- In the Eye of All Trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783 by Michael J. Jarvis
Jarvis’ In the Eye of All trade: Bermuda, Bermudians, and the Maritime Atlantic World, 1680-1783 aims to present Bermuda’s unique history from a distinctly maritime perspective, and in so doing stress the importance of Bermuda’s role in the emerging international relations of the early colonial Atlantic. Jarvis not only succeeds in presenting a compelling chronological history of Bermuda and Bermudians, but also relocates the island physically and ideologically at the heart of Colonial and Atlantic Studies.
Jarvis describes his book as “a maritime social history” (p. 6) located at the intersection of Atlantic studies, local and maritime history. It contributes to an increasing body of historical scholarship based on interdisciplinary research. In fact, one of the many strengths of the book relates to the author’s own physical and academic journey of discovery that started with an archeological excavation in Bermuda and moved him around various American, Caribbean and European regions and [End Page 296] disciplines where he paid careful attention to how those regions were connected in ways that national narratives often obscure or erase altogether. The result is a book that exceeds academic standards of scholarship. After completing it, a reader can appreciate just how important Bermuda, and more importantly, Bermudians were in the ideological and political shaping of emerging New World economies and international relations.
In an extremely effective introduction, the author chooses to foreground Eaton’s map of the Atlantic that orients the landmass of South America to the left and North America to the right, placing Bermuda as the Atlantic gatekeeper between the European known-world and the trading hubs of the Caribbean and Americas (p. 3). It makes the author’s intentions clear; he plans to disorient his readers. The following seven sizable chapters then compel his readers to reinterpret what they think they know about Atlantic history by placing Bermuda at the centre of trans-Atlantic activity. Chapter 1 starts with the discovery of the uninhabited island in 1505 and the subsequent chapters are organized by chronological sequence starting with colonization, and moving from the beginnings of sustained maritime activity into a period of flourishing maritime economy with a focus on seafaring people and the migration and trade patterns that connected them, and finally closing with chapters dedicated to the Bermudian response to political change during the American Revolution and the consequent decline of the island’s maritime activity. An engaging epilogue brings the history up to 1830 and the conclusion stresses the author’s intention to present the complexities of the lives and determination of “largely anonymous individuals [who] shaped colonial expansion” (p. 459).
The author, with his endearing tone of quiet authority, recognizes the considerable historical achievements of Bermudian forefathers, but also stresses the many untold stories of hardship, manipulation and anxiety that poor Bermudian men, women and children experienced. He furthermore, acknowledges “the untellable tales of the many who died” (p. 347). Jarvis skillfully reminds a reader throughout the book that Bermudian families comprise more than the male figurehead that census records and colonial documents care to acknowledge. The family network, Jarvis explains, was absolutely central to social and international cohesion. Young children were employed in menial but critical tasks relating to local communication, domestic work, farming and construction. Older daughters and sons migrated and married to strengthen trade networks and build for increased capacity. Enslaved men became masters of navigation and commerce as a result of the work they did as crew-members in trading, whaling, privateering, and wreck-diving voyages in addition to skills they gained in carpentry and technology through [End Page 297] their role in local construction of the famous Bermuda sloops. Enslaved women performed work essential to local agriculture and helped to foment a strong barter economy that reduced reliance on food imports and the British currency in critical times of...