Tag: Christopher Columbus

The Cayman Islands are found in the western Caribbean Sea. This British Overseas Territory is made up of three islands: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac.

English: Cayman Islands National Museum in Geo...
Cayman Islands National Museum in George Town, Grand Cayman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discovery of the Cayman Islands is attributed to Christopher Columbus, who sighted them in May of 1503, on his fourth voyage to the New World. He originally gave the islands the name “Las Tortugas” as the coasts were dotted with huge sea turtles. When Sir Francis Drake arrived on the islands in 1586, he promptly changed their name to “Cayman”- a derivative of the local word for “alligator”.

As with many of the Caribbean Islands, the Caymans went largely undeveloped and uninhabited until the middle of the 17th century. A few hardy stragglers had made the islands their home, including a few shipwrecked sailors, various pirate crews, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, and a number of deserters from Oliver Cromwell’s army stationed in nearby Jamaica.

The Cayman Islands officially came under British rule in 1760, under the Treaty of Madrid. While the British officially controlled the island, all attempts at settlement were frustrated for the next few decades. The three islands were popular pirate haunts, and piracy largely prevented any permanent settlement. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1730s that the British moved in and established an official English-speaking settlement.

As the settlement grew, so too did the Cayman Islanders’ demand for slaves. Before long, more than half of the islands’ population was made up of African slaves. When the first census of Grand Cayman was taken in 1802, records showed that out of the 933 residents, 545 of them were slaves owned by Caymanian families. This is reflected in the today’s population, as the majority of modern Caymanians are of English and African descent, with a large degree of interracial mixing.

Hell Post Office, Cayman Islands
Hell Post Office, Cayman Islands (Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn)

From 1670 onward, the Cayman Islands were technically considered a dependency of Jamaica; however, the islands were largely self-governed. In 1831, local residents established a legislative assembly consisting of 10 elected representatives along with eight local magistrates appointed by the Governor of Jamaica. Overall, Jamaica interfered little with the governance of the Caymans.

The Cayman Islands continued to be loosely governed by the Colony of Jamaica until Jamaica was granted its independence in 1962. At this time, the Cayman Islands were designated as a separate Crown Colony.

Today, the Cayman Islands are considered a non-self-governing British Overseas Territory. A governor is appointed by the Queen, and represents the British monarchy on the Islands. The Islands are officially defended by the Crown, though the British government interferes little in the running of the country.

The population of the Cayman Islands sits at around 56,000. The population is largely of mixed heritage, with nearly 60% being of African-Caucasian ethnicities.

Relics of Empire: The British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands can be found in the Caribbean, and constitute a portion of the Virgin Islands Archipelago. While the whole territory is generally referred to as the “Virgin Islands”, ownership of the chain is divided between Britain, America, and Spain. Thus, most use the term “British Virgin Islands” or “BVI” to distinguish the British Overseas Territory from the other territories.

Road Town, Tortola, BVI - 2005
Road Town, Tortola, BVI – 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The islands were first sighted by Christopher Columbus as he was making his second voyage to the New World. He dubbed the islands Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Virgenes (Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins). Obviously, the unwieldy name was quickly shortened to The Virgins.

As with many islands in the Caribbean, the Spanish initially laid claim to the Virgin Islands in the early 16th century; however, no attempt was made at settlement. Throughout the next few decades, the powers of Europe all struggled over ownership and control over the islands. The English, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, and French all laid claim to the islands at one point or another, but for many years, the Virgins were little more than a popular pirate haunt.

The first official settlement was established by the Dutch in 1648 on the island of Tortola. English forces were able to capture Tortola in 1672 at the beginning of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The British were able to use Tortola as a strategic base from which they were able to annex Virgin Gorda, Anegada and the rest of the British Virgin Islands in 1680.

Though the British now held full control over the Territory, immigration was slow and few cared to stay long. Many settlers feared the instability of the region, and anticipated attacks by the Spanish or the Dutch. By 1685, the population was reduced to two: an undaunted Mr. Jonathan Turner and his wife. After 1690, however, the British Virgin Islands saw a dramatic upswing in population growth and by 1696, the total number was up to fifty.

With a steadily growing population on the islands, the British appointed a deputy-governor to manage the territory. The role was little more than nominal, with no real power behind the title. People on the islands lived however they wanted, without a law or government. The islands continued this way for over 100 years.

The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands.
The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As sugar was a major industry on the island, much of the BVI economy was built on the back of slave labour. Tortola and Virgin Gorda in particular were settled primarily by plantation owners who brought in massive numbers of African slaves. By 1756, the slave population on the islands was at 6,121.

While the emancipation of 1834 released all slaves on the islands, evidence of the massive slave population is still very clearly seen in the modern demographics. The population of the BVI today is around 21,730, and approximately 83.4% are of African descent. Roughly 7% of the population is of British or European origin, while the remaining 9.6% is Carib, Indian and mixed-race Hispanic.

After emancipation, the islands struggled economically for many years. Plantations were no longer economically viable, and many owners simply picked up and went home to England. Decline and disorder followed, and emigration was high until local community leaders stood up and insisted on change.

Conditions in the territory have since improved drastically, thanks to better government and the advent of the offshore financial services industry. Today, the BVI is in the lead as one of the top global offshore financial centres.

Relics of Empire: Anguilla

The British Overseas Territory of Anguilla was first settled by Amerindian tribes from South America; however, it was first discovered by Europeans sometime in the 15th or 16th century. Its actual discovery has long been in debate. Some suggest that it was first sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, while others claim that the island was discovered and named by French explorer Pierre Laudonnaire in 1565.

English: Island Harbour, Anguilla
Island Harbour, Anguilla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regardless of the original discovery, the island of Anguilla sat untouched for nearly a century. There have been some claims that the Dutch built a fort on Anguilla two decades earlier; however, little more is known, and no trace remains to verify the claims.

Anguilla likely went uncolonized for so long due to the notoriously wild and fierce Caribs who controlled the island. The Caribs were known cannibals who had wrested the island from its original Amerindian settlers. It wasn’t until 1650 that English settlers arrived and dared to face down the Caribs.

The first English settlers arrived from the nearby colony of Saint Kitts. They established a settlement and began growing crops of tobacco and corn; however, early life on Anguilla was far from easy. In 1656, the colony was attacked by invading Carib Indians who destroyed crops and settlements and slaughtered many settlers. In 1666, French forces attacked and captured the island.

French rule was short lived, and the English soon regained control through the Treaty of Breda in 1667. Hardships increased, and the settlers were soon facing drought, poor crop yields and crippling famine; yet the colonists hung on resolutely. Throughout this time, the island was governed by the British through Antigua.

The initial settlers were followed in 1688 by a host of Irish invaders who were fleeing the religious persecution of Cromwell’s government. In Anguilla, these refugees found a British territory where they could live and worship in peace.

Battle of St. Kitts, 1782, as described by an ...
Battle of St. Kitts, 1782, as described by an observer in a French engraving titled “Attaque de Brimstomhill”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the 1700s, the French and English forces continued to fight over ownership of the island – and ultimately for control of the Caribbean. The French tried again and again to invade and capture Anguilla, with major attempts made in 1745 and 1796. These attempts failed and the British maintained control of the island.

In 1824, administrative control of Anguilla was transferred to nearby St. Kitts. The government attempted to develop the island’s infrastructure by building up a plantation-based economy. Planters arrived, bringing African slaves to man the plantations; however, attempts at agriculture were largely unsuccessful due to poor soil and an adverse climate. Once slavery was abolished by the British in 1830, many plantation owners left Anguilla and returned to England, causing a drastic decline in population. The remaining population of 2000 was made up mostly of freed slaves.

When St. Kitts was granted full internal autonomy in 1967, Anguilla was incorporated into the newly created dependency along with the island of Nevis. The dependency was dubbed Saint Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla – much to the chagrin of the Anguillan population.

After an Anguillan rebellion in 1967, a full-scale revolution in 1969, and a brief foray into self-declared independence, the British government stepped in and restored authority over the island. Anguilla was eventually allowed to secede from Nevis and St. Kitts, and in 1980, it was officially declared a full British colony.


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