lard) obtained from wild hogs in the forest. This prompted the Spanish to name the town Bahia de Manteca (Lard Bay). At the beginning of British rule, the parish was one of the poorest; it had no towns, few residents and little commerce except for the exported lard. However, after the treaty with the Maroons in 1739, Saint James became one of the most important sugar producing parishes. Every year, more than 150 ships arrived in Montego Bay bringing slaves and supplies, and taking sugar. Commerce developed as wealthy merchants and planters erected many elaborate town houses. In 1773 Montego Bay had the only newspaper outside of Kingston - The Cornwall Chronicle.
Fires destroyed Montego Bay in 1795 and in 1811. It was destroyed again in 1831 during the Christmas Rebellion led by Sam Sharpe. The rebellion was a reaction to the reluctance of plantation owners to free the slaves. A group of slaves set fire to buildings in the town, the surrounding plantations and cane fields.
Seen as the main ringleader of the rebellion, Sam Sharpe was hanged in the Montego Bay market place, now known as Sam Sharpe Square. The rebellion resulted in two Parliamentary Inquiries which arguably led to the 1833 abolition of slavery across the British Empire. Sam Sharpe was posthumously made one of Jamaica’s National Heroes. After emancipation in 1834, the fortunes of the town and parish declined until the banana trade took hold.
Doctors Cave became famous for its healing powers and this was the beginning of tourism here. The cave was destroyed by a storm in 1932 but Montego Bay is often called the Mecca of tourism in Jamaica, which is the main source of employment in the parish. Over half a million tourists visit Saint James each year and this generates 1/3 of the island’s tourism revenue. There are many famous hotels here, primarily in the Rose Hall area. Saint James is also noted for its fine beaches including Greenwood, Rose Hall, Ironshore, Mahoe Bay, Walter Fletcher, Doctor's Cave, Cornwall Beach, Montego Freeport, and Spring Gardens.
Notable people born in Saint James include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame superstar ska and reggae artist James "Jimmy Cliff" Chambers OM on April 1, 1948, in Somerton (near Montego Bay), reggae guitarist and vocalist, Steve Davis, a founding member of the Mystic Revealers, Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, who won silver medals in the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the 100m and 200m races, and The Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe (d. 1833), one of Jamaica’s Seven National Heroes.