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Cayman Islands History

The Cayman Islands were discovered by Columbus during his fourth and last voyage to the New World on May 10, 1503. The Cayman Islands received its name because Columbus saw an a number of sea turtles on his trip and decided to call the islands Las Tortugas. The islands were later named Lagartos, meaning alligator or large lizard and finally, the name Caymanas was applied around 1540, derived from the Caribbean word for marine crocodile.

The Cayman Islands came under British control in 1655 when Jamaica was captured from the Spanish by Oliver Cromwell's army. They officially became part of the British Empire under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670, after which Spain recognized British possession of "all lands, islands, colonies and places situated in the West Indies." For almost 300 years after that, the islands were administered as a dependency of Jamaica.

The first recorded settlement of the Cayman Islands was dated from 1666-1671 with descendants of emigrants from the British Isles. The first royal land grant in Grand Cayman, signalling the beginning of permanent settlement, was recorded around 1700’s. The first settlements included the use of slaves and the population of the islands was about 400 people. During this time the island produced a great quantity of gods such as cotton, corn, yams, sweet potatoes, plantains, melons, limes, and many other fruits and vegetables.

An important event in the islands history is the "Birth of Democracy" in the Cayman Islands. On December 5, 1831, Pedro St. James great house in Savannah was the site of a historic meeting of residents during which there was a resolution that representatives should be appointed for the five different districts for the purpose of forming local laws for Government. The elections took place on 10 December in the five districts on Grand Cayman and on December 31 they met as the first Legislative Assembly for the first time in George Town.

In addition, another historic event took place in May 1835. During this time a proclamation declaring the emancipation of all slaves throughout the colonies was read at Pedro St. James and at a number of other prominent places in the Cayman Islands. When Jamaica attained independence in 1962, the Cayman Islands chose to remain tied to Britain as a British Crown Colony. In 1971, the Islands received their first Governor and the present constitution was adopted in 1972. The islands most recent amendments were adopted in February 1994.

Today, tourism forms the strong economy and prosperity of the Cayman Islands.

More Information


Cayman Islands Travel Guides
 Frommer's Cayman Islands
 Lonely Planet Cayman Islands
 Let's Go Cayman Islands
 Fodors Cayman Islands