The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th century. While there is no archaeological evidence for an indigenous people on the islands, a variety of settlers from various backgrounds made their home on the islands, including pirates, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica. Folklore suggests that the emergence of the name ‘Cayman’ is a result of a captive’s successful flee from Cromwell’s army. His name was Cayman Cushing, and he supposedly initiated the escape. It is believed that several other captives escaped to the islands alongside Cushing. As a result of his bravery, the runaway prisoners settled on what they called the Cayman Islands.
Cayman Islands National Museum, George Town, Grand Cayman
The first recorded permanent inhabitant of the Cayman Islands, Isaac Bodden, was born on Grand Cayman around 1661. He was the grandson of the original settler named Bodden who was probably one of Oliver Cromwell's soldiers at the taking of Jamaica in 1655.
England took formal control of the Cayman Islands, along with Jamaica, as a result of the Treaty of Madrid of 1670. Following several unsuccessful attempts at settlement, a permanent English-speaking population in the islands dates from the 1730s. With settlement, after the first royal land grant by the Governor of Jamaica in 1734, came the perceived need for slaves. Many were brought to the islands from Africa; this is evident today with the majority of native Caymanians being of African and English descent. The results of the first census taken in the islands in 1802 showed the population on Grand Cayman to be 933 with 545 of those inhabitants being enslaved. Slavery was abolished in the Cayman Islands in 1833. At the time of abolition, there were over 950 Blacks of African ancestry enslaved by 116 white families of English ancestry.
The islands continued to be governed as part of the Colony of Jamaica until 1962, when they became a separate Crown colony while Jamaica became an independent Commonwealth realm.
The Heroes Square in the centre of George Town, which commemorates Cayman Islands' war dead. The Legislative Assembly building is at the left.
On 8 February 1794, the Caymanians rescued the crews of a group of ten merchant ships, including HMS Convert, an incident that has since become known as the Wreck of the Ten Sail. The ships had struck a reef and run aground during rough seas. Legend has it that King George III rewarded the island with a promise never to introduce taxes as compensation for their generosity, as one of the ships carried a member of the King's own family. While this remains a popular legend, the story is not true.
The Cayman Islands historically has been a tax-exempt destination. The government of the Cayman Islands has always relied on indirect and not direct taxes. The territory has never levied income tax, capital gains tax, or any wealth tax, making them a popular tax haven.
On 11 September 2004 the island of Grand Cayman, which lies largely unprotected at sea level, was hit by Hurricane Ivan, creating an 8-ft (2.4 m) storm surge which flooded many areas of Grand Cayman. An estimated 83% of the dwellings on the island were damaged including 4% requiring complete reconstruction. A reported 70% of all dwellings suffered severe damage from flooding or wind. Another 26% sustained minor damage from partial roof removal, low levels of flooding, or impact with floating or wind driven hurricane debris. Power, water and communications were disrupted for months in some areas as Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit the islands in 86 years. Grand Cayman began a major rebuilding process and within two years its infrastructure was nearly returned to pre-hurricane status. Due to the tropical location of the islands, more hurricanes or tropical systems have affected the Cayman Islands than any other region in the Atlantic basin; it has been brushed or directly hit, on average, every 2.23 years.