The old Fort of James Island (re-named
Kunta Kinteh Island in Gambia) is located about 30 km
upstream on the river (see
map) and is home to the ruins which once
belonged to colonial Britain. This was the last bit of African soil
that many slaves saw before being transported in the bowels of
transatlantic slave ships to the Americas.
The area was
'discovered' in 1456 by the
Portuguese navigators Antoniotti Usodimare and Captains Luiz de
Cadamosto on their second expedition up the river Gambia. They called
it St. Andrews Island supposedly after a sailor who had died and was
buried there. The name was later changed by later European
colonialist. It was purchased by the Duke of Courland 200 years later
after which the Baltic Germans began building the fortifications 1651
so it could be used as a trading post between Latvia, Lithuania and
the local Africans.
It was seized by the British 10 years later in
1661 under the hands of the Royal Adventurers Of England Trading Into
Africa who received a Royal Patent from Charles II to buy ivory, gold
and other commodities as well as slaves. They renamed the island James
Island after the heir to the throne who was to become King James III.
The significance of this take-over was James Island represented
first imperial exploit on the African continent. The island
subsequently changed hands many times over the next two centuries
particularly between the French and British.
In 1779 French troops
based at there slave post of Albreda, near
Juffure, were ordered to deal with the
British once-and-for-all and they were duly ejected for the last time
from the island and the French proceeded to destroy it. After the
passing of the abolition act of 1857 the British moved their emphasis
to fighting slavery and chose the forts of
Barra to achieve
this. By 1830's the island was abandoned for good. Today on a
visit to the island there are still the ruins of
slavery there. There are still caves and prisons on the island where
slaves were imprisoned before being
shipped off to the American colonies. There are also some cannons
standing in their military attack positions.
The island sadly is
shrinking due to coastal erosion and has reduced in size to a great extent compared to its heyday as a
slave collection point and trading post.
A trip to Kunta Kinteh Island [James Island] is usually done as part of a roots tour which also includes the
nearby villages of
Juffure and Albreda as well as to the museum. It can be reached by taking a
Barra on the north bank of the river. From there
a taxi or other vehicle would take you by road to Juffureh.
Accommodation available are the Kunta Kinte Roots Camp or the Juffure
Guest House. There is a restaurant called the Rising Sun Restaurant
The other route is to take a Roots cruise by boat
upriver directly to the island.