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The Cayman Islands are a British Crown Colony located in the northern part of the Caribbean. The Cayman Islands consist of three islands: Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. The capital is George Town, on Grand Cayman.
Christopher Columbus sighted the Caymans during his 1503 voyage, naming them "Las Tortugas" because of the large number of turtles he found there. By 1530 the islands were known as the Caymanus, a name that may have derived from confusion between the iguana, which is found on the islands, and the alligator (cayman in Spanish).
No serious effort was made to settle the islands in the first decades after European discovery. Ships of various nations stopped at the Caymans to get food, mainly turtles. Both groups of islands became haunts for pirates, particularly the Turks and Caicos. From there, raiders attacked Spanish galleons sailing from Cuba, Hispaniola (the island containing present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Central America en route to Europe. The earliest European settlers in both territories were a mixture of buccaneers, shipwrecked sailors, and debtors.
Spain held early control over the Caymans, but the islands were ceded by Spain to the English crown in 1670 under the terms of the Treaty of Madrid. The first English settlement took place in 1734 after the first land grant. After 1734 most of the colonists came from Jamaica, and the Caymans became a dependency of Jamaica. The islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were settled in 1833 by several families from Grand Cayman, but no administrative connection existed until a justice of the peace arrived on Cayman Brac in 1877. Sailing ships continued to visit the islands into the nineteenth century, but later steamships stopped rarely. Life in the Caymans was generally quiet until the middle of the twentieth century.
Both the Caymans and the Turks and Caicos remained formal Jamaican dependencies until 1959, and the governor of Jamaica held responsibility for them until Jamaican independence in 1962. At that point, both territories became separate British dependencies. The Caymans created a separate constitution in 1959, and a British administrator was appointed for the Caymans in 1962 (the title was changed to governor in 1971). The 1959 Constitution was revised in 1972. The Turks and Caicos received their own governor in 1972 and established a new constitution in 1976.
In the late 1980s, the Cayman Islands were politically stable and highly prosperous by Caribbean standards. Tourism and offshore banking and financial services, the latter made possible by the islands' tax-haven status, were the two main industries.
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