Exuma was settled in or around 1783 by American loyalists fleeing the Revolutionary War. The expatriates brought a cotton plantation economy to the islands. George Town was named in honor of George III, to whom the settlers maintained their loyalty.
Lord John Rolle, a major Loyalist settler of the Exumas, is a major figure in the islands' heritage. Upon his death in 1835, he bestowed all of his significant Exuma land holdings to his slaves. As a result, a number of towns on Great Exuma have been named after him (such as Rolleville and Rolletown).
The islands are a popular spot for yachting, sailing, diving, and coral reef and cave exploring. Many of the unnamed beaches and coves of the islands, including extensive offshore reef areas, are included in the protected Exuma National Land and Sea Park of the Bahamas National Trust. Some of the islands on which there are permanent residents and resorts include Staniel Cay (home of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, a fixture in the Exumas), Fowl Cay, Musha Cay and Iguana Cay. Thunderball Grotto, located just a few hundred yards off Staniel Cay, is one location where the James Bond film Thunderball was filmed. Sandy Cay, just a short boat ride from Little Exuma was the location used for filming the Pirates of the Caribbean beach scenes and one Shell commercial.
One of the more beautiful Islands is Shroud Cay which has nothing on it other than beautiful beaches and landscape. This Cay is especially enjoyable for those who enjoy boating or jet skiing through the streams that run throughout the island.
The Exumas are the historic home of the Lucayan Indians, who were wholly enslaved in the 1500s, leaving the islands uninhabited until the 1700s. In the intervening period, the Exumas provided many hideouts and stashes for pirates. Elizabeth Harbor was a favorite lair of Captain Kidd.
In light of the relatively low cost of purchasing islands and the relatively low Bahamian tax regime for non-locals, a number of celebrities own islands in the Exumas. These include: