The island’s area is 10.3 km² and it is inhabited by about 5,000 people. At its largest width, it is 3.5 km and at its largest lengths it is 5.1 km. Approximately half of Big Corn Island lies beneath the 2-m contour line. In the case of a sea level rise of just 0.5 one-third of the island would flood. On the island are two hills: Mount Pleasant in the northern part (90 metres) and Quinn Hill (50 metres) in the southern part.
The history of the Corn Islands during the age of colonization is impressive. Although the history of the Corn Islands is connected with the history of the Nicaraguan mainland, it has its specialities as a result of its geographical location on the shipping route between the New World and Europe.
The islands were first inhabited by the Kukra Indians who originally came from Pearl Lagoon, on Nicaragua´s west coast. It is said that they were cannibals. Hence, the islands were called "Skeleton Islands."
In 1502, Christopher Columbus was the first European who reached Nicaragua. However, the area which was of most interest to the Spanish conquistadores was the Pacific region and not the Caribbean region. In 1524, the first Spanish settlements were founded in the Pacific region of Granada and Leon. Granada was an important merchant centre and port on the merchant route from the New World to Spain handling different kinds of merchant goods, as well as gold and silver coins.
The Spanish conquistadores were not interested in settling on the islands. Due to this lack of government, the islands could turn into a popular hideout for pirates (also called buccaneers) who robbed Spanish ships on their way to Europe. British, French and Dutch pirates, as well as Miskito Indians, used the islands as a safe haven and supply station, dominating and enslaving the Kukra Indians. Finally, the Kukra civilisation was destroyed by the superiority of the pirates. From their Atlantic base, the pirates also invaded the city of Granada twice, in 1658 and 1660. The period during which pirates were most successful was from the 1660s to 1730s.
The first Africans
The first Africans on the island are reported in 1641 when a Portuguese slave ship sank near the mainland´s coast. They were brought onto the islands as slaves.
The Corn Islands, along with the eastern half of present-day Nicaragua, were a British protectorate from 1655 until 1860, a period when the region was called the Mosquito Coast. It is said that the origin of the name „Corn“ Island comes from the fact that the pirates also stored meat which is "carne" in Spanish. The British pronounced the word like "corn". The Mosquito Coast remained autonomous from 1860 until the Nicaraguan government annexed the region in 1894. The Atlantic Coast has been forcibly incorporated into Nicaragua by President Jose Santos Zelaya. Robert Henry Clarence, son of Chief William Henry Clarence of the Twaska-Miskito group, is deposed by the Nicaraguans and rescued by a British warship, along with a core group of two hundred supporters. He retains his title, and remains head of the royal house until his death. In Miskito itself, hundreds of deaths are alleged during the Nicaraguan takeover, along with the burning of libraries and records. The kingdom is renamed as the department of Zelaya.
United States Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933. In 1914 (ratification in 1916), the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty was signed and the Corn islands were leased for a period of 99 years to the United States for use as a naval base. Additionally, the United States got the perpetual option to purchase the Nicaraguan canal site. This lease was terminated in 1971, under the presidency of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Except for building a lighthouse on Little Corn, the United States did not take over the land covered by the lease.
Due to its history English is widely spoken along with the official Spanish.