The beautiful Cayman Islands were discovered thanks to a little detour caused by rough winds. On May 10, 1503, Christopher Columbus was voyaging to Hispaniola (also known as the Dominican Republic) when his ship was blown off its course and he came across the islands. He named them "Las Tortugas," honoring the vast population of tortoises. A robust tortoise population contributed to the island's popularity, as people used them for food and trade.
In the 1530s, the name of the islands was changed to "Cayman," which was Carib for "marine crocodiles," which also inhabited the islands at that time. Although today these crocodiles are no longer seen on the islands, results of a 1993 archeological dig prove their existence.
The first settlement was made on the tiny islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac during the tenure of Sir Thomas Modyford as Governor of Jamaica. Shortly after this, the islands were captured by the Spanish and Modyford had to send his men back to Jamaica. In 1670, the Treaty of Madrid made the islands a British possession.
Breaching the treaty, the British plundered the islands to restock their vessels. It was not long before pirates such as Blackbeard came to the islands, and repelled the British forces. Frequent pirate attacks led to the tiny islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac being uninhabited for a long period of time.
Many years later, in 1734, the Governor of Jamaica bequeathed a royal grant of land to the islands. It covered 3,000 acres of land in the area between Prospect and North Sound. Thanks to this grant, the Cayman Islands recovered their popularity.
February 8, 1794 marks the day of the favorite legend of the Caymanians, The Wreck of the Ten Sail. On this day, ten ships sailing from Jamaica to England crashed upon the reef of Gun Bay, located at the eastern part of Grand Cayman. As it was about to crash, the first ship tried to warn the others of the reef, but the signal was misinterpreted, and one by one, all the ships were destroyed. Thankfully, Caymanians acted quickly, and were able to save most of the crew on board. This tale not only demonstrates the bravery and kindness of the Caymanian people, but also of their livelihood at sea.
The Cayman people's ties to the sea became an economic boost for the country in the years during World War II, when a need for skilled seamen brought a great number of employment opportunities to the island.
The Wreck of the Ten Sail holds a soft spot in so many Caymanians' hearts for another reason as well. Legend tells that King George III was so taken with the people's bravery that he decreed that the island would be forever free from both taxes and mandatory military service.
But perhaps, it's King George's decree that made the biggest impact in the island's history. Its tax neutral status makes the Caymans a particularly appealing place for financial institutions to do business. A branch of Barclays was the first commercial bank to open in 1953, and since then the Caymans has grown to rival Switzerland in offshore banking due to the passing of the Banks and Trust Companies Law in 1966. As of 2017 there were 158 banks scattered throughout the islands, a staggering figure for a population just shy of 61,000 people
The Cayman Islands' first foray into the world of tourism came in 1950 when developer Benson Greenall built the Galleon Beach hotel on Seven Mile Beach. And in the 1960s, George Town welcomed its first handful of cruise ships.
Seven Mile Beach has grown to become the Cayman Islands' premier destination with big name hotels continuing to pop up along the coast. Notably, a luxe Ritz-Carlton in 2006, the chic Kimpton Seafire in 2016 and a Grand Hyatt in the works for 2020.
Today, the Cayman Islands are governed by England, and attract numerous tourists with their exquisite beaches and beautiful culture.
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