Janjangbureh Island is 300km upstream from the capital city Banjul. This former British colonial settlement was founded in 1823, when the king of Lower Niani, Kolli Camara, ceded the island to Britain. It is 20 square kilometers wide Island with an estimated population of 3, 600 and it is still the central administrative headquarters of the Central River Region – one of eight Local Government Areas in the country.
Janjangbureh was formerly known as Lemaine, before being renamed by the colonial settlers (after Sir Charles MacCarthy) as McCarthy Island and Georgetown. In 1995 it was renamed Janjangbureh (after Janjang and Bureh - the first siblings who settled on the island). However, Janjangbureh is still commonly referred to by its colonial name of McCarthy in many books.
Janjangbureh is in a key geographical location, linking the north and south of The Gambia. On the northern side, it is linked to the mainland at Lamin Koto village by a vehicle and passenger ferry terminal service, while the south is linked by a 100m span vehicle and passenger bridge, opened in July 2010, which connects the settlement to the South Bank Road via Sankulay Kunda village.
In addition to the ferry terminal linking the Island to the north as well as a bridge on the south, Janjangbureh also has a post office, Methodist Church (claimed to be the oldest Methodist Church in sub-Saharan Africa, opened in 1835), primary school, police station, town produce market, taxi rank, prison facility, Gamtel office, the Commissioner's Officers' Residence, the co-ed Armitage High School, and a number of colonial buildings dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The first Methodist Church in Sub-Saharan Africa
The Island mainly provides a collection point for groundnuts and rice which have been harvested by the local farmers in outlying areas. It is sometimes referred to as the Gambia's 'Second Capital' and is still an important trading and administrative centre in the country.
During the colonial time McCarthy Island was used as a base for commercial trading, missionary work, agriculture and for protecting its traders, and the upper navigable reaches of the river, against illegal slave traders. The first British settlers were a few merchants from Bathurst (now Banjul), a detachment of soldiers from the West Indian Regiment who were stationed on the north of Janjangbureh, built a mud-earth works garrison and Christened it Fort George, and a number of Wesleyan missionaries who established the Wesleyan Mission (Methodist Church), begun as a station in 1824 under John Morgan, and finally built in 1835. These first settlers proceeded to build Georgetown's warehouses, stores, quays, and dealt in iron products, fabrics, rifles, and palm oil. Later Fort Campbell was built on the eastern end of the territory.
As MacCarthy Island continued to develop, discharged soldiers from the coast and the Kombos helped swell the small population. Then in 1832 two hundred Aku (Creole) freed slaves from Freetown arrived, and good number of whom were skilled craftsmen. They assisted in developing the island's farming potential and took full advantage of the first class mission schools in the area. The 1860s also witnessed an influx of more refugees fleeing from the Soninke-Marabout wars being waged on the mainland to MacCarthy Island.
In the 1920s Cherno Kaddy Baldeh, the king of Fulladu West, recognised the need for a bridge to link his district to MacCarthy Island in order to benefit from the booming trade in groundnuts. He used forced labour, local wood and other materials to build a floating log-bridge, which allowed the movement of groundnuts from his district, across the Sankulay Kunda River, to groundnut buying depots in MacCarthy Island from 1925 to 1931.
Out of the mission schools sprung up the Chiefs' School, reserved for the seyfolus' sons. This was rebuilt, and opened in 1927, named Armitage High School, which became a prestigious boarding school for the sons of the Gambian elite.
Armitage Senior Secondary School (Formally Armitage High School)
In the 1930s the freighting and trading of groundnuts between the upriver regions and Kombo increased and MacCarthy Island was the centre of this activity The local economy grew strongly making the Island, the Second Capital, and an administrative base for the British Protectorate. However, since 1965 Janjangbureh's (MacCarthy Island) economic glory has been on the decline, exacerbated by the construction of the South Bank Road in the 1970s, and the termination of the riverboat service.
The Akus were early settlers on the Island and they were very prominent. When the slave trade was abolished in 1807 the British chose the Island for the freed slaves to resettled. The Island eventually became a trading post with the overseeing king based in Jamali.