History of the Cayman Islands

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The Cayman Islands are a Caribbean British overseas territory that have been under various governments since their discovery by Europeans. Christopher Columbus sighted the Cayman Islands on May 10, 1503 and named them Las Tortugas after the numerous sea turtles seen swimming in the surrounding waters. Columbus had found the two small islands (Cayman Brac and Little Cayman) and it was these two islands that he named "Las Tortugas".

The 1523 "Turin map" of the islands was the first to refer to them as Los Lagartos, meaning alligators or large lizards,[1] By 1530 they were known as the Caymanes after the Carib word caimán for the marine crocodile, either the American or the Cuban crocodile, Crocodylus acutus or C. rhombifer, which also lived there. Recent sub-fossil findings suggest that C. rhombifer, a freshwater species, were prevalent until the 20th century.

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Settlement

The first recorded English visitor was Sir Francis Drake in 1586, who reported that the caymanas were edible, but it was the turtles which attracted ships in search of fresh meat for their crews. Overfishing nearly extinguished the turtles from the local waters.

The first recorded permanent inhabitant of the Cayman Islands, Isaac Bodden, was born on Grand Cayman around 1700. He was the grandson of the original settler named Bodden who was likely one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers at the taking of Jamaica in 1655.

A variety of people settled on the islands: pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, and slaves. The majority of Caymanians are of African and English descent, with considerable interracial mixing.

British Control

England took formal control of the Caymans, along with Jamaica, under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670 after the first settlers came from Jamaica in 1661-71 to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. These first settlements were abandoned after attacks by Spanish privateers, but English privateers often used the Cayman Islands as a base and in the 18th century they became an increasingly popular hideout for pirates, even after the end of legitimate privateering in 1713. Following several unsuccessful attempts, permanent settlement of the islands began in the 1730s. The Cayman Islands historically have been popular as a tax haven. In November 1794, ten vessels, which were part of a convoy escorted by HMS Convert, were wrecked on the reef in Gun Bay, on the East end of Grand Cayman, but with the help of local settlers, there was no loss of life. The incident is now remembered as The Wreck of the Ten Sail[why?]. Legend has it that there was a member of the British Royal Family onboard and that in gratitude for their bravery, King George III decreed that Caymanians should never be conscripted for war service and Parliament legislated that they should never be taxed. However, no real evidence has been found for this.

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