Parish Name: St. James
Capital: Montego Bay
Land Area: 591.2 sq km (228.2 sq mi)
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). It was, however, much larger at the time as it included what are now the separate parishes of Trelawny and Hanover.
Remains of Jamaica’s original inhabitants, the Taino, 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 to 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.
Additionally, the parish capital of Montego Bay was witness to the final act of slave uprising in the island prior to emancipation. Known as the Christmas Rebellion of 1831-32, it began at Kensington Estate and engulfed the entire western section of Jamaica. Led by Baptist preacher and leader Samuel Sharpe this rebellion provoked two detailed Parliamentary Inquiries, which arguably contributed to the 1833 Abolition of Slavery across the British Empire.
Positioned on the north-west end of Jamaica, St. James is a suburban parish bounded by Trelawny to the east, St. Elizabeth to the south and Hanover and Westmoreland to the west. Stretching from St. Elizabeth, the Nassau Mountains extend diagonally across St. James, ending in hills at a point south of Montego Bay.
Jamaica’s official second city, its name 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.
Other main towns include: Cambridge, Catadupa, Ipswitch, Anchovy and Montpelier.
Important Jamaicans from the Parish
The Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe, National Hero, Sam “Daddy” Sharpe was a revolutionary labour leader in the slave liberation struggles staged in the parish of St. James during the 1830s. He was a brilliant orator and a respected Baptist Deacon who died in defence of basic human rights.
The Hon. Jimmy Cliff, OM is a Jamaican reggae musician, singer and actor born in Somerton District, St. James. He is the only living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievements in the arts.
Yohan Blake is a Jamaican sprinter of the 100-metre and 200-metre sprint races who won a gold medal at the 100 m at the 2011 world championships as the youngest 100 m world champion ever. He was born on December 26, 1989 in the parish of St. James.
Sir Howard Felix Cooke ON, CD, GCMG, GCVO, born on October 15, 1915 in the “free village” of Goodwill, St. James, was the third native Governor General since Jamaica gained independence in 1962.