The legacy of slavery is likely underestimated in Cayman and has repercussions that still influence society today, according to a prominent local historian.
Citing his own research, including more than 200 interviews with native Caymanians, Christopher Williams, a history professor at UCCI, said that many Caymanians continue to downplay the influence of slavery on the islands.
There were slaves working in Cayman, first on logging crews and later on cotton plantations, right up to emancipation in 1834. From 1802-1834, there were more slaves than free people in the islands.
Williams argues this means that Cayman was a ‘slave society’. However, more than 90% of people interviewed during his research – all of whom could trace their Caymanian ancestors back for three generations – believed that slavery was “not an important feature” in Cayman’s past.
He acknowledges this is likely because slavery in Cayman lacked the brutality and scale of the institution in neighbouring Jamaica, where slaves outnumbered free people by more than 100-to-one in some areas.
He said there was merit to the idea that “slaves and masters were likelier to have worked together in a spirit of collaboration given the material and general hardships that generally define Cayman society”.
Nonetheless, Williams argues that slavery was a significant element of Cayman society for many years and that racism, segregation and prejudice flowed from that in future generations.
He said this was still happening today, arguing that prominent stereotypes – including discrimination against some Caymanians in the workplace – stemmed from those prejudices.
He said this bled into many aspects of life in modern multi-cultural Cayman.
“Subtle ‘race think’ is alive and well in Cayman,” he added.
- This article is part of a short series based on some of the presentations from a symposium titled “JA Roy Bodden Public Intellectual: Interrogating the Cayman Society” held at the Harquail Theatre in Grand Cayman on 24 and 25 June. Many of the lectures were influenced or inspired by author and historian Bodden. To watch the full event go to the government’s YouTube channel.