Stone circles thought to have been constructed by ancestors of the Jola people are estimated to date from AD 600. Kingdoms of Mandinka-speaking people were established near the Gambia River from around 1100. State-building by the Jolof and Serer groups gathered pace from around 1400. Portuguese mariners entered the Gambia River in 1455 but the first permanent European settlement was founded by traders from the Baltic Duchy of Courland (Latvia) in 1651. English and French merchants subsequently vied for control of the region (Senegambia). The British Captain, Alexander Grant, established Bathurst (Banjul) as a garrison in 1816 and it was controlled from the Freetown Colony (Sierra Leone). The Gambia became an independent member of the British Commonwealth on 18 Feb. 1965 and an independent republic on 24 April 1970.
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