History of Massachusetts

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This is the History of the state of Massachusetts, a state in the northeastern U.S. that was one of the thirteen original colonies.


Various Algonquin tribes inhabited the area prior to European settlement. In the Massachusetts Bay area resided the Massachusett tribe. Near the Vermont and New Hampshire borders and the Merrimack River valley was the traditional home of the Pennacook tribe. Cape Cod 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 were heavily decimated by waves of smallpox brought by sailors and explorers well before the settlers came. (The explorers and sailors had much more contact with Indians than did the settlers.) Indians had developed no immunity to European diseases, as the record of the Columbian Exchange shows.

English: Pilgrims, 1620-1629

For more information, see: Plymouth Colony.

The Pilgrims from the Humber region of England established their settlement at Plymouth in 1620, arriving on the Mayflower. One of their first tasks was to form a government, the Mayflower compact. They also suffered grievously from the native smallpox, but they were assisted 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 survived the first year.

The English settlers built small compact villages, amounting to a few square miles; they avoided the hunting areas used by the Indians. Plymouth always was small and later became part of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1629-1686

A much larger influx were the Puritans, primarily from eastern England. They established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered around Boston, with its fine harbor.

Relations with the natives were still good at this time. In 1646 John Eliot started to preach to the Wampanoags. He succeeded in converting a large number. The colonial government placed them in a ring of villages around Boston as a defensive strategy. They were called "praying indians." The oldest village, Natick, was built in 1651.

The Puritans came to Massachusetts for religious purification and would not tolerate impure religion. Pilgrims, as well as Anglicans, Quakers, and a handful of other denominations were grudgingly accepted in the Puritan communities for a time. Then 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 the Simon Bradstreet until 1692. He merged Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony in 1691. In 1692 a new governor, William Phips, was appointed 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.

Royal Colony of Massachusetts 1692-1774

Notable governors during this period were Thomas Hutchinson, Francis Bernard, and General Thomas Gage.

Revolutionary Massachusetts 1760s-1780s

Massachusetts was the first colony to revolt against the Crown, and thus the instigator of the American Revolution. On February 9, 1775, Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in rebellion, and sent additional troops to restore order to the colony.

In Boston on March 5, 1770, 5 protesters were shot by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre.

Several early Revolutionary battles took place in Massachusetts, including the Battles of Lexington and Concord (where the famous shot heard 'round the world was fired), the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Siege of Boston. After Lexington militia swarmed to Boston, surrounding the British in the city. General George Washington soon took charge, and when he acquired cannon in spring 1776, the British were forced to leave, marking the first great American victory of the war. This was the last fighting in the state but the Massachusetts state navy] did manage to get itself destroyed by the British fleet.[1]

Federalist Era 1780-1815

During the Revolution many upper class Loyalist families fled the state, including prominent merchants. This together with the rapid expansion of the economy after 1780 opened the door for new families to become rich and powerful. Mann (2003) looks at the social mobility of two families, the Appletons and the Lawrences, who raised themselves from their humble origins in antebellum Boston, to wealth and high status, while still retaining a sense of Protestant social responsibility.

A Constitutional Convention drew up a new state Constitution drafted mainly by John Adams, and the people ratified it on June 15, 1780. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery. The new Constitutional also dropped any religious tests for political office, though local tax moneys had to be paid to support local churches. People who belonged to non-Congregational churches paid their tax money to their own church. (The unchurched paid to the Congregationalists.) Baptist leader Isaac Backus vigorously fought these provisions, arguing people should have freedom of choice regarding financial support of religion.

Age of Sail and new wealth

During the 1780s up to the War of 1812, the seacoast economy boomed. By the 1790s Salem had surpassed the port of New York to become the capital of America’s ocean-going trade. Canny seafaring merchants such as Elias Hasket Derby, America’s first millionaire, made Salem the wealthiest city in America.[2] Salem sent the first American ships to Russia and were second to reach China.[3] Salem ships frequented the West Indies, Spain, Portugal, Calcutta, Bombay, Manila, Canton, and other far-flung places; and as a result, Salem’s wharves were a continuously bustling bazaar of exotic and profitable goods, such as tea, silk and porcelain. Salem’s flourished into the 1830s, when its small harbor could no longer handle the large clipper ships that were now based in Boston. Salem merchants then turned their fortunes to building textile factories, such as the Lowell Mills. Many of the beautiful Federalist buildings that exist today on Salem’s Derby Street hark back to the early 1800s.[4]

Leader in industrialization 1815-1860

Stung by New York City's control of western markets via the Erie Canal, Massachusetts turned to railroads. (With so many hills a canal system would not have worked.) 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.

Massachusetts became a national and world leader in industrialization, with its mastery of machine tools. Boston capital funded textile mills in many towns; the new textile cities of Lowell and Lawrence were founded. Mill owners, after rejecting the Lowell girls (young Yankee women), brought in Irish and French Canadian workers. Lowell grew to a city of 30,000 people, 300,000 spindles and 9000 looms. Its mills were highly integrated and centrally controlled. An ingenious canal system provided the water power that drove the machinery (steam engines came much later). In output per worker-hour it could claim to be the most efficient textile center in the world.

Industrial cities, especially Worcester and Springfield became world leaders in machinery. Boston did not have factories, but it became increasingly important as the transportation hub of all of New England, as well as a national leader in finance, law, medicine, learning, and publishing. Horace Mann made the state system of schools the national model. The state 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 establishment of religion was a main topic of debate in the early 19th century, with Congregationalists upholding the system whereby local taxes supported the local minister (usually a Congregationalist). Th system was finally ended in 1833. Neem (2004) examines the debates 1780 to 1833 on the relationship between church, state, and law in order to trace the emergence of an independent civil society in the state. Federalists, who believed that the people and the state shared common interests, worried that the emergence of voluntary, civil organizations would undermine this unity and create divisions. Probing the legal rights of voluntary churches formed part of the public discussion. Ultimately, a disestablished, independent civil society opened up a new arena in which private groups could promote and debate the common, or shared, good. The Congregationalists themselves had a schism, as Unitarians from upper middle class Boston and eastern cities rejected traditional Calvinism. By 1805 the liberal Unitarian revolt had reached theological maturity, as symbolized by the controversial election of Henry Ware as Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard. Ware held to a coherent body of doctrine, sometimes called "Supernatural Rationalism," which masked the dynamic shifts in Unitarian theological thought in upper-class urban culture.[5] Meanwhile the Calvinists themselves changed radically, buying into the Second Great Awakening and moving toward Arminian doctrines that everyone could be saved. Many new missionary societies resulted, along with new schools like William College. New denominations sprang up, especially the Methodists and Baptists. Upper class Boston proved hospitable to the revived Episcopalian denomination, while the large numbers of Irish immigrants built the Catholic church in the mill toens and cities.

The Congregationalists remained dominant in rural areas but in the cities a new religious sensibility had replaced their straight-laced Calvinism. By 1826, reported Harriet Beecher Stow:

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.

Civil War and Gilded Age 1860-1900

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.

Miller (2004) shows the state's support for the Civil War was buttressed by a new and elaborate welfare system for the families of soldiers. State aid took the form of direct cash assistance, subsidies to private industrial associations, and administrative procedures. These efforts helped maintain soldiers' morale and public support for the war. However, the various private and public programs were not well coordinated. Cities and towns provided aid with the start of the war, but these proved difficult to sustain. In May 1861, Governor John A. Andrew signed a law which provided for state reimbursement to towns giving aid to the soldiers' families. However, regulations made gaining the funds difficult. Other efforts included the Committee of One Hundred, the Boston Soldiers' Fund Association, and the Ladies Industrial Aid Association. Although significant, efforts in Massachusetts fell short in providing for African Americans and the families of out-of-state volunteers.[6]

Prosperity decades 1900-1929

Depression and war 1929-1945

Economic changes: decline of manufacturing 1945-1985

Modern economy and society 1985-2007



Specialized scholarly books

To 1780

  • Adams, James Truslow. The Founding of New England (1921) online edition
  • Adams, James Truslow. Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776 (1923) online edition
  • Adams, James Truslow. New England in the Republic, 1776-1850 (1926) online edition
  • Andrews, Charles M. The Fathers of New England: A Chronicle of the Puritan Commonwealths (1919)] short survey online edition
  • Axtell, James, ed. The American People in Colonial New England (1973), new social history
  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (1975), the leading Loyalist before the Revolution
  • Bailyn, Bernard. The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (1970)
  • Bremer, Francis J. John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father (2003) online edition
    • Hosmer, James Kendall ed. Winthrop's Journal, "History of New England," 1630-1649 - Vol. 1 & vol 2
  • Brown, Robert E. Middle Class Democracy in Massachusetts, 1691-1789 (1955)
  • Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England (1983), environmental history
  • Donahue, Brian. The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord. Yale U. Press, 2004. 344 pp.
  • Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere's Ride (1994)] explains 1775 in depth online edition
  • Hart, Albert Bushnell ed.Commonwealth History of Massachusetts, Colony, Province and State Vol. 1 (1927)] to 1689 online edition vol 1
  • Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (1998), new social history online edition
  • Labaree, Benjamin Woods. Colonial Massachusetts: A History (1979), scholarly overview
  • Labaree, Benjamin W. The Boston Tea Party (1964)
  • Lockridge, Kenneth A. A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736 (1985), new social history
  • Miller, John C. Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda (1936)
  • Palfrey, John Gorham. History of New England vol 1 (1858), political narrative. vol 4 online
  • Peters Jr., Ronald M. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (1978)
  • Lockridge, Kenneth A. A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736 (1985), new social history
  • Palfrey, John Gorham. History of New England vol 1 (1858), classic political narrative.
  • Rutman, Darrett B. Winthrop's Boston: Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630-1649 (1965)
  • Taylor, Robert J. Western Massachusetts in the Revolution (1954) online edition
  • Vaughan, Alden T. New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians 1620-1675 (1995)
  • Warden, G. B. Boston 1689-1776 (1970)
  • Weeden, William. Economic and Social History of New England, 1620–1789 (1890) online edition
  • Weisman, Richard. Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion in 17th-Century Massachusetts U of Massachusetts Press, 1984 online edition
  • Wood, Timothy L. Agents of Wrath, Sowers of Discord: Authority and Dissent in Puritan Massachusetts, 1630-1655. Routledge, 2006. 198 pp.
  • Wright, Conrad Edick. Revolutionary Generation: Harvard Men and the Consequences of Independence. U. of Massachusetts Pr., 2005. 298 pp.
  • Zobel, Hiller B. The Boston Massacre (1978)


  • Adams, James Truslow. New England in the Republic, 1776-1850 (1926) [online edition
  • Banner, James. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815 (1970)
  • Baum, Dale. The Civil War Party System: The Case of Massachusetts, 1848-1876 (1984), new political history
  • Blodgett, Geoffrey The Gentle Reformers: Massachusetts Democrats in the Cleveland Era (1966)
  • Boylan, Anne M. The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797-1840. U. of North Carolina Pr., 2002. 343 pp.
  • Brooks, Van Wyck. The Flowering of New England, 1815-1865(1936), famous writers
  • Clark, Christopher. The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780–1860 (1990)
  • Deutsch, Sarah. Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940 (2000) online edition
  • Dublin, Thomas. Women at Work: The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860 (1993) online edition
  • Faler, Paul Gustaf. Mechanics and Manufacturers in the Early Industrial Revolution: Lynn, Massachusetts, 1780-1860 (1981) online edition
  • Formisano, Ronald P. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (1983), new political history
  • Goodman, Paul. The Democratic-Republicans of Massachusetts (1964)
  • Green, James R., William F. Hartford, and Tom Juravich. Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions (1996)
  • Gutman, Herbert. The New England Working Class and the New Labor History (1987)
  • Handlin, Oscar and Mary Flug Handlin. Commonwealth: A Study of the Role of Government in the American Economy: Massachusetts, 1774-1861 (1947)], influential study online edition
  • Handlin, Oscar. Boston's Immigrants: A Study in Acculturation (1941), social history to 1865
  • Mann, Anthony. "How 'Poor Country Boys' Became Boston Brahmins: the Rise of the Appletons and the Lawrences in Ante-bellum Massachusetts." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 2003 31(1): 43-72. Issn: 0276-8313
  • Miller, Richard F. "For His Wife, His Widow, and His Orphan: Massachusetts and Family Aid During the Civil War." Massachusetts Historical Review 2004 6: 70-106. Issn: 1526-3894 Fulltext: in History Cooperative
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783-1860 (1921) [online edition
  • Neem, Johann N. "The Elusive Common Good: Religion and Civil Society in Massachusetts, 1780-1833." Journal of the Early Republic 2004 24(3): 381-417. Issn: 0275-1275 Fulltext: in Ebsco
  • Nelson, William. Americanization of the Common Law: The Impact of Legal Change on Massachusetts Society, 1760–1830 (1994)
  • Porter, Susan L. Women of the Commonwealth: Work, Family, and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Massachusetts (1996) online edition
  • Prude, Jonathan. The Coming of Industrial Order: A Study of Town and Factory Life In Rural Massachusetts, 1813–1860 (1983)
  • Rosenkrantz, Barbara. Public Health and the State: Changing Views in Massachusetts, 1842–1936 (1972),
  • Story, Ronald. The Forging of an Aristocracy: Harvard and the Boston Upper Class, 1800-1870 (1980).
  • Szatmary, David. Shays' Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection (1980);
  • Tager, Jack, and John W. Ifkovic, eds. Massachusetts in the Gilded Age: Selected Essays (1985)] essays on ethnic groups online edition
  • Vickers, Daniel and Walsh, Vince. Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail. Yale U. Pr., 2005. 336 pp.
  • Wilson, Harold Fisher. The Hill Country of Northern New England: Its Social and Economic History, 1790–1930(1967)
  • Wright, Conrad. "American Unitarianism in 1805." Journal of Unitarian Universalist History 2005 30: 1-35. Fulltext: online at Journal of Unitarian Universalist History


  • Abrams, Richard M. Conservatism in a Progressive Era: Massachusetts Politics, 1900-1912 (1964) online edition
  • Black, John D. The rural economy of New England: a regional study (1950) online edition
  • Blewett, Mary H. The Last Generation: Work and Life in the Textile Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, 1910-1960 (1990) online edition
  • Brewer, Daniel Chauncey. Conquest of New England by the Immigrant (1926) online edition
  • Conforti, Joseph A. Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century (2001) online edition
  • Deutsch, Sarah. Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940 (2000) online edition
  • Freeland, Richard M. Academia's Golden Age: Universities in Massachusetts, 1945-1970 (1992) [online edition
  • Green, James R., William F. Hartford, and Tom Juravich. Commonwealth of Toil: Chapters in the History of Massachusetts Workers and Their Unions (1996)
  • Gutman, Herbert. The New England Working Class and the New Labor History (1987)
  • Hogarty Richard A. Massachusetts Politics and Public Policy: Studies in Power and Leadership U of Massachusetts Press, 2002 online edition
  • Huthmacher, J. Joseph. Massachusetts People and Politics, 1919-1933 (1958)
  • Kane, Paula M. Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900-1920 (1994)
  • Lazerson, Marvin, Origins of the Urban School: Public Education in Massachusetts, 1870-1915 (1971) http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=51915416 online edition]
  • Litt, Edgar. The Political Cultures of Massachusetts (1965).
  • Lockard, Duane. New England State Politics (1959), covers 1945-58
  • Peirce, Neal R. The New England States: People, Politics, and Power in the Six New England States (1976), in-depth coverage of the 1958-75 era
  • Stack Jr., John F. International Conflict in an American City: Boston's Irish, Italians, and Jews, 1935-1944 (1979).
  • Trout, Charles. Boston, The Great Depression and the New Deal (1977)
  • White, William Allen. A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge (1938)
  • Whitehill, Walter Muir. Boston in the Age of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1966)
  • WPA. Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People. (1937)] famous guide to every city and town online edition
  • Zimmerman, Joseph F. The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action (1999) online edition

Cities and Towns

  • Batinski, Michael C. Pastkeepers in a Small Place: Five Centuries in Deerfield, Massachusetts. U. of Massachusetts Pr., 2004. 278 pp.
  • Buckley, Kerry W., ed. A Place Called Paradise: Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004. U. of Massachusetts Pr., 2004. 524 pp.
  • Carr, Jacqueline Barbara. After the Siege: A Social History of Boston, 1775-1800. Northeastern U. Pr., 2005. 318 pp.
  • Kendrick, Stephen and Kendrick, Paul. Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America. Beacon, 2004. 300 pp.
  • Krahulik, Karen Christel. Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort. New York U. Pr., 2005. 276 pp.
  • Morrison, Dane and Schultz, Nancy Lusignan, eds. Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory. Northeastern U. Pr., 2004. 348 pp.
  • O'Connor, Thomas H. The Athens of America: Boston, 1825-1845. U. of Massachusetts Pr., 2006. 220 pp.

Primary Sources

  1. See [1]
  2. National Park Service, Salem: Maritime Salem in the Age of Sail (U.S. Department of Interior, 1987), p. 17; see also p. 46-7.
  3. Ibid., p. 109-110
  4. For the early rise of Salem’s shipping industry, see James Duncan Phillips, Salem in the Eighteenth Century (Salem: Essex Institute, 1969).
  5. Wright (2005)
  6. Richard F. Miller, "For His Wife, His Widow, and His Orphan: Massachusetts and Family Aid During the Civil War," Massachusetts Historical Review 6 (2004), 70-106.