Finding Cornish Connections
As part of a wider campaign to raise the awareness, knowledge and understanding of the relationship that exists between the Cayman Islands and Great Britain, the Cayman Islands Government has made connections to Cornwall to search for ancestral roots
Connection with the London Cornish Association
On Saturday 21 April Mr Eric Bush gave a talk at the London Cornish Association Family History Day about the Cayman Islands Cornish Connection.
Eric spoke to members about Cayman Islands Connections to Cornwall and encouraged engagement with anyone interested in the Cayman Islands. Members shared their stories and knowledge of Cayman and shared any contacts of people who may have family ancestors with the Cayman islands first settlers!
See more HERE
The Cayman Islands search for ancestors in the UK
According to legend, the first settlers of the Cayman Islands were a Cornishman called ‘Bawden’ and a Welshman called ‘Walter’ – both said to have been members of Cromwell’s forces in the West Indies.
Bawden was one of the 3000 marines who sailed as part of Oliver Cromwell’s “Western Design ” expedition to the Caribbean to attack Spanish colonies in 1655. This was at the height of the Anglo-Spanish war and their mission was to capture and recapture as many territories as they could.
Bodden and Walter were likely to have been deserters from Cromwell’s forces when they landed on what is now Grand Cayman. Unable to read or write, their names were subsequently morphed into ‘Bodden’ and ‘Watler’. Bodden was part of a large number of Cornishmen that were enlisted as Marines – mainly due to their seafaring expertise and sheer resilience and hardiness. Again – these are traits that we see coming through in Cayman history and is very much evident today.
Little if anything is known about what happened after Bodden settled on the Islands – but he clearly survived and in 1734 his grandson Isaac Bodden became the first officially recorded inhabitant.
Isaac was married to another Caymanian Sarah Lamar and his name was given to the settlement of Old Isaacs on Grand Cayman.
The early settlers made a small living from catching turtles and other types of fishing, growing crops and raising pigs. This last practice gave its name to Hogstyes, a settlement on the west of Grand Cayman. Many early settlers also seem to have come in search of Mahogany. A hard wood, Mahogany has always been valued for making high quality furniture and fittings. People cut Mahogany and sent it to Jamaica and back to England.
Most settlers of the Cayman Islands were subsistence farmers, meaning that they only grew enough food to feed themselves and produced very little, or often nothing, to sell to other people. This meant that the people of the Cayman Islands were very poor.
Today Bodden is a well-known and common name in the Islands.
Tracing Cayman Roots
Although the Cayman Islands today is widely recognized around the world – there is a gap when it comes to a clear narrative of our history and where we came from.
Cayman history, as you will see, is rich and full of wonderful stories from Christopher Columbus, piracy tales to mythical creatures – it has it all. And it all began with a Cornishman called Bodden or Bawden.
It’s incredible to think that there are Cornish men and women who do not realize that their ancestors help found a country in the Caribbean 360 years ago. They could be in Truro, Penzance or Bodmin and their long lost cousins are 5000 miles away having made a new life and created their Cornwall in the Caribbean.
This was the driver of the Cayman Islands campaign to trace the roots of the Islands and set about trying to find ancestors of the first Bodden.
Initial research was done by looking through archives and searching sites like Ancestry.com. Research showed there were only about 100 people with the Bodden last name living in Britain with around 1,500 Bawdens across the Country – but with a high concentration in Cornwall.
In April 2017, we set off to the Duchy on our journey to connect to our past. Our mission was threefold:
- To find any possible relatives of the original Boddens or Bawdens,
- To strengthen the links between Cornwall and Cayman and look to foster closer ties going forward,
- And lastly – to tell a wonderful story.
When we set out on our mission, one of the first obstacles we had to get overcome was the lack of data and records in concerning Cayman. Much of the oldest demographic data was lost in a fire in Jamaica in the 1970s.
Cornish Connections – Culture
Just like Cornwall – Cayman culture is rich and diverse – but underlined with a strong sense of bring British. There are many shared traits with Cornwall not least food, music, rugby and our local dialect.
One of the most obvious similarities is the Cayman equivalent of the Cornish Pasty. Cayman Patties – usually filled with meat, are a staple and favourite snack on the Islands. And just like Cornwall, we take our Patties very seriously!
Patties are just one part of the Cayman Islands food success stories. In the last 10 years Cayman has built a reputation as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, winning plaudits for the quality, authenticity and international standards of its food and restaurants.
Food has become a quintessential part of the Cayman Islands experience. Grand Cayman alone boasts in excess of two hundred restaurants serving local and international cuisine.
Beer and brewing is another shared trait. We are proud of our local Caybrew – made on the Island by the The Cayman Islands Brewery – which has become our most successful exports. In fact, we have been looking at doing establishing a partnership between CIB and St Austell as part of our Cornish Connection.
Rugby has become a growing sport in Cayman.
Cayman is one of the only Caribbean Islands to have its own distinctive musical style. The fiddle plays a key part in our sound and certainly tips a nod to our Cornish connections.
Traditional Caymanian music also bears testimony to the direct links between Cornwall and the Cayman Islands. Kitchen Band or Kitchen dance music is uniquely Caymanian, bringing together the fiddle (which could have been Cornish or Gaelic) along with the rhythms of Africa. There is no other Caribbean Island that features the fiddle as the centre of its traditional music genre. This is therefore uniquely Caymanian.
The music gets its name from when families gathered in the detached kitchens to eat, partake in a little libation, and dance to the music of a fiddler who would be joined by someone playing a grater, a cow skin or goat skin drum, and perhaps a guitar.
As small as Cayman was, each district contained multiple fiddlers of varying ability, with the best amongst them being chosen to perform at major community events. The most popular dance style was the quadrille, which has also been passed down over generations. We know that this dance would be familiar to the people of Cornwall so the links to the Cayman Islands and Cornwall are strongly evidenced through celebrations of traditional music and dancing.
Finally – we share many colloquialisms and sayings. A good example is Areckly – which is the equivalent of Dreckly – meaning I’m coming soon!
Cornish Connections – Pirates
Much like Cornwall, the Cayman Islands has a strong association with the golden age of pirates.
Whilst it is clear that pirates operated around the Cayman Islands and, like other European Sailors, they probably stopped there to get food and water, there is no evidence that any pirate called the Cayman Islands home.
In 1717 pirates captured a small ship off Grand Cayman; they were led by a man called Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, the most famous pirate of all. This was very early in his pirating career.
Other instances of pirates on the islands include the Morning Star, a pirate ship under the command of Thomas Anstis running aground on the island and many of its crew were captured shortly afterwards by the Royal Navy. The pirates Ned Low and George Lowther also established their partnership on Grand Cayman. The last pirate known to have operated in the Cayman Islands during the Golden Age of Piracy was Neal Walker in 1730, who stole a considerable amount of treasure from ships that had been wrecked on the islands.
However, piracy has occurred more recently in the islands when a Cuban ship was attacked in 1933 and the leader, Gideon Ebanks, hid out in the mangrove swamps of Grand Cayman from the authorities.
Just like in Penzance, each year we host a Pirates Week Festival, the island’s largest festival, held in November. It’s one of highlights of Cayman’s social calendar and a reminder of Islands’ legendary pirate occupation in the 18th Century which the tales of treasure caches left behind by Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Neal Walker, and Henry Morgan.