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Book Reviews


In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783. Michael Jarvis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. 684 pp. (Cloth US$ 65.00) One of the great paradoxes of Atlantic World history has been its focus on the land. Amidst the array of studies of North American colonies or European countries and regions in Atlantic perspective, very few have been explicitly maritime. In this magisterial study of the little island of Bermuda, Michael Jarvis sets out to address that lacuna. This is a big book in two senses. At more than 460 pages of text, supported by almost 200 more of extensive notes, the study promises a microstudy of a maritime society that is both comprehensive in its coverage and rich in detail. Yet this is more than an anatomy of one hundred years of a maritime community. Jarvis has grander ambitions too. Aiming to use Bermuda to explore wider historiographical debates, he positions his study at the intersection of maritime history, Atlantic history, and colonial American history (p. 1). In doing so, he posits Bermuda as a key nodal point in an American-Atlantic world. Across seven substantive chapters, plus an introduction, a conclusion, and an epilogue, Jarvis explores the lives of Bermudians. His first chapter sets the context by examining the colonys foundation and its early iteration as the colony of the Somers Island Company and, perhaps most strikingly, shows how remarkably successful were the early settlements, especially by comparison with the troubled early Virginia colony on the mainland. Indeed, until Virginia stabilized in the later 1620s, Jarvis argues, Bermuda led the way in the production of tobacco. It was also the earliest and largest slave importer in the British Atlantic before the sugar revolution transformed the demography of the Caribbean. Despite its success as a prototypical plantation colony, its diversification into the maritime business of ship-building and intercolonial trade meant that by the beginning of the study period, it came to resemble Massachusetts more closely than Virginia. For Jarvis, the end of Company rule (allied to the dynamism of the American colonies to the west) signalled the recasting of the governance and economy of the island. Throughout, Jarvis makes interesting and sometimes arresting points. His exploration of eighteenth-century slave sailors, for example, offers a markedly different perspective on Bermudian slavery from that of Mary Prince, whose later experiences tend to dominate conceptions of slave society in
2013 Douglas Hamilton DOI: 10.1163/22134360-12340021 This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) License,


Book Reviews

the island. He has much of interest to say about the trading orbit of the Bermudian merchants. Their mercantile realm was trans-American (and trans-imperial), and they moved seamlessly (not always legally) between the British, Dutch, and Danish empires. In this sense, the Bermudians world was western- rather than trans-Atlantic. The fourth chapter explores the notion of the Atlantic commons. Jarvis discusses the role of Bermudians in salt harvesting in the Turks and Caicos, salvage of shipwrecks (though here wrecking is discussed as a commons rather than a crime), foresting and wood cutting, whaling, and privateering. One might question the extent to which this last occupation ought to be conceptualized as the exploitation of a commons. Jarviss chapters are rich in detail but occasionally, as here, there is a sense that he has material he really wanted to include, without quite knowing where to place it. In Chapter 5, Jarvis paints a detailed portrait of Bermudian society, successfully melding a demographic study with a more cultural discussion of patterns of consumption, fashion, and architecture. Here we see who Bermudians were and how they lived. It was a strikingly youthful colony and one that was marked by a stark imbalance in the sexes. To historians of the Caribbean, the ratio of women to men in Bermuda (at nearly 2:1) is especially remarkable. It follows, then, that women played a particularly important part in Bermudian society. Fittingly, the largest part of this chapter is devoted to women as entrepreneurs, merchants, tavern and shop keepers, and to their management of families and households. Jarvis develops his discussion of families by assessing the Bermudian diaspora in the Americas. Like many recent historians, he lays considerable emphasis on the importance of kinship in underpinning Bermudian mercantile relationships. Interestingly, he also elides kinship with what he calls a quasi ethnicity based on common colonial origins. In doing so, he marks Bermudian networks as different from networks based on religion Jews, Quakers, and Huguenotsbut makes no real attempt to test his kinship and ethnicity arguments against the experiences of others, like the Irish or Scots, perhaps. He also presents Bermudians as successful. I would be interested to know what happened in close communities on Bermuda when things went wrong. That things might have gone wrong is suggested by the challenges mariners faced in the second half of the eighteenth century. With competition from larger colonial fleets and vessels, and rising prices, the Bermudians

Book Reviews


found themselves squeezed in the years before the American Revolution. After 1776, Jarvis argues, Bermudians found themselves caught between their reliance on North America for supplies and their legal obligations to Britain. Their response, unlike the Caribbean islands, was to turn to North America and to maintain trade connections, some of which supplied the Americans with access to French and Dutch colonial markets. Jarvis presents Bermuda as a remarkable, and in many ways unique node, in the western Atlantic. The island, he argues, was simultaneously central and marginal (p. 183). His anatomy of a small and often-overlooked colony, on the other hand, will become central to our understanding of the British Americas. It is a significant addition to the burgeoning scholarship in the field and ought to be essential reading for everyone interested in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Douglas Hamilton Department of History, University of Hull Hull, HU6 7RX, U.K.

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