The original settler name Heneagua was derived from a Spanish expression meaning 'water is to be found there'. Two names of apparent Lucayan origin, Inagua (meaning "Small Eastern Island") and Baneque (meaning "Big Water Island"), were used by the Spanish to refer to Great Inagua.
Between the years of 1500 and 1825, many documented treasure laden ships were destroyed on Inaguan reefs. The two most valuable wrecks lost off the Inaguas were treasure-laden Spanish galleons: the Santa Rosa in 1599; and the Infanta in 1788. Other ships of considerable value that were wrecked there include the French Le Count De Paix in 1713, the British HMS Lowestoffe in 1801, and the British HMS Statira in 1815.
Henri Christophe, king of northern Haiti from 1811 to 1820, built a summer retreat at the Northeast Point of Great Inagua. Local legend has it that he also buried a cache of gold there.
By 1918, after the end of World War I, lower salt prices and competition had driven the small producers on Great Inagua out of business, and the salt works were abandoned except for incidental local use.