Mr. [Reverend Francis] Higgeson.  New-Englands Plantation.  Or, a short and true description of the commodities and discommodities of that Countrey.  Written by Mr. Higgeson, a reuerend Diuine now there a resident.  Whereunto is added a Letter, sene by Mr. Graues an Enginere, out of New-England, The second Edition enlarged.  London, T. & R. Cotes…1630.


“Letting passe our Voyage by Sea, we will now begin our discourse on the shore of New-England.  And because the life and wel-fare of euerie Creature here below, and the commoditiousnesse ofthe Countrey whereas such Creatures liue, doth by the most wise ordering of Gods prouidence, depend next vnto, vpon the temperature and disposition of the foure Elements, Earth, Water, Aire and Fire (For as the mixture of all these, all sublunarie things are composed; so by the more or lesse inioyment of the wholesome temper and conuenient vse of these, consisteth the onely well-being both of Man and Beast in a more or lesse comfortable measure in all Countreys vnder the Heauens) Therefore I will now indeauour by Gods helpe to report nothing but the naked truth, and that both to tell you of the discommodities as well as of the commodities,  though as the idle Prouerbe is, Trauellers may lye by authoritie, and so may take too much sinfull liberties that way.” [pages B-(B2)].

Note:  “First Impressions” are great quotes for a term paper; these are compiled from various references and posted on a separate page.

Topics covered

Four Elements

  • Earth. [pages B-B4]  Incl. notes on soil, garden      Plants, root crops, herbage, vines, fruit,      wood, resins, dyes, soaps, beasts, etc. 
  • Water. [pages B4-C]  Incl. fish, nets and fishing.
  • Aire.  [pages C-C2]  On Climate and fowl.
  • Fire.  [page (C3)]  Attitudes, Fire, Pine torches,    etc.




Four Elements

Higgeson gaves his impressions of the New World based on the balance of four elements, in accordance with earlier Galenical and Greek philosophical thinking.  These elements–earth, water, air, and fire–are assigned roles bu Higgeson in effecting the life of Man and their responsibilities to emmigrants as an interactive agents with these New World elements.

Earth. [pages B-B4] 

“First therefore of the Earth of New-England and all the appertenances thereof: It is a Land of diuers and sundry sorts all about Masathusets Bay, and at Charles Riuer is as fat blacke Earth as can be seene any where: and in other places you have a clay soyle, in other grauell, in other sandy, as is all about our Plantation at Salem, for so our Towne is now named, Psal. 76.2.” [Page (B2)]

Note Higgeson’s mention of the four Earth elements as fat blacke Earth, clay soyle, grauell, and sandy.   He notes the value of clay to be for making “Bricke and Tyles and Earthen Pots as needs to bee”.  He next made brief mention of Wood and Stone.  For Stone, he comments on the Slates, useful for the home, as well as “Lime-stone, Free-stone, and Smooth-Stone, and Iron-stone, and Marble-stone….” [B2]  He spoke only briefly “Of Minerals,” of “the fertilities of the Soyle,” and the two chief products of this healthy farm soil: the feed for “our Kine and Goats, Horses and Hogges,” and the soil to plant “Indian Corne.” 

Garden Plants:  on page B2-(B3) is an extensive paragraph of their first experiences and view of corn, with brief mention of garden pease.

Root Crops, Vegetables:  “This Countrey aboundeth naturally with store of Roots of great varieties and good to eat” especially Turnips, Parsnips, and Carrots.  Also “Pumpions, Cowcombers, and other things of that nature which I know not.” 

Herbs: Potherbs which “grow abundantly among the Grasse”: “Strawberrie leaves in all places of their Countrey and plenty of Strawberries in their time,” Penyroyall, Wintersauerie, Sorrell, Brooklime, Liuerwort, Caruell [caraway, use by Higgeson for wild umbels he had seen], Watercresses, Leekes, Onione, “diuers Physicall Herbes,” “also aboundance of other sweet Herbes delighful to the smell, whose names we known not,” “Damask Roses very sweet” and “two kinds of Herbes that bear two kinds of Flowers very sweet, which they say, are as good to may Cordage or Cloath as any Hempe or Flaxe we haue.” 


Fruit: Mulberries, Plums, Raspberries, Corrance [to him, currants, acutally probably Viburnum and/or Vaccinium species], Chesnuts, Filberds, Walnuts, Smalnuts, Hurtleberies, and “Hawes of Whitethorne” [Hawthorn] [B3-(B4)]

Wood:  “For Wood there is no better in the World I thinke, here being four sorts of Oke different both in the Leafe, Timber, and Colour, all excellent good.”  Also notes Ash, Elme, Willow, Birch, Beech, Saxafras, Juniper, Cipres, Cedar, Spruce, Pines, Firre.

As Evergreen products:  Turpentine, Pitch and Tarr .

Dyes:  “Also here are store of Sumacke trees, they are good for dying and tanning of Leather”  [Sumacke] “likewise such Trees yeeld a precious Gum called White Beniamen, that they say is excellent for Perfumes,”  and “diuerse Roots and Berries.”

Soap: Sope-Ashes and Salt-Peter. 

Beasts: Bears, Lyons, Wolues, Fozes, Beauers, Otters, Martins, great wild Cats, “a great Beast called a Molke [Muske misread by printer?] as bigge as an Oxe.” Squirrels, “that by a certain Skin will fly from Tree to Tree.” [B4] 

Water. [pages B4-C]

He begins by writing:

“New-England hath Water enough both salt and fresh, the greatest Sea in the World, the Atlanticke Sea runs all along the Coast thereof.  There are abundance of Ilands along the Shore, some full of Wood and Mast to feed Swine; and others cleere of Wood, and fruitfull to beare Corne….”

Higgeson notes the Bays as “excellent harbours for Ships,” “aboundance of Sea Fish,” “great store of Whales,” “fresh Sammon,” “great Lobsters,” and abundant fish and shellfish.  Notes also netting and fishing from the Plantation, “daintie Springs, and some great Rivers, and some lesser Brookes,” and well-digging, concluding with “Thus wee see both Land and Sea bound with store of blessings for the comfortable sustenance of Mans life in New-England.” [C]

Aire. (Climate) [pages C-C2]

“The Temper of the Aire of New-England is one speciall thing that commends this place.  Expereience doth manifest that there is hardly a more healthfull place top be found in the World that aggreeth better with our English Bodyes.  Many that haue beene weake and sickly in old England, by comming hither haue beene thoroughly healed and grown healthfull and strong.  For here is an extraordinarie cleer and dry Aire that is of a most healing nature to all such as are of a Cold, Melancholy, Flegmatick, Reumaticke temper of body.”

He next recounts his recovery fromk an “extraordinarie weakeness” of the stomach, and “aboundance of Melancholicke humors.”   With his stomach recovered and his melancholy gone, he can now “Cast away my Cap” or dispell his weaknesses.  He notes that others, such as his child with King’s Evil, are cured.   Higgeson briefly mentions seasonal climates, and of the animal life in this clean air: “Fowles of the Aire,” including eagles, hawks, turkies, wild Geese, wild Ducks, etc.

Fire. [page (C3)]

“Thus you have heard of the earth, Water, and Aire of New-England, now it may bee you expect something to bee said of the Fire proportionable to the rest of the Elements. 

“Indeed I thinke New-England may boast of this Element more that ann the rest: for though it bee heresomewhat cold in the winter, yet we haue plenty of Fire to warme us…”

Higgeson next makes note of the great supply of wood in New England, the presence of sources of tallow for candles, fish to make lamp oil with, and pine-trees bearing rich resin; of these pines and their knots:

“they are such Candles as the Indians commonly vse, hauing no other, and they are nothing else but the wood of the Pine Tree clouen in two little slices something thin, which are so full of the moysture of Turpentine and Pitch, that they burne as cleere as a Torch.”


After describing the Commodities of the New World, based on his four elements approach, Higgeson makes notes four Discommodities of New-England: 

  • first, the troublesome “little Flyes called Musketoes” and Gnats,
  • second, “the Winter Season for two months space,”
  • third, “this Countrey being very full of Woods and Wildernesses, doth also abound with Snakes and Serpents of strange colours, and huge greatnesse…,” and
  • fourth, the natives. [C3-C4]


In “A Letter sent from New-England, by Master Graves, Engynere now there Resident,” similar mention is made of the natural resources, along with:

“the healthfulnesse of the countrie which farre exceedeth all parts that euer I haue beene in: It is observued that few or none doe heere fall sicke, vnless of the Scuruy that they bring from aboard the Shippe with them, where of I haue cured some of my Companie onely by labour.”  [D2]


“…this Countrey being very full of Woods and Wildernesses doth also..abound with Snakes and Serpents of strange colours, and huge greatnesse; yea there are some Serpents called Rattle-snakes, that haue Rattles in their Tayles, that will not flye from a man as others will, but will flye vpon him and sting him so mortally, that hee will dye within a quarter of an houre after, except the partie stinged haue about him some of the root of an Hearbe called Snake weed to bite on, and then he shall receive no harme: but yet seldome fals its out that any hurt is done by theses.  About three yeers since, an Indian was stung to death by one of them, but wee heard of none since that time.” [C3]