"In the eye of all trade": Maritime revolution and the transformation of Bermudian society, 1612--1800

Michael J. Jarvis, College of William & Mary - Arts & Sciences


This study examines the settlement of the British colony of Bermuda in 1612 and its development to 1800. Drawing heavily on primary sources, it is the first social and economic history of the island and an exploration of trade and migration within a pan-colonial network. The purpose of this dissertation is to bring Bermuda's history to the attention of colonial historians and to map connections between Europe's colonies within the Atlantic world.;Part I examines Bermuda's initial settlement and its development under the Somers Island Company. The first English colony to successfully cultivate tobacco and to import slave labor, Bermudian society was demographically successful, Puritan in character, agrarian in focus, and economically self-sufficient. During the English Civil War, the colony enjoyed considerable autonomy, and trade with the Caribbean grew to rival tobacco in economic importance. Tensions between Bermudian planters and London investors led to the abolition of the company's charter in 1684.;Parts II and III document Bermuda's "maritime revolution," the rapid and pervasive economic shift from tobacco agriculture to shipbuilding and commerce which prompted a radical restructuring of the island's landscape and society. Bermuda's multi-faceted maritime economy flexibly drew upon shipbuilding, transoceanic commerce, smuggling, privateering, salt raking, and wrecking throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean. Slaves built and sailed the island's merchant fleet, laboring in racially integrated workplaces that altered earlier, agrarian slave-master relationships. Bermudian women raised families, ran farms, and supervised businesses while their husbands were away at sea. Within the Atlantic world, Bermuda was transformed from an isolated company enclave to an entrepot at the crossroads between two continents, through which information, material goods, and a variety of cultural influences flowed.;Part IV addressed Bermuda and American Revolution, during which the island's fleet actively aided the American cause through smuggling. After the war, the British military garrisoned and fortified the island, which became a vital link between Canada and the British West Indies for the Royal Navy. This work raises larger questions about the relationships between economic activity and social structure, and the malleability of gender roles and the institution of slavery. nd the institution of slavery.