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  Villas in Montego Bay

When the Spanish occupied Jamaica, Montego Bay was an export point for lard, which was obtained from wild hogs in the forests. In many of the Jamaica's early maps, Montego Bay was listed as "Bahia de Manteca" (Lard Bay). The parish was given the name "St. James" in honour of King James II by Sir Thomas Modyford, the island's first English Governor. At the beginning of the English rule, the parish was one of the poorest; it had no towns, few inhabitants and little commerce, except for the exported lard. However, after the treaty with the Maroons in 1739, St. James became one of the most important sugar-producing parishes. Annually, more than 150 ships arrived in Montego Bay bringing slaves and supplies, and taking sugar. Commerce developed as wealthy merchants and planters erected many elaborate town houses. In 1773, Montego Bay had the only newspaper outside of Kingston - The Cornwall Chronicle.

Fire, in 1795 and again in 1811, destroyed much of Montego Bay. After being rebuilt, it was again destroyed in 1831 by a rebellion led by Sam Sharpe. This rebellion was as a result of slave owners' reluctance to free the slaves, even after England proposed an end to slavery. Sam Sharpe at first tried to advocate passive resistance, but a group of slaves became violent and began setting fire to buildings and the surrounding plantations and cane fields. As a result of being the main planner of the rebellion, Sam Sharpe was hanged in the Montego Bay market place, which is today known as Sam Sharpe Square.

After emancipation in 1834, the fortunes of the town and parish declined until the banana trade was promoted by J. E. Kerr and Co. This prompted the start of tourism in Jamaica. A Freeport was constructed in the 1960s, and later, a cruise ship terminal was opened. Montego Bay was accorded city status on May 1, 1980. The Sangster International Airport, one of the two on the island, is located in Montego Bay.

The parish is bordered by Trelawny in the east, St. Elizabeth in the south and Hanover and Westmoreland in the west. It covers an area of 594.9 km², making it one of the smallest parishes in Jamaica. The population was an estimated 185,334 in 2010.

About two-thirds of the parish consists of limestone. The Nassau Mountains, which rise from St. Elizabeth, south of the parish, extend diagonally across St. James. The range then declines to a point just south of Montego Bay. Its highest point is approximately 1524 metres above sea level.

Great River, which serves as the boundary between St. James and its neighboring parishes Hanover and Westmoreland, and the Montego River, which rises in central St. James and flows north, then west to Montego Bay, are the two main rivers.

The city of Montego Bay may be roughly divided into two sections: the tourist area, which occupies the northern section of the bay along the shore line, and the commercial and industrial sections, which are second only to Kingston in size and volume of trade.

Today, Saint James is one of the fastest growing parishes on the island with large credits going to Montego Bay, because it is seen as an alternative to the overpopulated Kingston and Saint Andrew Corporate Area.

Agricultural activities include forestry, and the production of sugar cane and other domestic crops. There are approximately 60 manufacturing establishments in the south of the parish, mainly for garment, woodwork, and food processing. There are also many industrial zones, including The Montego Free Zone, Bogue Industrial Estate and Ironshore.

Tourism is the main source of employment in the parish; one in four persons are employed in tourism. The major forms of employment in tourism are:

craft vending in one of the three craft markets in the parish, Harbour Street Craft Market, Old Fort Craft Market and Success Craft Market;
tour bus operating for such companies as JUTA and JCAL tours; and,
various positions in the many hotels located in the parish. Over 500,000 tourists annually visit St. James, and this accounts for one-third of the revenue generated by tourism islandwide; Montego Bay is often called the Mecca of tourism in Jamaica.