Massachusetts has often been described as the “heart of American independence”, “the soul of a young country”, and the “fire and brimstone of Puritanism”. At least all of these elements were present in Colonial Massachusetts. And like in the colonial days, Massachusetts remains the gateway and capstone of New England.
Known as the “Bay State”, Massachusetts is as naturally beautiful as the next state. Located at the geographic center of New England, Massachusetts is an irregular rectangle that encompasses more than 8,250 square miles of area. It is bordered by Vermont and New Hampshire in the north, and Connecticut and Rhode Island in the south.
In the west, the massive and rolling Berkshire Hills represent one of the country’s loveliest mountain regions. The Connecticut River streams north-south across the western-central region of the state, its wide channel and tree-bordered banks exuding tranquility and beautiful vistas. Central Massachusetts offers an area of lakes, trails, cornfields, and colleges, and it stretches north to New Hampshire and west to the foot of the Berkshires hills. The Massachusetts coast, on the other hand, offers a quite different ambiance. It features a variety of natural beauty to those who love the sea. While not as impressive as Maine’s coasts, Massachusetts’ has Cape Cod, which is famous for its bogs, dunes, and charming beaches. Offshore islands such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are known around the country and visited by thousands each year. However, the real gem of Massachusetts is its towns and villages, where colonial architecture takes visitors back to a bygone area.
Various Indian tribes, mostly belonging to the Algonquin federation, inhabited Massachusetts long before the Europeans arrived. The Indians first welcomed the Europeans, sheltering and feeding them. But it became clear the Europeans did not intend to respond with friendship in kind. When they attempted to take over the Indian lands, enslave the natives, and convert them religiously, the tribes chose to fight rather than submit to serfdom. Ultimately, thousands of Indians died from wars and from the diseases introduced by the Europeans.
Many archaeologists and historians believe that the Vikings were the first Europeans to reach New England. Some claim that Viking Eric the Red landed on Cape Cod. The first confirmed European landing, however, was by John Cabot in 1497, only five years after Columbus’ voyage of discovery. There were no permanent settlements in Massachusetts until more than a hundred years later.
Just days before Christmas in 1620, a ship of pilgrims sailed from Southampton, England and reached Plymouth, Massachusetts. They left England with plans of reaching Jamestown, Virginia where a British colony already existed, but landed instead at Cape Cod in late November. The pilgrims drew up a charter they called the Mayflower Compact, which called for a temporary government based on the principle of majority rule. This compact set the stage for the American Revolution and the United States Constitution, which came 150 years afterwards. These early settlers could not have imagined that 100,000 more men, women, and children from England would join them by century’s end.
In 1630, John Winthrop and his group of hard-working Puritans founded the town of Boston at Massachusetts Bay, the second settlement in Massachusetts. The town grew quickly and soon became the economic, intellectual, and cultural hub of New England.
As the years passed, Massachusetts grew in its anger over British policies toward the colonies. The British king was seen as stubborn and the Parliament unreasonable with its taxes and burdens on the colonies. The Acts of Trade prohibited the colonies from trading with anyone besides England. The Townshend Acts, Tea Act, Stamp Act, and Intolerable Acts all were seen as oppressive and gave way to the rallying cry of the colonists “No taxation without representation”.
Revolutionary War broke out in 1775 with no small thanks to the leadership of Bostonians such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and James Otis. Massachusetts played a key role in unifying the thirteen colonies with moving speeches and bloody protests. The “shot heard ‘round the world” and the first battle took place in Massachusetts.
On April 19, 1775, the minutemen guarding Lexington, Massachusetts were fired upon by British soldiers. This was the first time the hostility between patriots and the British broke into open warfare. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought only two months later on June 17 at Breed’s Hill. British soldiers defeated the colonial militia, but the victory ignited the spirits of the colonists.
The aftermath of the revolution was a new nation born in 1776. The cornerstone of the birth was laid in Massachusetts.
Although the state suffered through a number of political problems after the Revolution, it flourished economically through its maritime trade. The fortunes made from trade, fishing, and whaling in the first half of the 19th century were wisely invested in new industrial ventures, which allowed Boston and other Massachusetts towns to survive a decline in the maritime economy and play a pivotal role in the American industrial revolution. Textiles became the backbone of the state’s economy. Mill towns were set up all along the rivers. By 1850, the city of Lowell became the world’s leading center of textile production.
The textile industry declined by the end of the 19th century when many factories, lured by cheaper labor and taxes, moved to the southern states. Massachusetts found new industries, regaining economic stability in the mid-20th century with the high-tech revolution.
Since its early days, Massachusetts has been the center of politics, culture and education in New England. Politics has always been important. The state was an active member of the new nation, influencing its early affairs. This has continued over the years, as evidenced by the Presidency of John F. Kennedy and the campaigns of Robert Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, and Mitt Romney.
Massachusetts is home to many of the country’s most prominent institutions of higher learning including Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other notable colleges include Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, and Smith.
Today, the state remains steadfast in its cultural values, espousing ethical standards rooted in independent thinking, faith and education, hard work, morality, and financial discipline.
Bond, Richard. The Insider’s Guide to New England. Edison: Hunter Publishing, Inc., 1992. ISBN: 1556504551.
Chase, Suzi Forbes, and Ann Lee. New England. New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1994. ISBN: 0671878999.
 Chase, 153
 Bond, 25
 Id. at 77
 Id. at 25
 Id. at 25-26
 Id. at 26