Date of this Version

February 2005

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details


Harrison, Peter (2005) "Fill the Earth and Subdue it": Biblical Warrants for Colonization in Seventeenth Century England. Journal of Religious History 29 (1), 3-24.

(Winner of the Bruce Mansfield Prize)

The definitive version is available at
Copyright © Blackwells Publishing 2005. All Rights Reserved.


The importance of conceptions of natural law in early-modern debates about the legitimacy of colonization is well known. The role played by specific arguments drawn from Scripture is less recognized. In seventeenth century England the biblical injunction to "fill the earth and subdue it," along with the account of the Exodus and the occupation of "the promised land," informed debates about the origins of private property, and was directly relevant to developing conceptions of indigenous property rights and the legitimacy of dispossession. Although there were powerful economic and evangelical incentives for the establishment of foreign plantations in the early-modern period, these were strongly reinforced, in the English context at least, by particular readings of Old Testament narratives.



This document has been peer reviewed.


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