State of Massachusetts: Facts & History

Instructor: Andrew Peterson

Andrew has a PhD and masters degree in world history.

From the landing of Puritan colonists at Plymouth Rock in the 1620, Massachusetts has been hugely significant to the history of the United States. Learn how the economy, culture and history of Massachusetts has helped shape America.

Early History

The area that now makes up the state of Massachusetts has been the site of a number of pivotal events in early American history. Plymouth, located just south of modern-day Boston, was one of the first permanent English settlements in North America. Puritan colonists made landfall at Plymouth Rock in 1620 after crossing the Atlantic aboard the Mayflower. This coastal settlement was intended to be an ideal religious society, a model for civilization in the New World.

Map of the Massachusetts Area
Map of Massachusetts Area

By the close of the 1620s, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established. This was a much larger English colony that stretched northwards to include much of modern-day Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was not only a Puritan settlement but it was an important trading hub as well. Merchants in Massachusetts traded with Europe and other colonies in the Caribbean and coastal North America.

English settlers were not the first inhabitants of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Bay area was home to a number of Native American tribes. There are many examples of peaceful relations existing between the Puritan settlers and neighboring Algonquian tribes. However, over time, the cultural, political and religious differences between Native Americans and European settlers erupted into open hostility and war. Those Native Americans who were not inadvertently killed by European diseases like smallpox and measles, were eventually displaced from their homes by the expanding European settlements.

Revolutionary Period

Massachusetts was one of the original 13 colonies that would eventually form the United States of America. Indeed, Massachusetts played a central role in sparking the Revolutionary War. By the late 1700s, Boston and the surrounding area had become a leading commercial and political center of North America. Tensions between Bostonians and the ruling English government sparked such pivotal events as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. Massachusetts became the site of a number of key battles, including Lexington, Concord, and the siege of Boston itself.

In illustration depicting the Boston Massacre, an incident where British troops fired on a mob in Boston.
Boston Massacre

The 19th Century

Massachusetts experienced a long period of prosperity following the Revolutionary War. The ports of Boston and Salem had a strong commercial shipping economy that only grew after the war. Trading ships, fishing vessels, and whaling fleets came in and out of Massachusetts every year, helping to grow the state's economy.

In addition to commercial shipping, the Industrial Revolution helped to grow the economy and population of Massachusetts to unparalleled heights. With the adoption of factories and steam-powered machinery Massachusetts quickly developed into the leading industrial state of America. By the late 1800s, cities such as Boston, Lowell and Springfield had developed into thriving urban centers with highly productive textile mills and other manufacturing.

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