Port Alfred was established in the early 1820s by British settlers who were moved into the area by Lord Charles Somerset as a buffer between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. Originally it was two separate towns (settlers arriving on the west bank in 1820 named their settlement Port Kowie, and those arriving on the east bank named theirs Port Frances).
In 1839, William Cock started to block the natural river mouth to the east and canalise the present opening to the sea. By 1841 South Africa's first man-made harbour was opened after completion of the stone lined channel between the ocean and the Kowie river. This allowed high-masted sailing ships with their heavy cargo to dock at the wharf.
Port Alfred is located on the junction of the R67 and R72 roads. The R67 connects Port Alfred with the N2 at Grahamstown to the north, while the R72 joins the N2 near Colchester to the west and follows the coast to East London in the east.