The two islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman appeared on a 1523 map and by 1530 were named Caymanas, derived from the Carib Indian word for the marine crocodile.
In 1802, when the first census of the island was taken the population on Grand Cayman was recorded as 933, of whom 545 were slaves. Before slavery was abolished in 1834, there were over 950 slaves owned by just 116 families and it was the release of these slaves that paved the way for development of a homogeneous society.
While Cayman was always regarded as a dependency of Jamaica, the reins of government were loosely held in the early years, and the tradition of self-government became evident with matters of public concern decided at meetings of all free males.
The constitutional relationship between Cayman and Jamaica remained somewhat ambiguous until 1863 when an act of the British parliament made the relationship formal; Cayman Islands was a dependency of Jamaica. When Jamaica achieved independence in 1962, the Islands opted to remain under the British Crown, and an administrator (in 1971 the title became Governor) appointed from London assumed the responsibilities previously held by the governor of Jamaica.
On May 10, 1503 Christopher Columbus was on his fourth and final voyage to the New World when a chance wind blew his ship off course… Intending to sail to Hispaniola (present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), he was thrust towards two islands; Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. In 1523, a map was drawn and shows all three islands under the name “Lagartos,” which translates to alligators or large lizards. By 1530, the islands were called the “Caimanas”— derived from the Carib Indian word for the marine crocodile that formerly inhabited the islands… over time, “Caimanas” evolved to the Cayman Islands as we know them today.
Another early English visitor to the islands was Sir Francis Drake, who on his voyage in 1585-86 reported seeing "great serpents called Caimanas, like large lizards, which are edible." It was the islands' ample turtle population that made the islands a popular calling place for ships sailing the Caribbean, as often they were in need of meat for their crews.
The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th century until the first known settlers- likely deserters from Oliver Cromwell’s army in the British colony in Jamaica -arrived in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac in around 1658. Many of the early inhabitants were also Britons from Jamaica. Some early residents were believed to be pirates that settled down in the hope of a more peaceful life.
Isaac Bodden was born in around 1700, and became the first recorded permanent inhabitant of the Cayman Islands. He was the grandson of an 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 British descent, with considerable interracial mixing; combine this with turtle fishermen, slaves, shipwrecked sailors, and refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and you end up with the unique heritage found the Cayman Islands’ diverse today.