James Island is an island in the Gambia River, 30km from the river mouth and near Juffureh in the country of The Gambia. It contains a fort known as Fort James. It is less than two miles from Albreda on the river's northern bank that served a similar purpose for the French.
The first European settlers on the island were Baltic Germans from the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, who also had other colonial possessions in the area. They called it St. Andrews Island, though the British Crown had previously granted the island to two separate companies in 1588 and 1618. In 1651, the settlers built a fort that they named Jacob Fort after Jacob Kettler, the Duke of Courland, and used it as a trade base. The Dutch briefly held the fort from 1659 until the British captured it in 1661; the Dutch formally ceded the fort to the British in 1664.
The British renamed the island James Island and the fort Fort James after James, the Duke of York, later King James II of England. The chartered Royal Adventurers in Africa Company administered the territory, which initially used it for the gold and ivory trade, and later in the slave trade. On 1 August 1669, the Company sublet the administration to Gambia Adventurers. In 1684, the Royal African Company took over Gambia's administration.
In 1695, the French captured Fort James after a battle with English sailors. They returned it in 1697 but then captured it again in 1702. The fort was destroyed and rebuilt several times in this period, both in conflicts between the British and French and by pirates. On 13 June 1750 the Company of Merchants Trading in Africa assumed the administration of The Gambia. Between 25 May 1765 - 11 February 1779, The Gambia was part of British Senegambia.
The Six-Gun Battery (1816) and Fort Bullen (1826), now included in the James Island UNESCO World Heritage Site and located on both sides of the mouth of the River Gambia, were built with the specific intent of thwarting the slave trade once it had become illegal in the British Empire after the passing of the Abolition Act in 1807. These sites along with the island itself were abandoned in 1870.
As an important historical site in the West African slave trade, it is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with related sites including Albreda, Juffureh and Fort Bullen. James Island is suffering heavy erosion, and is now approximately 1/6th of its size during the times of the fort. Ruins of several of the British administrative buildings (including a single cell, apparently used to house the most troublesome captives), a small jetty and a number of skeletal baobab trees remain. The ruins have been stabilised, and protected by a capping. Due to the low land of the island, some structures are at times beaten by the waves during high tide and storms.
Kunta Kinte, author Alex Haley's Mandingo ancestor, described in the book and TV series Roots, was probably shipped through James Island.