Fort James Island

James Island is in the Gambia River, 19 miles (30km) from the river mouth and near Juffure in Gambia's Upper Niumi district. The first settlers from Europe were Germans from the Duchy of Courland, who named it St. Andrews Island and constructed Jacob Fort (named after Jacob Kettler, Duke of Courland) in 1651. The Dutch temporarily occupied the fort from 1659 until its annexation by the English in 1661, officially surrendering the fort in 1664.

The English renamed the atoll James Island and the fortress Fort James, after James, then Duke of York and subsequently King James II. As a significant historical site in the slave trade in West Africa, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with the nearby villages of Albreda and Juffure. Together, they present outstanding evidence relating to the main chapters and components of the African-European encounter along the River Gambia, from pre-colonial times to independence. The area is especially important given its association with both the origins and abolition of the trade in slaves. It also documents early access to Africa, with the River Gambia forming the first trade route into the interior of the continent, along with providing an initial corridor for the slave trade.

Things To Do And See

The Six Gun Battery and Fort Bullen also form part of the James Island UNESCO World Heritage Site and are situated on either side of the mouth of the River Gambia. Built specifically to ending the slave trade when it became illegal in the British Empire, along with James Island itself, they were abandoned in 1870.

Six Gun Battery

The 19th-century British "war" on slave trading resulted in both the abandonment of James Island and the foundation of the capital city at Banjul. The 1793 Treaty of Versailles acknowledged the Gambia River as being in British ownership, so the Abolition Act of 1807 made slave traffic illegal. However, American, French, Portuguese and Spanish slave traders continued to operate on the river. Located at the river mouth, Banjul offered a better strategic position for the regulation of river traffic.

In 1815, Sir Charles MacCarthy (after whom the administrative centre of Gambia's Central River Region is now named) ordered a task force of the Africa corps, under Captain Alexander Grant, to investigate the feasibility of a military stronghold on Banjul Island. On obtaining the island, Grant commenced construction of a barracks and an artillery battery of 24-pounder guns (this battery forms part of the World Heritage Site) with ample firepower to prevent ships escaping from the river mouth, thus allowing their apprehension by patrolling naval vessels. However, a problem occurred in as much that the battery had insufficient range to cope with the full eight mile width of the river mouth, allowing ships to escape by moving close to the river's northern bank. This resulted in the construction of Fort Bullen on the opposite bank of the river.

Fort Bullen

Fort Bullen succeeded the James Island fortress, which was destroyed by the French. Located at the northern end of Barra Point, the fort was built in 1827 by Commodore Charles Bullen, sent by the British to assure the quashing of the slave trade. With artillery on both banks, the British established full control over trade on the Gambia River. During World War II, Fort Bullen was again put to military use as an observatory/artillery base protecting the British Army against any potential attack from the French Vichy Government that controlled Senegal.

Jinack Island

Jinack Island (referred to as Paradise Island or Treasure Island) is situated near the north bank of the River Gambia, isolated from the mainland by the Niji Bolon. It forms part of the Niumi National Park, a protected marine delta area, created in 1986 and occupying about 50kmē from Barra Point to the border of Senegal. The park comprises a diverse range of habitats, including an elevated woodland plateau divided by the Masarinko Bolon, areas of dry savannah grassland, farm land, dense undergrowth, coastal scrub, fresh water marshes and tidal mud flats, along with mangrove swamps and lagoons.

Resident wildlife in the park includes the hump-backed and bottle-nose dolphin, green turtle, Nile crocodile and West African manatee, along with various species of primates, antelope and reptiles. Some 300 different species of woodland and water bird species have been recorded in the park, including the banded snake eagle, green pigeon, painted snipe and white fronted plover. Their numbers are swelled by European migrants that use the feeding grounds before heading further south. Jinack Island has nearly 7 miles (11km) of unblemished beaches, to which dolphins are regular visitors.

Getting There And Travelling Around The Area

Fort James Island is approximately 40 minutes by road from Barra. A ferry runs from the capital, Banjul, to Barra between six and eight times every day, with the ferry crossing taking in the region of half an hour. Visitors to Fort James Island are advised to join up with an organised trip from Banjul or make their own way to the town via ferry and bush taxi. Visitors heading for Jinack Island may also take advantage of the cheap Banjul-Barra ferry, taking a taxi from Barra towards Fass. Turning left at Kanuma leads into the Niumi National Park.

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