Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
notes, the explorer wrote “... we were in sight of two very small islands, full
of tortoises, as was the sea about, inasmuch as they looked like little
Later maps referred to the islands as Lagartos , probably a reference to
the large lizards (possibly iguanas) seen on the island. Later, the name be-
came Caymanas from the Carib Indian word for caymans, the marine
crocodile. On a 1585 voyage, Sir Francis Drake reported sighting “great
serpents called Caymanas, large like lizards, which are edible.” A few
years later, a French map showed Cayman Brac with crocodiles in its wa-
ters, along with a manuscript that described the reptiles. No modern resi-
dents had ever seen the toothy lizards, but in 1993 an archeological dig on
Grand Cayman (and three years later on Cayman Brac) proved the exis-
tence of the crocodiles. But it was the turtle that continued to bring sailors
to this region. For years, the isles served only as a pit stop on these mari-
time runs.
In 1655 the islands came under British control when Jamaica was cap-
tured from the Spanish by Oliver Cromwell's army. Tucked near Jamaica
and Spanish-ruled Cuba, the British thought that the Cayman Islands
were strategically located. According to legend, some deserters from
Cromwell's army fled Jamaica with escaped slaves and arrived in Cayman
Brac and Little Cayman in 1658. Allegedly, their names were Watler and
Bowden, and today some of those islands' oldest families, the Watlers and
the Boddens, may be their descendants. The possession of the islands by
the British Empire wouldn't be official until 1670, when they were ceded to
Britain along with Jamaica by the Treaty of Madrid . The Brits tried to
settle the formerly uninhabited island of Grand Cayman, but continuous
problems with Spanish pirates sent the settlers back to Jamaica just a
year later.
A Permanent Settlement
Slowly, the population increased and the first royal land grant in Grand
Cayman came in 1734, marking the first permanent settlement. Through
1800, the island continued to grow in population with the arrival of ship-
wrecked mariners and immigrants from Jamaica. Cayman Brac and Little
Cayman remained primarily uninhabited (some records show the tiny is-
lands were settled but residents were attacked by pirates), only visited by
turtle hunters during season.
For years, the Cayman Islands served as a magnet for pirates, and bucca-
neers such as Sir Henry Morgan enjoyed their sunny shores for at least
brief stopovers. During the American Revolution, American privateers
challenged English shipping, aided by the war ships and merchant ships of
France, Spain, and Holland. By 1782, peace came to the seas and bucca-
neering drew to a close.
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