Like most of the Caribbean Jamaica’s first inhabitants were the Tainos, an Arawak Indian tribe originating from South America a couple thousand years ago. The peaceful Tainos greeted Christopher Columbus when he first arrived in Montego Bay in 1494. Of course the Columbs called the Bay " El Golfo the Buen Tiempo". When Spaniards settled here after 1510, they called it the Bay "Bahia de Mantega" because of the large quantities of pigs' lard they exported to their colonies in South America and the Caribbean. That name evolved to Montego Bay.
Initially, the Spanish after Columbus settled near St Ann's Bay, but eventually moved to Villa de la Vega, now called "Spanish Town" to become the island's primary port of governance. Disease, inter-marriage and skirmishes ultimately wiped out the Tainos. But Montego Bay became the capital of the Parish of St. James and the second city in Jamaica.
With the British occupation of Jamaica in 1655, St. James was among the second group of Parishes founded in1671.
Montego Bay remaine a small town unril after 1720, when 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. Commerce flourished, resulting in the rapid expansion of the commercial waterfront. Important for protection during those days, Fort Montego was built near Montego Bay on a small bluff. With more ship captains feeling protected from invasion by French and Spanish forces and pirates, even more growth occurred.
By the 1650s in their many wars with Spainiards, the British captured Jamaica from Spain. In a last defiance against their British conquerors, the Spanish settlers freed and armed their slaves, who sought refuge in the island’s interior. The Maroons, as these ex-slaves came to be called, continuously defied the new British colonisers. Jamaicans can proudly boast that they have one of the few armies to prevent a complete British takeover of their island. Maroons still exist in Jamaica.
Under British governance and slavement of Africans by the 1700s, Jamaica produced nearly a quarter of the world's sugar on vastly-scaled plantations. Anyone who knows about sugar plantations can attest that the vilest of slavery practices existed on those plantations. As a result of such oppressive slavery and the Maroons, Jamaica conducted more slave uprisings than other Caribbean islands. Frequent slave uprisings coupled with brutal reprisals by the plantation owners, troubled the European Christian conscience.
In time, anti-slavery sentiments grew strong in Europe. So Jamaica played a strong role in the Emancipation Act of 1834 to free all slaves under the age of 6 and others were to serve a period of apprenticeship for 4-6 years. But plantation owners continued to abuse their apprentices, triggering full emancipation to all all Jamaicans in 1838. Many former slaves and apprentices left the plantation to settling in other areas of this large island.
With the driop in sugar productivity and profitability Jamaica to diversified its economy. Plantation owners recruited indentured workers from China and India. After their period of indenture, many Chinese and Indians stayed on the island, adding to Jamaica’s eclectic mix of cultures. Bananas and coffee also became cash crops, as other industries emerged in Jamaica’s economy to overtake agricultural exports.
Jamaican politics also transformed with the end of slavery. In 1866, the island implemented the crown colony system of government from Great Britain. Under the new system promises of education, health care and social reforms a newly freed generation build their hopes. But decades later, hopes turned into disappointment and civil unrest, heralding the birth of the trade union movement.
Today Montego Bay is divided into the built up city of Falmouth since the 1700s, a long hotel strip area and outlying hotels and villas on the hillside. MoBay likes to boast that the Falmouth is where parts of the James Bond movie "Live and let Die" were filmed.