The first Cayman land grants by the English Crown were made in 1734 and it is likely that these first settlers brought slaves. The holdings were granted to Campbell, Middleton, Bodden, Spofforth, Foster and Crymble. In 1773, the cartographer George Gauld drew the first map of Grand Cayman for the Royal Navy. He made a note in the margin, marking the population at 400 – half free and half slaves.
By 1802, when Edward Corbett did his census, the population of Grand Cayman had grown to 933, of which 545 were slaves. Interestingly, only two of the original founding families (Foster and Bodden) still remain.
It is possible some of these families returned to Jamaica with their slaves having found Cayman unsuitable for planting on a large scale. According to Bertie Ebanks’ book ‘Cayman Emerges’, there were no more than 985 slaves, out of a total population of 2,000, when slavery was officially abolished in 1833, resulting in a ratio of about one slave to one non-slave.
This makes Cayman very unusual compared to other Caribbean islands, particularly Jamaica, where the ratio was 10 slaves to 1 free man at the time of emancipation. In exchange for their freedom, the claims of all the 116 Caymanian slave-owners totalled 447,765 Pounds Sterling.
To this day, Cayman has very good race relations and according to the author Gary Lee Roper, quoting from his book ‘Antebellum Slavery’, “Grand Cayman differs greatly from its neighbour Jamaica, in that there were no large plantations on the three small Cayman Islands, slaves were limited to the trades and domestic arts.”
This is part of what differentiates the Cayman Islands from other slave-owning nations in this time period. Although slavery existed in Cayman for about a century, it was not ultimately able to prosper because the main sources of industry on the island were not in areas that were conducive to slave trade, such as farming and agriculture.