Plantation (settlement or colony)

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Jamaica, from the early nineteenth century. Watercolor, ink, and pencil. Created between 1808 and 1816.

Plantation was an early method of colonization in which settlers were "planted" abroad in order to establish a permanent or semi-permanent colonial base. Such plantations were also frequently intended to promote Western culture and Christianity among nearby indigenous peoples, as can be seen in the early East-Coast plantations in America (such as that at Roanoke). Although the term "planter" to refer to a settler first appears as early as the 16th-century, the earliest true colonial plantation is usually agreed to be that of the Plantations of Ireland.

The term "plantation" transferred to the large farms that were the economical basis of many of the 17th-century American colonies. The peak of the plantation economy was in the 18th century, especially the sugar plantations in the Caribbean that depended on slave labor. Most of that time Britain prospered as the top slaving nation in the Atlantic world.[citation needed] Over 2,500,000 slaves were transported to the Caribbean plantations between 1690 and 1807.[citation needed] Because slave life was so harsh on these plantations and slaves died without reproducing themselves, a constant supply of new slaves from Africa was required to maintain the plantation economy against this "natural decrease".[1] In 1789 the French colony of Saint-Domingue, producer of 40 percent of the world's sugar, was the most valuable colony on earth. Slaves outnumbered whites and coloreds by at least eight to one, but provided all of the manual labor. Slave labor created a dramatic change in the eating habits of Britons, one of the greatest in human history. In 1700, Britons used an average of four pounds of sugar a year, but by 1800 they used an average of 16 pounds a year.[1]


The Plantations of Ireland were an instrument of retribution and colonization after several Irish rebellions against English rule throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The largest settlement, the Plantation of Ulster, was established following the rebellion of Hugh Roe O'Donnell and Hugh O'Neill in the Nine Years' War (1594-1603). The plantations were seen as part of process that would Anglicise Ireland, as well as a means of maintaining English political control in Ireland. Lands were seized from the native landowners both as punishment for rebellion and as punishment for remaining Catholic rather than conforming to the (Protestant) established church. These lands were given to English (and later, Scottish) Protestant settlers who would be loyal to the Crown and keep the native Irish under control.

Scottish Highlands[edit]

During the Middle Ages, the Scottish government planted Scots-speaking lowland merchant colonies in the Gàidhealtachd (the Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland), for example at Campbeltown and Cromarty.

North America[edit]

Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent English settlement in North America. During the 17th century, the Chesapeake Bay area was immensely hospitable to tobacco cultivation. Ships annually hauled 1.5 million pounds (680,000 kilograms) of tobacco out to the Bay by the 1630s, and about 40 million pounds (18 million kilograms) by the end of the century. Farmers responded to the falling prices by growing even more tobacco. The labor supply from Africa (slaves) was expensive, and therefore the farmers had to rely on much cheaper indentured servants.

European colonists didn't regard the land as belonging to the Native Americans, so the Plantations of New England were seen as occupying virgin land. The Plymouth Plantation, was to create a new beginning for English dissenters and, as such, essentially utopian. Later plantations were more overtly entrepreneurial: European investors funded colonists in the expectation of good returns. Examples include the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the New Haven Colony, the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (now New York) and the French New France in Canada.

In the state of Maine, the old meaning has been preserved in the name of a type of local government jurisdiction. It is also preserved in the full name of Rhode Island, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.


  1. ^ a b Rogozinski, Jan (1999). A Brief History of the Caribbean (Revised ed.). New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 110, 126, 141–142. ISBN 0-8160-3811-2. 
  • Albert Galloway Keller, 1908, Colonization: A Study of the Founding of New Societies, Boston: Ginn & Company