Your Vacation Guide since 1996

History of Montego Bay

Montego Bay is the capital of the Parish of St. James and the second city in Jamaica. When Columbus sailed into the area in May 1494, he was the first European visitor.

He made friends with some of the local Tainos, who called the Bay ” El Golfo the Buen Tiempo”.The Spanish began to settle in Montego Bay after 1510 in the area of the Fort and they called the Bay “Bahia de Mantega” because of the large quantities of pigs’ lard they exported to their colonies in South America and the West Indies. With the British occupation of Jamaica in 1655, St. James was among the second group of Parishes founded in 1671. Montego Bay was a small town for the first part of the 18th century, and up until 1788 was exempt of taxes, but this soon changed.

Some time after 1720 a Captain Jonathan Barnett sub-divided a portion of his sugar cane fields and created Charles Town, with Charles Square now called Sam Sharpe Square, and Barnett Town. This resulted in the rapid expansion of the town and its commercial waterfront, as during this time most trade and communication was by sea.

Fort Montego, which is about half a mile from Montego Bay, was built on a small bluff overlooking what was then Meager Bay, and River Bay (both these bays have now been filled in for highway and town expansion). The Fort was one of many built along the coast to protect the major shipping ports of Jamaica from invasion by French and Spanish forces and pirates that roamed around the Caribbean Sea. In 1752 the Fort was reported to be in very poor condition, and historian Edward Long reported that in 1760 one of the guns exploded killing the gunner while the Fort was celebrating the British capture of Havana. In 1779 the Fort underwent extensive renovations and the platform, paving, parapet wall and the powder magazine with its buttresses were built.

Today you still can find fortresses, Great Houses and other remnants of the colonial days.