Massachusetts State History
Massachusetts is named after the Massachusett people, one of the many Algonquian peoples who lived in the area. Their neighbors the Wampanoag Confederacy are generally more prominent in United States history. The Wampanoag controlled a large portion of southern Massachusetts, including most of Cape Cod.
The Pilgrims arrived in 1620 to found the Plymouth Colony as a haven for their Puritan beliefs. They were not the first Europeans to arrive in Massachusetts—fishermen were already active in the area interacting with locals. Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, was kidnapped and brought to Europe as a slave. He escaped and learned English before returning home. He played an important role in negotiating peace and trade between the English settlers and the Wampanoag.
In 1636, Harvard University was founded. Harvard is the oldest college in the United States.
The early colonists kept their alliance with the Wampanoag for decades. They assisted one another in conflicts with other nations like the Pequot. Many Wampanoag readily converted to Christianity and integrated into the colonies. The first bible printed in the U.S. was an English-Wôpanâak bible.
A group of Wampanoag were concerned by the growing colonies, and there was a fear that the Wampanoag way of life would vanish. The sachem Metacomet, known to the English as King Philip, forged an alliance against the colonies. In 1675 Metacomet declared war on the English. By the end the English and their native allies killed several thousand Native Americans across southern New England. From this point on the colonists held nearly undisputed control of the region.
In 1692, the town of Salem was caught up in a hysteria about witchcraft, resulting in the infamous executions of 24 women accused of being witches. This was one of several incidents of religious persecution; disputes over religion led to the persecution of Anne Hutchinson and the founding of the Rhode Island.
By the 1760s, Massachusetts was a hub of commerce and industry in the colonies. Boston had become the seat of leading (and radical) intellectuals. Bostonians were some of the most ardent supporters of independence. Protests like the Boston Tea Party led to the British closing the port of Boston and assuming direct control of Massachusetts Bay. As a result, the American Revolution began at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Massachusetts native and President of the Continental Congress John Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence.
In 1777 the Springfield Armory was founded to store the Americans' guns. The Springfield Armory played a major role in developing modern industry, and manufactured some of the most famous American guns in history like the M1903, M1 Garand, and the M14.
After the Revolution, the issue of slavery took center stage. Much of New England was deeply opposed to slavery religiously and philosophically. And, unlike in the plantation South, Northern economies didn't profit from slaveholding in the same way. This economic divide deepened with the Industrial Revolution. Lowell, Massachusetts was the first industrial town, paving the way for Northern industry. Massachusetts was one of the earliest states to abolish slavery, and a center of the abolitionist movement.
Massachusetts flouted pro-slavery laws like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and voted overwhelmingly for abolitionists. When the South seceded over the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1861, Massachusetts heavily supported the war effort.
Around the same time, Massachusetts became a destination for immigrants from Europe. The largest and most famous immigrant group in Massachusetts is the Irish community. Boston Irish culture is fairly distinct from the culture of Ireland, however.
Before and after the Civil War, Massachusetts was famous for its writers, educators, and public thinkers. The Boston Public Library was arguably the first major public library in the U.S., and remains the third largest today. In the 1880s, Boston exploded with new colleges, museums, concert halls, and theaters, and the city (and state) developed a national reputation for the arts.
Massachusetts continued to play an important role in the arts and sciences through the 1900s. The 20th century saw huge growth in Massachusetts's high technology sectors. Greater Boston (especially along Route 128 in Massachusetts) was second to Silicon Valley in terms of tech investments.
In May 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
Among the many other points of interest are Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Minute Man National Historical Park between Lexington and Concord, and Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth. In Boston there are many places of historical interest, including Old North Church, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, the USS Constitution, and the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.
Massachusetts Culture and Interesting Facts
Massachusetts is the site of many important episodes in U.S. history. It was a focal point of the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the abolitionist movement, and the development of American arts and media. On top of that, the city is home to a lot of American firsts: the country’s first public high school and elementary school, the country’s first public park, and the country’s first subway system. Organizations around the state offer extensive tours of these and other historic locations. The most famous historic MA tour is the Freedom Trail.
An American Sports Capital
Boston is one of a few U.S. cities to have title-winning teams in all of the nation’s top sports. The Boston Celtics and New England Patriots both hold their leagues’ records for championship wins, while the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins are founding teams in the MLB and NHL. The state’s sports culture goes beyond that, though. Massachusetts is the birthplace of two popular sports. Basketball was invented by James Naismith at a YMCA in Springfield, MA. Not long after, volleyball was invented at a different YMCA by William G. Morgan in the town of Holyoke.
Massachusetts Colleges & Universities
Massachusetts is one of the biggest college destinations in the country for domestic and international students. The state houses 114 colleges and universities, including some of the country’s oldest and most famous institutions like Harvard College and MIT. Although not the highest in terms of students per capita, over 5% of the state is enrolled college students; during the school year, a quarter of the city of Boston is college students.
Massachusetts isn’t all ivory towers and sports stadiums. The state has a tourism industry built up around its forests, ski slopes, and farming communities. The state’s most popular destination is Cape Cod. The Cape is a hotspot for sailing, sport fishing, and swimming. Other outdoorsy tourist activities include hiking, biking, and golf. Less sporting individuals often appreciate the Cape for its distinctive lighthouses, seafood, and the artist colonies along the coast. Perhaps the biggest natural pull to the Cape is its extensive whale watching industry.
The Arts in the Old Colony State
Boston has long been a center for American literature. On top of its literary credentials, though, public efforts in and around Boston in the late 1800s have made Massachusetts a home for all kinds of art and culture. The state is home to several renowned orchestras, opera and ballet companies, theater troupes, museums, and more. The state also has many local contemporary bands and artists, as well as many art studios.
Famous Massachusetts Natives and Residents
John Adams president;
John Quincy Adams president;
Samuel Adams patriot;
Bronson Alcott educator and social reformer;
Louisa May Alcott writer;
Horatio Alger novelist;
Susan B. Anthony woman suffragist;
Clara Barton American Red Cross founder;
Leonard Bernstein conductor;
George H. W. Bush president;
William Cullen Bryant poet and editor;
Luther Burbank horticulturalist;
John Cheever novelist;
John Singleton Copley painter;
E. E. Cummings poet;
Jacques d'Amboise ballet dancer;
Matt Damon actor;
Bette Davis actress;
Cecil B. DeMille film director;
Emily Dickinson poet;
Ralph Waldo Emerson philosopher and poet;
Geraldine Farrar soprano, actress;
Benjamin Franklin statesman and scientist;
Buckminster Fuller architect and educator;
Robert Goddard father of modern rocketry;
John Hancock statesman;
Nathaniel Hawthorne novelist;
Oliver Wendell Holmes jurist;
Winslow Homer painter;
Elias Howe inventor;
Stanley Kunitz poet;
John F. Kennedy president;
Jack Lemmon actor;
Amy Lowell poet;
James Russell Lowell poet;
Robert Lowell poet;
Horace Mann educator;
Cotton Mather clergyman;
Herman Melville writer;
Samuel F. B. Morse painter and inventor;
Edgar Allan Poe writer;
Paul Revere silversmith and Revolutionary War figure;
Norman Rockwell artist;
Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) author and illustrator;
Anne Sexton poet;
David Souter jurist;
Lucy Stone woman suffragist;
Louis Henry Sullivan architect;
Henry David Thoreau author;
Barbara Walters TV commentator;
James McNeill Whistler painter;
Eli Whitney inventor;
John Greenleaf Whittier poet.
U.S. State Comparisons
All U.S. States: Population & Economy
Historical Population Statistics, 1790â€“Present
Per Capita Personal Income
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Births and Birth Rates
Percentage of Uninsured by State