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The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union located in the western Caribbean Sea. The territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, located south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. The Cayman Islands are considered to be part of the geographic Western Caribbean Zone as well as the Greater Antilles. The territory is a major world offshore financial centre.
The Cayman Islands were first logged as sighted by Christopher Columbus on 10 May 1503 during his fourth and final voyage to the New World. He named the islands Las Tortugas after the large number of sea turtles observed there. The first recorded English visitor to the islands was Sir Francis Drake in 1586. He subsequently named the islands "Cayman" after caiman, the Neo-Taino nations' nomenclature for "crocodile".
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 made their home on the islands. This grouping of people from various backgrounds included pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica.
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, under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Following several unsuccessful attempts at settlement, residency in the islands began in the 1730s. With settlement after the first royal land grant proscribed 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 slaves. Slavery was abolished in Cayman Islands 1834. At the time of abolition, there were over 950 slaves owned by 116 Caymanian families. The islands continued to be governed as a single colony with Jamaica until 1962 when they became a separate Crown colony while Jamaica became an independent Commonwealth realm.
The Cayman Islands historically have been a tax-exempt destination. On February 8, 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, his son Prince William. While this remains a popular legend, Queen Elizabeth II herself, along with various history books, state the story is not true.
The island of Grand Cayman, which lies largely unprotected at sea level, was hit by Hurricane Ivan on 11–12 September 2004. Ivan's storm surge completely over-washed Grand Cayman, and an estimated 95% of the buildings on the island were either damaged or destroyed. Power, water and communications were disrupted in some areas for months as Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit the islands in 87 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 hurricane 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.