History of Massachusetts
Massachusetts was first colonized by Europeans in the early 1600s, and
became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the 1700s. Prior to English
colonization of the area, it was inhabited by various indigenous tribes. The
Commonwealth has no singular characteristic, geographic or cultural, that
helps to distinguish it from the surrounding areas.
'I shall enter on no encomium upon Massachusetts; she needs none. There
she is. Behold her, and judge for yourselves. There is her history; the world
knows it by heart. The past, at least, is secure. There is Boston and Concord
and Lexington and Bunker Hill; and there they will remain forever.
- Daniel Webster , 1830
Various Algonquian tribes inhabited the area prior to European settlement. In the
Massachusetts Bay area resided the Massachusett. Near the Vermont and New
Hampshire borders and the Merrimack River valley was the traditional home of the
Pennacook tribe. Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and southeast
Massachusetts were the home of the Wampanoag, whom the Pilgrims met. The
extreme end of the Cape was inhabited by the closely related Nauset tribe. Much
of the central portion and the Connecticut River valley was home to the loosely
organized Nipmuc peoples. The Berkshires were the home of both the Pocomtuc
and the Mahican tribes. Spillovers of Narragansett and Mohegan from Rhode Island
and Connecticut, respectively, were also present.
All the Indians on the coast of New England, including the Massachusett, were
heavily decimated by waves of smallpox both before and after the arrival of Captain
John Smith in 1614. They had developed no immunity to the disease, a common
story when Europeans visited parts of the world remote from Europe.
Europeans: Pilgrims, Puritans and Patriots: 1620–1629
The Pilgrims were from the Humber region of England. Before heading to the New
World, they migrated to Holland to avoid persecution. Although they were allowed
some religious liberties in Holland, the liberalism and openness of the Dutch to all
styles of life horrified them. Once their children grew up Dutch and began adopting
the local culture, the Pilgrims decided to leave for the New World.
In the fall of 1619, they sailed away on the Mayflower, first landing near the tip of
Cape Cod (modern-day Provincetown, Massachusetts). Following exploration along
the cape, they established their settlement at Plymouth in 1620. Since the area was
not land that lay within their charter, they created the Mayflower compact, one of
America's first documents of self-governance, prior to landing. The first year was
extremely difficult, with inadequate supplies. They also suffered grievously from
smallpox and malaria. They were assisted, however, in their time of trouble by the
Wampanoags' under-chief Massasoit. In 1621, they celebrated their first Thanksgiving
Day together to thank God for their survival. About half of the Mayflower company
survived the first year.
The English settlers built small compact villages, leaving alone vast stretches of the
Commonwealth. Their numbers swelled when the Puritans, suffering under harsh
treatment by King Charles I, left England as part of the Great Migration and established
the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the port of Boston.
Massachusetts Bay Colony period: 1629–1686
The Puritans were from the River Thames region of England and established the
Massachusetts Bay Colony. This colony eclipsed Plymouth in population and
economy, the chief factor being the good harbor at Boston. When the English
Revolution began in 1642, Massachusetts Bay Colony became a Puritan stronghold.
In 1636 the colony went to war with the Indians in the Pequot War. In 1646 the Long
Parliament gave the missionary John Eliot a commission and funds to preach to the
Wampanoags. He succeeded in converting a large number. The colonial government
placed the converted Indians (known as Praying Indians) in a ring of villages around
Boston as a defensive strategy. The oldest such village, Natick, was built in 1651.
The Puritans came to Massachusetts for religious purification and would not tolerate
other religions, although Anglicans, Quakers, and a handful of other denominations
were grudgingly accepted in the Puritan communities for a time. Eventually Quakers
were banned, and in 1660 four were hanged in Boston Common (see Mary Dyer).
Dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and Thomas Hooker left
Massachusetts because of the Puritans' lack of religious tolerance. Williams ended
up founding the colony of Rhode Island and Hooker founded Connecticut.
Racial tensions led to King Philip's War 1675–76, the bloodiest Indian war of the early
colonial period. There were major campaigns in the Pioneer Valley and Plymouth
Colony, Massachusetts. Starting in the 1670s, Massachusetts followed the general
colonial practice of adopting slave codes, which removed the limitation on the term of
slavery for non-whites only. It became fashionable for respectable families to own one
or more household slaves as cooks or butlers.
Dominion of New England: 1686–1692
In 1685, King James II of England, an outspoken Catholic, acceded to the throne and
began to militate against Protestant rule, including the Protestant control of New
England. In May 1686, the Massachusetts Bay Colony ended when its charter was
annulled. The King appointed Joseph Dudley to the new post of President of New
England. Dudley established his authority later in New Hampshire and the King's
Province (part of current Rhode Island), maintaining this position until Edmund Andros
arrived to become the Royal Governor of the Dominion of New England.
After James II was overthrown by King William and Queen Mary, the colonials overthrew
Andros and his officials. Andros's post was given to Simon Bradstreet until 1692. During
King William's War, the colony launched an unsuccessful expedition against Quebec
under William Phips in 1690, which had been financed by issuing paper bonds set against
the gains expected from taking the city. Bradstreet merged Massachusetts Bay Colony
and Plymouth Colony in 1691, and, the following year, Phips was appointed governor with a
new colonial charter. He governed the colony by leaving it alone. Consequently, during the
Salem Witch Trials, Phips only intervened when his own wife was accused of treason.
Royal Colony of Massachusetts Bay: 1692–1774
The Province of Massachusetts Bay was formed in 1692 as the largest in New England,
and one where many American institutions and traditions were formed. Unlike southern
colonies, it was built around small towns rather than scattered farms. The Pilgrims settled
the Plymouth Colony, and Puritan settlers traveled to Salem and later to Boston in the
Province of Massachusetts Bay. As the Puritans gradually secularized and became known
as Yankees, the Congregational Church they founded continued to dominate most small
towns. Late in the colonial period Baptist and other dissenting churches emerged, and the
elites in Boston and other large towns turned to the Anglican and Unitarian religions.
The colony, which included present-day Maine, fought alongside British regulars in a series
of French and Indian Wars that were characterized by brutal border raids and attacks on New
France. Particularly in King William's War (1689–97) and Queen Anne's War (1702–13),
the colony's rural communities were directly exposed to French and Indian attacks, with
Deerfield raided in 1704 and Haverhill raided in 1708. Boston was also the launching site
for naval expeditions against Acadia and Quebec. Many troops from Massachusetts
participated in the successful Siege of Havana in 1762. Britain's victory in the war led to
British acquisition of New France, removing the immediate northern threat to
Massachusetts that the French had posed.
Notable royal governors during this period were Joseph Dudley, Thomas Hutchinson,
Jonathan Belcher, Francis Bernard, and General Thomas Gage. Gage was the last
British governor of Massachusetts.
The northern boundary of Massachusetts was the subject of a border dispute with
New Hampshire, settled in 1740 by King George II.
Revolutionary Massachusetts: 1760s–1780s
Boston was the center of revolutionary activity in the decade before 1775, with
Massachusetts natives Samuel Adams, John Adams, and John Hancock as
leaders who would become important in the revolution. Boston had been under
military occupation since 1768. When customs officials were attacked by
mobs, two regiments of British regulars arrived. They had been housed in the
city with increasing public outrage.
In Boston on March 5, 1770, what began as a rock-throwing incident against
a few British soldiers ended in the shooting of five men by British soldiers in
what became known as the Boston Massacre. The incident caused further
anger against British authority in the commonwealth over taxes and the
presence of the British soldiers.
One of the many taxes protested by the colonists was a tax on tea, imposed
when Parliament passed the Tea Act, and laws that forbade the sale of non-East
India Company tea. On December 16, 1773, when a tea ship of the East India
Company was planning to land taxed tea in Boston, a group of local men known
as the Sons of Liberty sneaked onto the boat the night before it was to be
unloaded and dumped all the tea into the harbor, an act known as the Boston
The Boston Tea Party caused the British government to pass the Intolerable
Acts in 1774 that brought stiff punishment on Massachusetts. They closed
the port of Boston, the economic lifeblood of the Commonwealth, and reduced
self-government. The Patriots formed the Massachusetts Provincial Congress
after the provincial legislature was disbanded by British military governor
Thomas Gage. The suffering of Boston and the tyranny of its rule caused
great sympathy and stirred resentment throughout the Thirteen Colonies.
On February 9, 1775, the British Parliament declared Massachusetts to be
in rebellion, and sent additional troops to restore order to the colony. With the
local population largely opposing British authority, troops moved from Boston
on April 18, 1775, to destroy the military supplies of local resisters in Concord.
Paul Revere made his famous ride to warn the locals in response to this march.
On the 19th, in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, where the famous
"shot heard 'round the world" was fired, British troops, after running over the
Lexington militia, were forced back into the city by local resistors. The city
was quickly brought under siege. Fighting broke out again in June when the
British took the Charlestown Peninsula in the Battle of Bunker Hill after the
colonial militia fortified Breed's Hill. The British won the battle, but at a very
large cost, and were unable to break the siege. Soon afterwards General
George Washington took charge, and when he acquired heavy cannon in
March 1776, the British were forced to leave, marking the first great colonial
victory of the war. This was the last significant fighting in present-day
Massachusetts; the 1779 Penobscot Expedition took place in the District of
Maine, then part of the Commonwealth. In May 1778, the section of Freetown
that later became Fall River was raided by the British, and in September 1778,
the communities of Martha's Vineyard and New Bedford were also subjected
to a British raid.
The fighting brought to a head what had been brewing throughout the colonies,
and on July 4, 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence was
adopted in Philadelphia. It was signed first by Massachusetts resident John
Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Soon afterward the
Declaration of Independence was read to the people of Boston from the
balcony of the Old State House.
Federalist Era: 1780–1815
A Constitutional Convention drew up a state Constitution, which was drafted
primarily by John Adams, and ratified by the people on June 15, 1780.
Adams, along with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin, wrote in the Preamble
to the Constitution of the Commonwealth:
We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful
hearts, the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in affording us,
in the course of His Providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably,
without fraud, violence or surprise, on entering into an Original, explicit, and
Solemn Compact with each other; and of forming a new Constitution of Civil
Government, for Ourselves and Posterity, and devoutly imploring His direction
in so interesting a design, Do agree upon, ordain and establish, the following
Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery. The new Constitution
also dropped any religious tests for political office, though local tax money
had to be paid to support local churches. People who belonged to
non-Congregational churches paid their tax money to their own church, and
the churchless paid to the Congregationalists. Baptist leader Isaac Backus
vigorously fought these provisions, arguing people should have freedom of
choice regarding financial support of religion.
On August 29, 1786, a farmer in western Massachusetts named Daniel
Shays and a group of local formers started Shays' Rebellion. The rebels,
also called Shaysites or "Regulators", were upset over high levels of debt
and taxes, which, when not paid, often resulted in the delinquent being
thrown into debtor's prison. A private Massachusetts militia that was raised
to oppose the rebels defeated the main Shaysite force on February 3, 1787.
There was a lack of a formal government response to the uprising, which
energized calls to reevaluate the Articles of Confederation and gave strong
impetus to the Constitutional Convention, which began in May 1787.
Early industrial period: 1815–60
Massachusetts became a leader in industrial innovation and development
during the 19th century. Since colonial times, there had been a successful
iron making industry in New England. The first successful ironworks in
America was established at Saugus in 1646, utilizing bog iron from
swamps to produce plows, nails, firearms, hoops for barrels and other
items necessary for the development of the Colony. Other industries
would be established during this period, such as shipbuilding, lumber,
paper and furniture making. These small-scale shops and factories often
utilized the State's many rivers and streams to power their machinery.
While Samuel Slater had established the first successful textile mill at
Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1793, there remained no way to efficiently
mass-produce cloth from the spun yarn produced by the early mills. The
yarn was still outsourced to small weaving shops where it was woven into
cloth on hand looms. The first woolen mill, and the second textile mill in
the Blackstone Valley, was a "wool carding mill", established in 1810 by
Daniel Day, near the West River (Massachusetts) and Blackstone River
at Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Then, in 1813, a group of wealthy Boston
merchants led by Francis Cabot Lowell, known as the Boston Associates,
established the first successful integrated textile mill in North America at
Waltham. Lowell had visited England in 1810 and studied the Lancashire
textile industry. Because the British government prohibited the export of
this new technology, Lowell memorized plans for the power looms on his
return trip to Boston. With the skill of master mechanic Paul Moody, the
first successful power looms were produced, harnessing the power of the
Charles River. For the first time, all phases of textile production could now
be performed under one roof, greatly increasing production, and profits.
This was the real beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America.
With the early success of Waltham, the Boston Associates would also later
establish several other textile towns, including Lowell in 1823, Lawrence in
1845, Chicopee in 1848 and Holyoke in 1850.
Lowell grew quickly to a city of 33,000 people by 1850. Its mills were highly
integrated and centrally controlled. An ingenious canal system provided the
water power that drove the machinery. Steam power would be introduced
beginning in the 1850s. The mill owners initially employed local farm women,
often recruited from poor, remote parts of New England, and attempted to
create a Utopian industrial society by providing housing, churches, schools
and parks for their workers, unlike their English counterparts. Eventually, as
the mills grew larger and larger, the owners turned to newly arrived Irish
immigrants to fill their factories.
Industrial cities, especially Worcester and Springfield, became important
centers in machinery and precision tool production and innovation. While
Boston did not have many large factories, it became increasingly important
as the business and transportation hub of all of New England, as well as a
national leader in finance, law, medicine, education, arts and publishing.
In 1826, the Granite Railway became the first commercial railroad in the
nation. In 1830 the legislature chartered three new railroads—the Boston
and Lowell, the Boston and Providence, and most important of all, the
Boston and Worcester. In 1833 it chartered the Western Railroad to
connect Worcester with Albany and the Erie Canal. The system flourished
and western grain began flowing to the port of Boston for export to Europe,
thereby breaking New York City's virtual monopoly on trade from the Erie
Political and social movements
On March 15, 1820, the District of Maine was separated from Massachusetts
and entered the Union as the 23rd State as a result of the enactment of the
Horace Mann made the state system of schools the national model. The
Commonwealth made its mark in Washington with such political leaders as
Daniel Webster and Charles Sumner. Building on the many activist
Congregational churches, abolitionism flourished. William Lloyd Garrison
was the outstanding spokesperson, though many "cotton Whig" mill owners
complained that the agitation was bad for their strong business ties to
southern cotton planters.
The Congregationalists remained dominant in rural areas, but, in the cities,
a new religious sensibility had replaced their strait-laced Calvinism. By 1826,
reported Harriet Beecher Stowe:
All the literary men of Massachusetts were Unitarians. All the trustees and
professors of Harvard College were Unitarians. All the élite of wealth and
fashion crowded Unitarian churches. The judges on the bench were
Unitarian, giving decisions by which the peculiar features of church
organization, so carefully ordained by the Pilgrim fathers, had been nullified.
Some of the most important writers and thinkers of this time came from
Massachusetts. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson are well
known today for their contributions to American thought. Part of an intellectual
movement known as Trancendentalism, they emphasized the importance
of the natural world to humanity and were also part of the abolitionist call.
Civil War and Gilded Age: 1860–1900
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Massachusetts was a center of
abolitionist activity within the United States. Two prominent abolitionists
from the Commonwealth were William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.
Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, and helped
changed perceptions on slavery. The movement increased antagonism over
the issues of slavery, resulting in anti-abolitionist riots in Massachusetts
between 1835 and 1837. The works of abolitionists contributed to the
eventual actions of the Commonwealth during the Civil War.
Massachusetts was among the first states to respond to President Lincoln's
call for troops. Massachusetts was the first state to recruit, train and arm a
black regiment with white officers, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Following the Civil War, thousands of immigrants from Canada and Europe
continued to settle in the major cities of Massachusetts, attracted by
employment in the State's ever-expanding factories. The State also
became a leader in education and innovation through this period,
particularly in the Boston area.
Prosperity decades: 1900–29
Massachusetts entered the 20th century with a strong industrial economy.
Despite a lack of agricultural progress, the economy prospered between
1900 and 1919. Factories throughout the Commonwealth produced goods
varying from paper to metals. Boston, in the year 1900, was still the second
most important port within the United States, as well as the most valuable
U.S. port in terms of its fish market. By 1908, however, the value of the port
dropped considerably due to competition. Population growth during this
period, which was aided by immigration from abroad, helped in
urbanization and forced a change in the ethnic make-up of the Commonwealth.
The largely industrial economy of Massachusetts began to falter, however,
due to the dependence of factory communities upon the production of one
or two goods. External low-wage competition, coupled with other factors of
the Great Depression in later years, led to the collapse of Massachusetts’s
two main industries: shoes and textiles. Between 1921 and 1949 the failure
of those industries resulted in rampant unemployment and the urban decay
of once-prosperous industrial centers which would persist for several decades.
Depression and war: 1929–45
Even before the Great Depression struck the United States, Massachusetts
was experiencing economic problems. The crash of the Commonwealth’s
major industries led to declining population in factory towns. The Boston
Metropolitan area became one of the slowest growing areas in the United
States between 1920 and 1950. Internal migration within the Commonwealth,
however, was altered by the Great Depression. In the wake of economic woes,
people moved to the metropolitan area of Boston looking for jobs, only to
find high unemployment and dismal conditions. In the depressed situation
that predominated in Boston during this era, racial tension manifested itself
in gang warfare at times, notably with clashes between the Irish and Italians.
Massachusetts also endured class conflict during this period. In the 1912
general strike of Lawrence, Massachusetts, almost all of the town’s mills
were forced to shut down as a result of strife over wages that sustained only
poverty. The Commonwealth was confronted with issues of worker conditions
and wages. For example, when the legislature decreed that women and
children could work only 50 hours per week, employers cut wages
proportionally. Eventually, the demands of the Lawrence strikers were
heeded, and a pay increase was made.
The economic and social turmoil in Massachusetts marked the beginning of
a change in the Commonwealth’s way of functioning. Politics helped to
encourage stability among social groups by elevating members of various
ranks in society, as well as ethnic groups, to influential posts. The two
major industries of Massachusetts, shoes and textiles, had declined in a
way that even the post-World War II economic boom could not reverse.
Thus, the Commonwealth’s economy was ripe for change as the post-war
Economic changes: decline of manufacturing 1945–85
World War II precipitated great changes in the economy of Massachusetts,
which in turn led to changes in society. The aftermath of WWII created a
global economy that was focused upon the interests
of the United States, both militarily and in relation to business. The domestic
economy in the United States was altered by government procurement policies
focused on defense. In the years following WWII, Massachusetts was
transformed from a factory system to a largely service and high-tech based
economy. During WWII, the U.S. government had built facilities that they
leased, and in the post-war years sold, to defense contractors. Such facilities
contributed to an economy focused on creating specialized defense goods.
That form of economy prospered as a result of the Cold War, the Vietnam War,
and the Korean War.
In the ensuing years, government contracts, private investment, and research
facilities helped to create a modern industry, which reduced unemployment
and increased per capita income. All of these economic changes encouraged
suburbanization and the formation of a new generation of well-assimilated and
educated middle-class workers. At the same time, suburbanization and urban
decay made the differences between various social groups evident, leading
to a renewal of racial tension. Boston, a paragon of the problems in
Massachusetts cities, experienced numerous challenges that led to racial
problems. The problems facing urban centers included declining population,
middle-class flight, departure of industry, high unemployment, rising taxes,
low property values, and competition among ethnic groups.
Modern economy and society: 1985–2009
Over the past 20–30 years, Massachusetts has cemented its place in the
Republic as a center of education (especially higher education) and
high-tech industry, including the biotechnology and information technology
sectors. With better-than-average schools overall and many elite universities,
the area was well placed to take advantage of the technology-based economy
of the 1990s. The rebound from the decay of manufacturing into the
high-technology sector is often referred to as the Massachusetts Miracle.
The Commonwealth had several notable citizens in federal government in the
1980s, including almost presidential hopeful and Senator Ted Kennedy and
House Speaker Tip O'Neill. This legislative influence allowed the Commonwealth
to receive federal highway funding for the $14.6 billion Central Artery/Tunnel
Project. Known colloquially as the "the Big Dig", it was the biggest federal
highway project ever at the time approved. Designed to relieve some of the
traffic problems of the poorly planned city, it was approved in 1987. Major
construction lasted until 2005, and as of 2007, landscaping is still ongoing.
The project has been controversial due to massive budget overruns, repeated
construction delays, water leaks in the new tunnels which sprouted in 2004,
and a ceiling collapse in 2006 that killed a city resident.
Several Massachusetts Democratic Party politicians have run for the office of
President of the United States in this time period, won the primary elections,
and gone on to contest the national elections. These include Michael Dukakis,
who was defeated by George H. W. Bush in 1988, as well as John Kerry,
who was defeated by George W. Bush in 2004.
In 2002 the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal among local priests
became public. The diocese was found to have knowingly moved priests who
sexually molested children from parish to parish and to have covered up
abuse. The revelations caused the resignation of the archbishop, Cardinal
Law, and resulted in a $85 million dollar settlement with the victims. With
the large Irish and Italian Catholic populations in Boston, this was a big
concern. The diocese, under financial pressure, closed many of its churches.
In some churches, parishioners camped out in the churches to protest and
On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC)
deemed that the Commonwealth could not deny marriage rights to gay couples
under the Constitution of Massachusetts, the oldest written constitution in the
world still in force, having entered into effect in 1780. On February 4, 2004, the
SJC followed that ruling with a statement saying that allegedly separate but
equal civil unions, implemented as of late in Vermont, would not pass
constitutional muster and that only full gay marriage rights met constitutional
guarantees. On May 17, 2004, the ruling took effect and thousands of gay and
lesbian couples across the Commonwealth entered into marriage. Opponents of
gay marriage subsequently pushed for an amendment to the Constitution of
Massachusetts that would allow the state to deny marriage rights to gay couples.
It was necessary for the amendment to be approved by at least 1/4 of the members
present in two consecutive legislative sessions of the Massachusetts legislature,
and to receive majority support in a popular referendum. It passed the first legislative
session, but was defeated in the second session, receiving less than 1/4 of the
votes of the legislators present. As public opinion polls currently indicate majority
support for gay marriage among the people of the Commonwealth, it is likely that
the issue is settled in Massachusetts.
Increased white-collar jobs have driven suburban sprawl, but the consequent effects
of sprawl have been lessened by regulations on land use and zoning, as well as an
emphasis on "smart growth". In recent years, the Commonwealth has lost
population as skyrocketing housing costs have driven many away from
Massachusetts. The Boston area is the third-most expensive housing market
in the country. Over the last several years there has been about a 19,000 person
net outflow from the Commonwealth.
In 2006, the Massachusetts legislature enacted the first plan in the United States
to provide all Commonwealth citizens with universal health insurance coverage,
using a variety of private insurance providers. Insurance coverage for low-income
individuals is paid for with tax revenues, and higher income people who don't have
health insurance are required to purchase it. (The health insurance market is
publicly regulated, so, at least in Massachusetts, no one can be denied coverage
because of pre-existing conditions or be forced to pay exorbitant rates.) The
implementation of Commonwealth Care, the new universal coverage law, is
proceeding, as of 2007.
On October 27, 2004, the Boston Red Sox baseball team won their first World
Series in 86 years, after defeating their hated historical rivals, the New York
Yankees, in one of the most epic American League Championship Series ever
The history of the boundaries of Massachusetts is somewhat complex and covers
several centuries. Land grants made to various groups of early colonists, mergers
and secessions, and settlements of various boundary disputes all had a major
influence on the modern definition of the Commonwealth. Disputes arose due to
both overlapping grants, inaccurate surveys (creating a difference between where
the border "should" be and where markers are placed on the ground). Having loyal
settlers actually on the ground also partially determined which portions of their vast
claims early groups held on to.
In 1607, the Plymouth Company was granted a coastal charter for all coastal territory
up to a certain distance from the eastern shoreline of North America, from
38°N to 45°N. The northern boundary was thus slightly farther north than the current
Maine-New Brunswick border, and the southern border intentionally overlapped with
the Virginia Company of London ("London Company") from the 38th parallel (near
the current Maryland-Virginia border) to the 41st (near the current Connecticut-New
York border in Long Island Sound). Neither colony was allowed to settle within 100
miles of the other. The Plymouth Company's patent fell into disuse after the failure
of the Pop ham Colony in what is now Maine. In the meantime, the [Plymouth
Colony] had settled outside the territory of the London company due to navigational
difficulties. The Plymouth Company was reorganized as the Plymouth Council for
New England, and given a new royal sea-to-sea charter for all North American territory
from 40° North (just east between present-day Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey)
and 48° N (thus including all of modern-day[[New Brunswick], [[Nova Scotti], and
Prince Edward Island). The Plymouth Colony was granted land patents between
1621 and 1630 from the Council to legitimize its settlement, though it maintained
political independence under the Mayflower Compact.
The Plymouth Council for New England made sub grants to various entities before
it was surrendered to the crown in 1635 and ceased to operate as a corporate entity.
The Sheffield Patent granted the use of Cape Ann to members of the Plymouth
Colony and the Dorchester Company. The fishing colony there failed, but led to the
foundation of Salem, Massachusetts. The bankrupt Dorchester Company's lands
were reissued as part of a larger grant to the Massachusetts Bay Company.
Massachusetts Bay obtained in 1628/29 a sea-to-sea patent for all lands and
island from three miles north of the Merrimack River (at the current
Massachusetts-New Hampshire border), to three miles south of the extents of
the Charles River and Massachusetts Bay. The Charles river starts near Boston
(in the middle of the territory) but flows in a circuitous path southeast to near
present-day Bellingham, Massachusetts, which is on the modern RhodeIsland
border. Land belonging to any other colonies as of November 3, 1629, was
excluded from the grant.
The boundary between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony
was settled in 1639, and today forms most of the border between Norfolk County,
Plymouth County, and Bristol County.
In 1622, the Province of Maine obtained a patent for lands north of Massachusetts
Bay border near the Merrimack River, up to the Kennebec River. This was soon
split at the Piscataqua River, with the southern portion becoming the Province of
New Hampshire. In 1664, Maine obtained an enlarged charter containing land out
to the St. Croix River, and control of parts Maine changed hands several times,
including at times unification with the Province of New York. New Hampshire was
joined with Massachusetts Bay from 1641–1679 and 1688–1691.
The 1629 charter of Massachusetts Bay was canceled by a judgement of the high
court of chancery of England, June 18, 1684.
The Province of Massachusetts Bay was formed in 1691–92 by the British monarchs
William and Mary. It included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony,
the Province of Maine (including the eastern territories that had been lost to the
Province of New York), and Nova Scotia (which included present-day New Brunswick
and Prince Edward Island). Dukes County, Massachusetts (Martha's Vineyard and
the Elizabeth Islands) and Nantucket were transferred from the Province of New York.
In 1696, Nova Scotia was granted its independence, but the boundary with Maine
would be disputed in various ways until the 1840s.
New Hampshire boundary
The Province of New Hampshire was granted its independence at the foundation
of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, but the language defining the southern
border with Massachusetts Bay referenced the Merrimack River in an ambiguous
way all that parte of New England in America lying and extending from the greate
River comonly called Monomack als Merrimack on the northpart and from three
Miles Northward of the said River to the Atlantick or Western Sea or Ocean on
the South part [Pacific Ocean]
The resulting was a decades-long disagreement over the northern boundary of
Massachusetts. Massachusetts claimed land west of the Merrimack as
calculated from the headwaters of the river (in modern-day Franklin, New
Hampshire), but New Hampshire claimed that its southern boundary was the
line of latitude three miles north of the river's mouth. The parties appealed to
King George II of England, who ordered the dispute be settled by agreement
between the parties. Commissioners from both colonies met at Hampton in 1737
and sent their agreement to the King.
In 1740, the King settled the dispute in a surprising manner, by declaring "that
the northern boundary of Massachusetts be a similar curve line pursuing the
course of the Merrimack River at three miles distance on the north side thereof,
beginning at the Atlantic Ocean and ending at a point due north of a place called
Pautucket Falls (now called Lowell, Massachusetts), and by a straight line drawn
from thence west till it meets his Majesty's other governments." This ruling favored
New Hampshire and actually gave it a strip of land 50 miles beyond its claim.
Massachusetts declined to do a physical survey, so New Hampshire laid markers
on its own.
Rhode Island eastern border
In 1641, the Plymouth Colony (at the time separate from the Massachusetts
Bay Colony) purchased from the Indians a large tract of land which today
includes the northern half of East Providence (from Watchemoket to Rumford),
Rehoboth, Massachusetts, Seekonk, Massachusetts, and part of Pawtucket,
Rhode Island. In 1645, John Brown of Plymouth bought a considerably smaller
piece of land from the Indians, which today comprises the southern part of
East Providence (Riverside), Barrington, Rhode Island, and a small part of
Swansea, Massachusetts. Finally, in 1661, Plymouth completed the "North
Purchase", from which Cumberland, Rhode Island, Attleboro, Massachusetts
and North Attleborough, Massachusetts were later to be formed. The whole
territory, which also included parts of modern Somerset, Massachusetts, and
Warren, Bristol, and Woonsocket in Rhode Island, was at the time called
"Rehoboth". The center of "Old Rehoboth" was within the borders of modern
East Providence, Rhode Island.
By the 1650s, Massachusetts Bay, the Colony of Rhode Island (not yet unified
with Providence) the Connecticut Colony, and two different land companies all
claimed what is now Washington County, Rhode Island, what was referred to as
Narragansett Country. Massachusetts Bay had conquered Block Island in 1636
in retaliation for the murder of a trader, and Massachusetts families settled there
in 1661. The Plymouth Colony's land grant specified its western boundary as the
Narragansett River; it is unclear whether this referred to the Pawcatuck River
(on the current Connecticut-Rhode Island Border) or Narragansett Bay (much
farther east, near the modern-day Rhode Island-Massachusetts border).
In 1663, Rhode Island obtained a patent extending its territory in certain places
three miles east of Narragansett Bay. In 1664, a royal commission appointed by
King Charles II of England denied the claims of Massachusetts and Plymouth to
land west of Narragansett Bay, granting jurisdiction to the newly unified Colony
of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (pending resolution of the claims of
Connecticut). However, the claims of Plymouth to all lands east of Narragansett
Bay were upheld, and so the border was set in practice.
The 1691 charter unified Massachusetts Bay with Plymouth Colony (including
Rehoboth) and said that the combined territory would extend as far south as "Our
Collonyes of Rhode Island Connecticut and the Marragansett Countrey"
In 1693 the throne of William and Mary issued a patent extending Rhode Island's
territory to three miles "east and northeast" of Narragansett Bay, conflicting with
the claims of Plymouth Colony. This enlarged the area of conflict between Rhode
Island and the Province of Massachusetts.
The issue was not addressed until 1740, when Rhode Island appealed to King
George II of England. Royal commissioners from both colonies were appointed
in 1741, and decided in favor of Rhode Island. The King affirmed the settlement
in 1746 after appeals from both colonies. The royally approved three-mile
boundary moved several towns on the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay (east
of the mouth of the Blackstone River) from Massachusetts to Rhode Island.
This included what is now Bristol County, Rhode Island (the towns of Barrington,
Bristol, and Warren), along with Tiverton, Little Compton, and Cumberland,
Rhode Island (which was carved out of Attleborough, Massachusetts). East
Freetown, which was left on the Massachusetts side of the border, was officially
purchased by Freetown, Massachusetts, from Tiverton in 1747.
Commissioners from Rhode Island had the new boundary surveyed in 1746
(without consulting Massachusetts), based on six reference points, from each
of which a distance was measured 3 miles inland. Massachusetts accepted this
border until 1791, when its own surveyors found that the Rhode Island surveyors
had "encroached" on Massachusetts territory by a few hundred feet in certain
places. (Rhode Island disagreed.) Of particular concern was the boundary near
Fall River, Massachusetts, which would later fall in the middle of a thickly settled
area of high taxable value.
In 1812, after a court case involving the Massachusetts border, the western half
of Old Rehoboth was set off as a separate township called Seekonk,
Massachusetts, leaving the eastern part as Rehoboth, Massachusetts. Old
Rehoboth's town center now became the heart of Old Seekonk.
In 1832, Rhode Island filed a case with the U.S. Supreme Court, but after six
years of deliberations, it was dismissed. The court decided it did not have the
jurisdiction to rule on the matter.
In 1844 and 1845, commissioners were once again authorized to survey and mark
the boundary from Wrentham to the Atlantic Ocean, to address the inaccuracies
of the 1746 survey. A report was issued in 1848, but the Massachusetts legislature
refused to agree to the proposed solution, after being petitioned by residents
of Fall River.
Both states filed bills of equity with the Supreme Court in 1852, and after more
surveying and negotiation, a decree was issued on December 16, 1861. On
March 1, 1862, when the Supreme Court ruling became effective, the western
part of Old Seekonk (all of which was on the eastern shore of the Blackstone
River) was ceded by Massachusetts and incorporated as East Providence,
Rhode Island. Part of North Providence, Rhode Island was also combined
with the former Pawtucket, Massachusetts and a sliver of Seekonk to form
the modern Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A small amount of land was also
added to Westport, Massachusetts. The southern boundary of Fall River,
Massachusetts was moved from Columbia Street to State Avenue, expanding
its territory. The Supreme Court made these adjustments not in conformance
with King George's instructions, but to unify the thickly settled areas of
Pawtucket and Fall River under the jurisdiction of a single state.
The 1861-2 boundary was slightly redefined in 1897, using stone markers instead
of high-water levels. The physical survey was performed in 1898, and ratified by
Rhode Island northern border
In 1710–11, commissioners from the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence
Plantations and the Province of Massachusetts Bay agreed that the stake
planted in 1642 by Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffrey at Burnt Swamp
Corner on the plains of Wrentham, Massachusetts, said to be at 41°55'N and
thought to be three miles south of the southernmost part of the Charles River,
would represent the starting point for the border.
The line extending west from the stake was surveyed in 1719, but inaccurately.
In 1748, Rhode Island appointed a commission to survey the line from the stake
to the Connecticut border, but Massachusetts failed to send a delegation. The
surveyors could not find the 1642 stake, and so marked a line from three miles
south, by their reckoning, of "Poppatolish Pond" (presumably Populatic Pond,
near Norfolk Airpark in Norfolk, Massachusetts). It was discovered that the
Woodward and Saffrey stake was considerably farther south than three miles
from the Charles River.
Rhode Island claimed that its commissioners had made a mistake in basing
the border on the 1642 stake, and in 1832 filed a case with the Supreme Court
of the United States. In 1846, the Court ruled in favor of Massachusetts. The
same surveyors that marked the eastern boundary the previous year then
marked the northern boundary, filing their report in 1848. Rhode Island accepted
the markings as the legal boundary on the condition that Massachusetts do
the same, but the Commonwealth failed to do so until 1865. But by that time,
Rhode Island claimed that the 1861 Supreme Court case had changed matters
so much as to render the "line of 1848" unacceptable.
The town of Springfield was settled in 1636 by William Pynchon (as Agawam
Plantation), covering the modern towns of Westfield, Southwick, West Springfield,
Agawam, Chicopee, Wilbraham, Ludlow and Longmeadow in Massachusetts,
and Enfield and Somers in Connecticut. It was connected to the Atlantic and
major avenues of trade by the Connecticut River, which ran past Hartford and
through the territory of the Connecticut Colony. After relations with Connecticut
soured in 1637, Pynchon's settlers voted to affiliate with Massachusetts (though
Springfield had been settled by permission of the Massachusetts General Court).
In 1641, Connecticut founded a trading post at Woronoke, which was in what
was strongly considered to be Massachusetts territory (now Westfield).
Massachusetts complained, and Connecticut demanded that Springfield pay
taxes to support the upkeep of the fort at the mouth of the river, in the Saybrook
Colony. The tax demand was withdrawn after Massachusetts threatened to start
charging Connecticut traders for the use of the port of Boston, Massachusetts.
To assert its sovereignty on the northern Connecticut River, the Massachusetts
Bay Colony sent Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffrey to survey and mark
the boundary. They accidentally marked the boundary with Rhode Island
significantly farther than the royally decreed three miles south of the southernmost
part of the Charles River. Instead of traversing the territory of Massachusetts by
land, they sailed around and up the Connecticut River, calculating the same
latitude at which they had misplaced the stake on the Rhode Island border. This
compounded the error even further, resulting in a four to seven mile discrepancy
between where the border should have been and where it was marked, and
awarding more territory to Massachusetts Bay than it had been granted by its
charter. Though it was suspicious of this survey, Connecticut would not even
receive a charter until 1662, and so the dispute would lie dormant for several
The towns of Woodstock, Suffield, Enfield, and Somers were incorporated by
Massachusetts, and mainly settled by migrants from the Massachusetts Bay
and Plymouth Colonies. In 1686, Suffield and Enfield (incorporated in
Massachusetts) were in a dispute over town territory with Windsor and Simsbury
(incorporated in Connecticut, and which then included Granby). Massachusetts
did not agree to a re-survey, so Connecticut hired John Butler and William
Whitney to do the job. They found the southernmost part of the Charles River,
and then traveled by land westward. Their 1695 report found that the 1642 line
had been drawn too far south.
Consternation ensued. Abortive pleas to the King of England were made in
1702. In 1713 a joint commission awarded control of Springfield-area towns to
Massachusetts (without consulting the residents of those towns), compensating
Connecticut with an equal amount of land elsewhere. But the inhabitants of the
Connecticut River border towns petitioned to be part of Connecticut in 1724,
perhaps due to high taxes in Massachusetts or the greater civil liberties granted
in the Connecticut charter.
In 1747, Woodstock petitioned the General Assembly of Connecticut to be
admitted to the colony, on the grounds that the transfer of lands from
Massachusetts in 1713 had not been authorized by the King. Suffield and
Enfield soon followed, and the legislature accepted them in May, 1749, and
declared the 1713 compromise null and void. Massachusetts continued to
assert sovereignty in practice.
In 1770, Southwick, Massachusetts was granted independence from Westfield,
Massachusetts. In May, 1774, residents in southern Southwick also petitioned
Connecticut for entry and secession from northern Southwick, on the grounds
they were south of the royally approved border of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
(three miles south of the Charles River). The part west of Congamond Lake joined
Simsbury, and the part east of the lake joined Suffield.
In 1791 and 1793, commissioners were sent from both states to survey the
boundary line yet again, but were unable to agree until a compromise was
reached in 1803–04. Massachusetts accepted the nullification of the 1713
compromise and the loss of the border towns, but regained the portion of
southern Southwick west of the lake. This resulted in the modern boundary
with Connecticut, which is a relatively straight east-west line, except for the
"Southwick jog", a small, mostly rectangular piece of Massachusetts
surrounded by Connecticut on three sides.
New York border
Massachusetts claimed all territory to the Pacific Ocean, based on its 1629
charter, but the Province of New York claimed the west bank of the Connecticut
River (passing through Springfield, Massachusetts) as its eastern boundary,
based on 1664 and 1674 grants to the Duke of York.
In 1773, the western boundary of Massachusetts was settled with the New York
in its present location, and surveyed in 1787, following the line of magnetic north
at the time. The starting point was a 1731 marker at the Connecticut-New York
border, 20 miles inland from the Hudson River.
Massachusetts relinquished sovereignty over its western lands (east of the
Great Lakes) to New York in the Treaty of Hartford in 1786, but retained the
economic right to buy the Boston Ten Townships from Native Americans before
any other party. These purchase rights were sold to private individuals in 1788.
The Commonwealth also ceded its claim to far western lands (Michigan and all
other land to the Pacific Ocean) to Congress in 1785.
In 1853, a small triangle of land in the southwest corner of the Commonwealth,
known as Boston Corners, was ceded from Mount Washington, Massachusetts
to Ancram, New York. The mountainous terrain prevented Massachusetts
authorities from enforcing the law there, making the neighborhood a haven for
outlaws and prize-fighters. Local residents had petitioned for the transfer to
allow New York authorities to clean up the hamlet.
In 1820, Maine was admitted into the Union as an independent state, as part
of the Missouri Compromise. (See the History of Maine for information about
its boundaries, including disputes with New Hampshire and Canadian provinces.)
Early European Exploration and Colonization
The coast of what is now Massachusetts was probably skirted by
Norsemen in the 11th cent., and Europeans of various nationalities
(but mostly English) sailed offshore in the late 16th and early 17th cent.
Settlement began when the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower and
landed (1620) at a point they named Plymouth (for their port of
embarkation in England). Their first governor, John Carver, died the
next year, but under his successor, William Bradford, the Plymouth
Colony took firm hold. Weathering early difficulties, the colony
Other Englishmen soon established fishing and trading posts
nearby—Andrew Weston (1622) at Wessagusset (now Weymouth)
and Thomas Wollaston (1625) at Mt. Wollaston, which was renamed
Merry Mount (now Quincy) when Thomas Morton took charge. The
fishing post established (1623) on Cape Ann by Roger Conant failed,
but in 1626 he founded Naumkeag (Salem), which in 1628 became
the nucleus of a Puritan colony led by John Endecott of the New England
Company and chartered by the private Council for New England.
The Puritan Colonies
In 1629 the New England Company was reorganized as the
Massachusetts Bay Company after receiving a more secure patent
from the crown. In 1630 John Winthrop led the first large Puritan
migration from England (900 settlers on 11 ships). Boston supplanted
Salem as capital of the colony, and Winthrop replaced Endecott as
governor. After some initial adjustments to allow greater popular
participation and the representation of outlying settlements in the
General Court (consisting of a governor, deputy governor, assistants,
and deputies), the “Bay Colony” continued to be governed as a private
company for the next 50 years. It was also a thoroughgoing Puritan
theocracy (see Puritanism), in which clergymen such as John Cotton
enjoyed great political influence. The status of freeman was restricted
(until 1664) to church members, and the state was regarded as an
agency of God's will on earth. Due to a steady stream of newcomers
from England, the South Shore (i.e., S of Boston), the North Shore,
and the interior were soon dotted with firmly rooted communities.
The early Puritans were primarily agricultural people, although a
merchant class soon formed. Most of the inhabitants lived in villages,
beyond which lay their privately owned fields. The typical village was
composed of houses (also individually owned) grouped around the
common—a plot of land held in common by the community. The
dominant structure on the common was the meetinghouse, where
the pastor, the most important figure in the community, held long
Sabbath services. The meetinghouse of the chief village of a town
(in New England a town corresponds to what is usually called a
township elsewhere in the United States) was also the site of the
town meeting, traditionally regarded as a foundation of American
democracy. In practice the town meeting served less to advance
democracy than to enforce unanimity and conformity, and
participation was as a rule restricted to male property holders who
were also church members.
Because they were eager for everyone to have the ability to study
scripture and always insisted on a learned ministry, the Puritans
zealously promoted the development of educational facilities. The
Boston Latin School was founded in 1635, one year before Harvard
was established, and in 1647 a law was passed requiring elementary
schools in towns of 50 or more families. These were not free schools,
but they were open to all and are considered the beginning of popular
education in the United States.
Native American resentment of the Puritan presence resulted in the
Pequot War (see Pequot) of 1637, after which the four Puritan colonies
(Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven) formed
the New England Confederation, the first voluntary union of American
colonies. In 1675–76, the confederation broke the power of the Native
Americans of southern New England in King Philip's War. In the course
of the French and Indian Wars, however, frontier settlements such as
Deerfield were devastated.
The population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony naturally rejoiced at the
triumph of the Puritan Revolution in England, but with the restoration of
Charles II in 1660 the colony's happy prospects faded. Its recently extended
jurisdiction over Maine was for a time discounted by royal authority, and,
worse still, its charter was revoked in 1684. The withdrawal of the charter of
the Massachusetts Bay Colony had long been expected because the colony
had consistently violated the terms of the charter and repeatedly evaded or
ignored royal orders by operating an illegal mint, establishing religious
rather than property qualifications for suffrage, and discriminating against
A New Royal Colony
In 1691 a new charter united Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Maine
into the single royal colony of Massachusetts. This charter abolished
church membership as a test for voting, although Congregationalism
remained the established religion. Widespread anxiety over loss of the
original charter contributed to the witchcraft panic that reached its climax
in Salem in the summer of 1692. Nineteen persons were hanged and one
crushed to death for refusing to confess to the practice of witchcraft. The
Salem trials ended abruptly when colonial authorities, led by Cotton Mather,
became alarmed at their excesses.
By the mid-18th cent. the Massachusetts colony had come a long way
from its humble agricultural beginnings. Fish, lumber, and farm products
were exported in a lively trade carried by ships built in Massachusetts
and manned by local seamen. That the menace of French Canada was
removed by 1763 was due in no small measure to the unstinting efforts
of England, but the increasing British tendency to regulate colonial affairs,
especially trade (see Navigation Acts), without colonial advice, was most
unwelcome. Because of the colony's extensive shipping interests, e.g.,
the traffic in molasses, rum, and slaves (the “triangular trade”), it sorely
felt these restrictions.
Discontent and Revolution
In 1761 James Otis opposed a Massachusetts superior court's issuance
of writs of assistance (general search warrants to aid customs officers in
enforcing collection of duties on imported sugar), arguing that this action
violated the natural rights of Englishmen and was therefore void. He thus
helped set the stage for the political controversy which, coupled with
economic grievances, culminated in the American Revolution. In
Massachusetts a bitter struggle developed between the governor, Thomas
Hutchinson, and the anti-British party in the legislature led by Samuel
Adams, John Adams, James Otis, and John Hancock. The Stamp Act
(1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767) preceded the Boston Massacre
(1770), and the Tea Act (1773) brought on the Boston Tea Party. The
rebellious colonials were punished for this with the Intolerable Acts (1774),
which troops under Gen. Thomas Gage were sent to enforce.
Through committees of correspondence Massachusetts and the other
colonies had been sharing their grievances, and in 1774 they called the
First Continental Congress at Philadelphia for united action. The mounting
tension in Massachusetts exploded in Apr., 1775, when General Gage
decided to make a show of force. Warned by Paul Revere and William
Dawes, the Massachusetts militia engaged the British force at Lexington
and Concord (see Lexington and Concord, battles of). Patriot militia from
other colonies hurried to Massachusetts, where, after the battle of Bunker
Hill (June 17, 1775), George Washington took command of the patriot forces.
The British remained in Boston until Mar. 17, 1776, when Gen. William
Howe evacuated the town, taking with him a considerable number of Tories.
British troops never returned, but Massachusetts soldiers were kept busy
elsewhere fighting for the independence of the colonies. In 1780 a new
constitution, drafted by a constitutional convention under the leadership of
John Adams, was ratified by direct vote of the citizenry.
The New Nation
Victorious in the Revolution, the colonies faced depressing economic
conditions. Nowhere were those conditions worse than in W
Massachusetts, where discontented Berkshire farmers erupted in
Shay's Rebellion in 1786. The uprising was promptly quelled, but it frightened
conservatives into support of a new national constitution that would displace
the weak government created under the Articles of Confederation; this
constitution was ratified by Massachusetts in 1788.
Independence had closed the old trade routes within the British Empire,
but new ones were soon created, and trade with China became especially
lucrative. Boston and lesser ports boomed, and the prosperous times were
reflected politically in the commonwealth's unwavering adherence to the
Federalist party, the party of the dominant commercial class. European
wars at the beginning of the 19th cent. at first further stimulated maritime
trade but then led to interference with American shipping. To avoid war
Congress resorted to Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807, but its provisions
dealt a severe blow to the economy of Massachusetts and the rest of the
War with Great Britain came anyway in 1812, and it was extremely unpopular
in New England. There was talk of secession at the abortive Hartford
Convention of New England Federalists, over which George Cabot presided.
As it happened, however, the embargo and the War of 1812 had an
unexpectedly favorable effect on the economy of Massachusetts. With
English manufactured goods shut out, the United States had to begin
manufacturing on its own, and the infant industries that sprang up after
1807 tended to concentrate in New England, and especially in
Massachusetts. These industries, financed by money made in shipping and
shielded from foreign competition by protective tariffs after 1816, grew rapidly,
transforming the character of the commonwealth and its people.
Labor was plentiful and often ruthlessly exploited. The power loom, perfected
by Francis Cabot Lowell, as well as English techniques for textile
manufacturing (based on plans smuggled out of England) made
Massachusetts an early center of the American textile industry. The water
power of the Merrimack River became the basis for Lowell's cotton textile
industry in the 1820s. The manufacture of shoes and leather goods also
became important in the state. Agriculture, on the other hand, went into
a sharp decline because Massachusetts could not compete with the new
agricultural states of the West, a region more readily accessible after the
opening of the Erie Canal (1825). Farms were abandoned by the score;
some farmers turned to work in the new factories, others moved to the West.
In 1820 Maine was separated from Massachusetts and admitted to the Union
as a separate state under the terms of the Missouri Compromise. In the same
year the Massachusetts constitution was considerably liberalized by the
adoption of amendments that abolished all property qualifications for voting,
provided for the incorporation of cities, and removed religious tests for officeholders.
(Massachusetts is the only one of the original 13 states that is still governed under
its original constitution, the one of 1780, although this was extensively amended
by the constitutional convention of 1917–19.)
Reform Movements and Civil War
In the 1830s and 40s the state became the center of religious and social
reform movements, such as Unitarianism and transcendentalism. Of the
transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau were quick
to perceive and decry the evils of industrialization, while Bronson Alcott,
Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Emerson had some association
with Brook Farm, an outgrowth of Utopian ideals. Horace Mann set about
establishing an enduring system of public education in the 1830s. During
this period Massachusetts gave to the nation the architect Charles Bulfinch;
such writers and poets as Richard Henry Dana, Emily Dickinson, Oliver
Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and
John Greenleaf Whittier; the historians George Bancroft, John Lothrop Motley,
Francis Parkman, and William Hickling Prescott; and the scientist Louis
In the 1830s reformers began to devote energy to the antislavery crusade.
This was regarded with great displeasure by the mill tycoons, who feared
that an offended South would cut off their cotton supply. The Whig party
split on the slavery issue, and Massachusetts turned to the new Republican
party, voting for John C. Frémont in 1856 and Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
Massachusetts was the first state to answer Lincoln's call for troops after
the firing on Fort Sumter. Massachusetts soldiers were the first to die for
the Union cause when the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was fired on by
a secessionist mob in Baltimore. In the course of the war over 130,000
men from the state served in the Union forces.
Industrialization and Immigration
After the Civil War Massachusetts, with other northern states, experienced
rapid industrial expansion. Massachusetts capital financed many of the
nation's new railroads, especially in the West. Although people continued
to leave the state for the West, labor remained cheap and plentiful as
European immigrants streamed into the state. The Irish, oppressed by
both nature and the British, began arriving in droves even before the Civil
War (beginning in the 1840s), and they continued to land in Boston for
years to come. After them came French Canadians, arriving later in the
19th cent., and, in the early 20th cent., Portuguese, Italians, Poles, Slavs,
Russian Jews, and Scandinavians. Also from the British Isles came the
English, the Scots, and the Welsh. Of all the immigrant groups,
English-speaking and non-English-speaking, the Irish came to be the most
influential, especially in politics. Their religion (Roman Catholic) and their
political faith (Democratic) definitely set them apart from the old native
Practically all the immigrants went to work in the factories. The halcyon
days of shipping were over. The maritime trade had bounded back
triumphantly after the War of 1812, but the supplanting of sail by steam,
the growth of railroads, and the destruction caused by Confederate cruisers
in the Civil War helped reduce shipping to its present negligible state—a far
cry from the colorful era of the clipper ships, which were perfected by Donald
McKay of Boston. Whaling, once the glory of New Bedford and Nantucket,
faded quickly with the introduction of petroleum.
The Growth of the Cities and the Labor Movement
The rise of industrialism was accompanied by a growth of cities, although the
small mill town, where the factory hands lived in company houses and traded
in the company store, remained important. Labor unions struggled for recognition
in a long, weary battle marked by strikes, sometimes violent, as was the case
in the Lawrence textile strike of 1912.
World War I, which caused a vast increase in industrial production, improved
the lot of workers, but not of Boston policemen, who staged and lost their
famous strike in 1919. For his part in breaking the strike, Gov. Calvin Coolidge
won national fame and went on to become vice president and then president,
the third Massachusetts citizen (after John Adams and John Quincy Adams)
to hold the highest office in the land. The Sacco-Vanzetti Case, following the
police strike, attracted international attention, as liberals raged over the seeming
lack of regard for the spirit of the law in a state that had given the nation such an
eminent jurist as Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841–1935). Labor unions finally came
into their own in the 1930s under the New Deal.
World War II to the Present
Industry spurted forward again during World War II, and in the postwar era
the state continued to develop. Politically, the state again assumed national
importance with the 1960 election of Senator John F. Kennedy as the nation's
35th President. In 1974, Michael S. Dukakis, a Democrat, was elected governor.
He lost to Edward King in 1978, but won again in 1982 and was reelected in
1986. In 1988 he ran for President, losing to George Bush. Dukakis decided
not to run again for governor.
During the postwar period the decline of textile manufacturing was offset as
the electronics industry, attracted by the skilled technicians available in the
Boston area, boomed along Route 128. Growth in the computer and electronics
sectors, much of it spurred by defense spending, helped Massachusetts prosper
during much of the 1980s. At the end of the decade effects of a nationwide
recession and the burden of a huge state budget hit Massachusetts hard,
but in the 1990s there was a substantial economic recovery, spearheaded
by growth in small high-tech companies.
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