Entering Bodden Town, road signs greet motorists with the words, “Welcome to Historic Bodden Town, first capital of the Cayman Islands.”
According to the National Trust, recounting Grand Cayman’s history would not be complete without recognizing that Bodden Town was the first settlement of any size on Grand Cayman. Located in the most fertile part of the island, it featured a reef-protected natural harbor. Originally known as “South Side,” as it is denoted on the earliest maps of Cayman, by the time it was visited by George Gauld, a British Navy surveyor, in 1773, about half of the island’s total population of 400 lived there, and the settlement was named from then on as Bodden Town.
The area’s large number of Boddens could be descendants of the first recorded inhabitant of Grand Cayman, Isaac Bodden, who was born in Cayman around 1700. According to historian Michael Craton, Isaac Bodden was described by George Gauld as the grandson of the original Bodden (whose name might have been Bowden, Bawden, Bourdon or even something else), likely a soldier from Cromwell’s disbanded army in Jamaica, who along with another ex-soldier traveled to East End in the mid-1600s to catch turtles.
“We can only speculate further that they and their families spent whole years, or several years at a time, on Grand Cayman, alternating between there and Jamaica until, in the second or third generation, they established permanent residence in Grand Cayman,” Mr. Craton writes in his book, “Founded Upon the Seas.”
Bodden Town served as the seat of Cayman’s government and was the home of Cayman’s second Chief Magistrate, William Bodden, whose tenure ran from 1798 to 1823. In the mid-1800s various government activities were held in the town but over the years, Bodden Town lost its prominence as the harbor silted in, and most trading took place in East End or Hog Sty Bay in George Town.
George Town became the new capital in the late 1800s. Historians however do not know the exact date the capital was moved, as no records have been found pinpointing the transition.