mid-15c., plantacioun, "action of planting (seeds, etc.)," a sense now obsolete, from Latin plantationem (nominative plantatio) "a planting," noun of action from past-participle stem of *plantare "to plant" (see plant (n.)).
From c. 1600 as "introduction, establishment." From 1580s as "a planting with people or settlers, a colonization;" used historically used for "a colony, an original settlement in a new land" by 1610s (the sense in Rhode Island's Providence Plantations, which were so called by 1640s).
The meaning "large farm on which tobacco or cotton is grown" is recorded by 1706; "Century Dictionary"  defines it in this sense as "A farm, estate, or tract of land, especially in a tropical or semi-tropical country, such as the southern parts of the United States, South America, the West Indies, Africa, India, Ceylon, etc., in which cotton, sugar-cane, tobacco, coffee, etc., are cultivated, usually by negroes, peons, or coolies."