Some ten native tribes inhabited the area now called Massachusetts prior to European settlement. The Massachusett, an Algonquin speaking tribe, lived along the coast near present-day Boston and gave the Commonwealth its name. But following the arrival of the British in the early 17th century, massive numbers of the Massachusett and other coastal tribes succumbed to small pox.
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Religion defined the early years of the New England colonies. The first settlers to arrive were British Pilgrims, who had split from the Church of England, seeking a refuge where they could worship and govern according to their own principles. Assisted by the Wampanoags, they established a stable settlement, and in 1621, celebrated surviving their first year in a feast of Thanksgiving.
The Puritans, also reformist Christians from England, arrived eight years later and established their own settlement, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which soon dominated the region. Between 1629 and 1643, some 21,000 Puritans immigrated to New England, along with many thousands of non-Puritans. Intolerant of other religious ideas, the Puritans oppressed those with different views. These dissenters left or were forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony and settle new colonies along the East Coast.
By the end of the 17th century, Puritan power had diminished, and in 1692, Massachusetts became a single unified colony, governed and taxed by Britain. Those taxes rankled Massachusetts residents. Discontent swelled with the years. In 1773, that discontent found action when a group of men calling themselves the Sons of Liberty boarded a merchant ship and dumped into Boston harbor its cargo of taxed tea from the East India Tea Company—the Boston Tea Party. Less than two years later, the Revolution began in earnest.
Following the revolution, Massachusetts continued its role of influence in the new republic. The Constitution of the Commonwealth, drafted by John Adams and adopted in 1780, is the oldest written constitution in continuous effect in the world. The Commonwealth was the first U.S. state to call for the abolition of slavery. And in the 1800s, the state’s textile mills transformed the economy of the northeast with rapid industrialization.
Today, Massachusetts is a center of higher education, bio and computer technology, and banking. But its history is ever-present and ready for discovery throughout the state. Visitors can experience this heritage anywhere they happen to venture, whether shore or mountain, small village or city. Walk across the green in Lexington and imagine those first shots. Visit Plymouth and recall the landing of some of the country’s first European settlers. The towns of Nantucket and New Bedford still evoke their whaling past. And the Mohawk Trail follows the footsteps of the area’s original inhabitants.