Cayman Islands History

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CAYMAN ISLANDS HISTORY


 

On May 10, 1503, Christopher Columbus on his third voyage to the West Indies

first sighted Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.  This sighting gave Spain a claim

to the islands by right of discovery.  The islands were uninhabited but hundreds

of turtles around the islands prompted Columbus to call the islands Las Tortugas

(The Turtles).

 

For a brief period the islands appeared on a map as Los Lagartos, meaning The Lizards, but it well could have been referring to the fierce crocodiles found on the islands and to which the islands owe their permanent name Las Caimanes (The Crocodiles) translated The Cayman Islands.  The islands became a waystation for turtle meat, but with little fresh water and the fearsome crocodiles few ships stopped by except for short periods, sometimes awaiting rescue from being shipwrecked on the fringing reefs.   Sir Francis Drake’s ships’ log reveal that they stopped for a few days during his 1585-1586 Expedition.  Later some Dutch sailors were shipwrecked for 16 weeks on Grand Cayman in 1630, however there was no permanent settlement until much later.

 

England claimed the islands in 1670 in the Treaty of Madrid.  Sometime later transient settlers came mostly from Jamaica.  Legend has it that the first settlers may have been runaway soldiers and servants from Jamaica,  turtlers and log cutters, or bonafide English settlers and their slaves from Jamaica.  The names Bawden (Bodden) and Walter (Watler) are two of the first names that appeared in any records of Grand Cayman.

 

The history of piracy in the Cayman Islands was short and less than romantic.  The pirates came from time to time to obtain turtle, wood and water and to careen their vessels, but being so close to a heavily guarded Jamaica meant it was not too comfortable for pirates, so “modern Caymanians have no authentic pirate legacies, either in their genes or in their cultural heritage.”

 

The first land grant recorded in 1735 was three thousand acres given to Daniel Campbell, John Middleton, and Mary Campbell, however, numerous records point to settlers who came much earlier. This acreage in the Middleton/Campbell land grant is generally recognized as that area between the North Sound to Red Bay, the Industrial Park area of George Town, the airport, and stretching to Half Way Pond and Tropical Gardens.  Interestingly, the names of Middleton and Campbell did not survive as Caymanian names.

 

In 1831 the first elected legislature in Cayman was set up.  Around the same time the first formal churches and schools were organized by Anglican and Methodist ministers.  These pioneering missionaries were succeeded by the Presbyterians, who became the major influence in religion in Grand Cayman with the Baptists having the same influence in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.  The Emancipation of the slaves shortly thereafter in the English colonies did not bring the acrimony that other Caribbean islands experienced as the slave population was small.  About this time some of the slaveowners began the first permanent settlements in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. In the decade after emancipation, Caymanians began a tradition of migrating farther afield with their families in search of an easier life—though they always regarded the Cayman Islands as their true home  Many settled in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Island of Pines, Belize, the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, San Andres, Old Providence, and Corn Island.  By the end of the century migration also went north, particularly to Tampa, Mobile and Port Arthur.

 

In 1863 the Cayman Islands was declared a dependency of Jamaica, a relationship which was to last for the next 99 years until in 1962 when Jamaica became independent and the Cayman Islands chose to remain a crown colony of Great Britain.

 

The terrible hurricane of 1932 devastated all of the islands, particularly Cayman Brac where there was almost total destruction and a significant loss of life.  The three decades of the 40’s – 70’s saw significant change as many of the men went to far away places on merchant ships, and ore and oil tankers.  The remittances from these men began to show in greater affluence, better homes and a more modern people.  Leaving the main industries of shipbuilding, rope making, and turtling behind, the Cayman Islands entered the new era with all of the benefits and problems of modernization.

 

In the 1970’s the two major areas of tourism and banking began to flourish.  Tourism was able to flourish due to a United Nations grant to help the islands rid themselves of the swarms of mosquitoes which was a part of daily life.  With the mosquitoes somewhat conquered, tourists began to flock to the island and more and more hotels and condominiums were built, thus providing more jobs and more economic advancement for the people.  For his role in modernizing the laws of the Cayman Islands to become a financial centre, Sir Vassel Johnson, then Financial Secretary, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and became Cayman’s first and only knight.

In the modern era the twin pillars of tourism and banking are still the mainstay of the economy.  The Cayman Islands have been named regularly as one of the best Caribbean destinations with the highest standard of living in the Caribbean, and the islands now claim to be the fifth largest financial centre in the world.  The population in 2010 was just under 55,000.  With this growth and expansion over 100 nationalities have joined the work force and now live and work together with Caymanians in a generally amicable fashion.

 

Coat of Arms


An official coat of arms was adopted in 1958.  The symbols on the coat of arms represent:

the Islands’ marine environment, its people’s traditional livelihoods, and their profound faith in the Creator.”

 

National Song and National Symbols

Although sung for many years, “Beloved Isle Cayman” by Leila McTaggart Ross Shier was designated as the National Song in 1993.

 

“In 1996 three popular icons were designated as national symbols:  the silver thatch palm (the national tree), the wild banana orchid (national flower) and the Cayman Parrot (national bird).”

 

Thatch Palm Wild Banana Orchid Cayman Parrot

National Heroes

Our first named National Hero was the late Mr.James M.Bodden.  In 1996, Mrs.Sybil McLaughlin, the first speaker of the House, was also declared a National Hero.  In 2011 the following persons were identified as National Heroes bringing the total to 7:

 

Mr. William Farrington

Mrs. Joyce Hylton

Mr. Ormond Panton

Mr. Desmond Watler

Miss Evelyn Wood

 

Most material has been taken from Michael Craton’s book Founded upon the Seas.

To learn more about the Cayman Islands go to www.caymanislands.ky or www.gov.ky.