Montego Bay is the gateway to the north coast and the tourism hub of the island. It is the administrative and commercial centre of St. James. The town is the capital of St. James which is named in honour of James, Duke of York, and brother of King Charles 11 of England. Montego Bay derives its name from the Spanish word Manteca meaning lard. It was first settled by the Taino, Jamaica’s first settlers. Their occupation of the island was disturbed in 1494 with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and his band of Spaniards. It was from here that the Spanish shipped large portions of lard back to Spain from the slaughtering of wild hogs that roamed the area. Montego Bay later became a major shipping port with the establishment of sugar plantations during the English occupation. The English captured the island from the Spanish in 1655.
In 1795 Montego Bay was the centre of military activities when the Governor, made it the headquarters for the operations against the Maroons. In 1795 and again in 1811 Montego Bay was the scene of fires which destroyed great portions of the town. In 1831 – 1832 it was one of the scenes of the Emancipation War after the torching of the Trash House at Kensington Estate, a few miles inland, which escalated into open warfare.
Towards the end of the 19th century tourism began to flourish in the town because of the popularity of Doctor’s Cave Beach. By this time Montego Bay was established and defined generally by North Street, Barnett Street, Duke Street and Harbour Street.
The centre of the town is Sam Sharpe Square, formerly Charles Square and also formerly referred to as The Parade. It was here that troops which were stationed at the garrison at Fort Montego paraded on ceremonial occasions. The Parade was laid out by Colonel James Lawrence of Fairfield; Custos of the parish of St James in 1755. It was named in honour of Admiral Charles Knowles Governor of Jamaica 1752 – 1756. On the 17th October 1983 the Square was renamed Sam Sharpe Square in honour of national hero, the Rt. Excellent Sam Sharpe, who the War to dismantle African enslavement in the island.
Fort Montego is located on the northeastern section of the town where it once overlooked Meager Bay and River Bay.
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