Francis Bacon – “Of Plantations”

In this essay on colonies Bacon rather skirts over the issue of what should be done about the natives, instead just writing that he prefers starting with a clean slate (i.e. where there are no people) and that you should be nice to natives but also be on your guard, and maybe send some of them to the metropolis so that they are suitably impressed and report favourably on it when they come back. Otherwise, the essay is mostly concerned with practicalities, such as what one should plant or what animals should be brought, and it’s full of commonplaces such as that you should not establish your plantation in a wet place for health reasons. Interestingly enough, Bacon advises to start with planting not corn but less labour-intensive crops such as beans “because they serve for meat as well as bread”. Despite the fact that he uses the word “meat” in the sense “main dish”, I almost thought he recognized its high content of vegetable protein, except that in the next sentence he claims rice is “meat” too. And even though “of rice likewise cometh a great increase”, I am not sure it’s as easy to produce as Bacon seems to believe. The land should be held in common, with some small plots set aside for private gardening, and the colony should be ruled by one governor with a wide range of powers and with a help from some kind of a council. Overall, Bacon’s views go in the direction: do not be greedy, do not expect a quick return (that’s why he advises the colony to be financed by noblemen, not merchants), send there qualified workforce rather than criminals and do not forsake the colonists when they are in difficulties because “it is the sinfullest thing in the world”.


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