The first European sighting of the Cayman Islands was by Christopher Columbus on his fourth and final voyage in 1503, who named Cayman Brac and Little Cayman “Las Tortugas.” These islands later became known as Caymanas, after a species of crocodile inhabiting the island. The Spanish Crown made no efforts to settle the region, and the islands were not thoroughly explored until 1585, when Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area and noted that the crocodiles were good to eat. In 1670, the Treaty of Madrid officially transferred possession of the Cayman Islands to Britain, and for several hundred years, the Cayman Islands were administered as a dependency of Jamaica, also owned by the British. Around 1700, a permanent settlement was established on Grand Cayman. Slavery was practiced, but slaves were limited in number and lived under good conditions in comparison to other plantation colonies in the West Indies. In 1831, the Legislative Assembly that now governs Cayman was established in George Town and granted authority over local issues.

For the next two centuries, Caymanians remained a small, mostly self-sufficient outpost of the British Empire. The majority of local economy depended on the sea, with sailing and fishing being two of the most common professions. When Jamaica gained independence in 1962, the Cayman Islands chose to remain a colony of the British Crown, which it remains to this day. Today, George Town’s economy is much more dependent on finance and tourism than seafaring, with over 600 banking companies located within the small city.