"...devotion to and distinction in history [is] the mark of a special
philosophical attitude, one that reflects the passing scene against the
background of the past, connects each generation with something bigger
than itself, links past, present and future in a meaningful continuum,
and by recalling the indebtedness of the present to the past, dramatizes
the responsibility of the present to the future: those who are history-
conscious are generally posterity-conscious."
- Henry Steele Commager, Massachusetts
Archaeological excavations in Massachusetts reveal that the earliest human beings arrived here more than 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists call these earliest settlers "Paleo-Indians". They are the ancestors of today's Native Americans or Indians. The descendants of the Paleo-Indians lived in small, mobile groups, hunting, gathering, and fishing. Over thousands of years, their numbers grew and they began to manage their environments and ultimately to farm, growing corn, beans, squash, and other plants for food and medicine, as well as hunting and fishing according to the seasons. They invented a sophisticated technology appropriate to their forested habitat, which included tools of chipped or ground stone, wooden implements, ceramics, textiles, leather, basketry, dome-shaped houses known as wetus or wigwams, and maneuverable canoes. They established social, political, and religious institutions embedded in family, clan, community, and the natural and supernatural worlds.
At the time of earliest European contact (around 1500 A.D.) tens of thousands of Native Americans made their homes in Massachusetts. They were speakers of a variety of dialects and languages, all of which were part of the Algonquian language family and lived in many communities among which some of the best known were the Massachusett, Wampanoag, Pennacook, Mahican (Stockbridge), Pocumtuck, and Nipmuck. Their settlements and hunting grounds were spread across the entire state from easternmost Cape Cod (Nauset) to the western mountains (Housatonic). Tragically, early European travelers introduced new diseases to which the Indians had no natural immunities. The first recorded epidemics began in coastal Massachusetts in 1616 and 1617, and devastated populations by as much as 90%. When the Pilgrims arrived in 1620 they found many areas abandoned. Plimoth plantation itself was established on the site of Patuxet, a depopulated Native American settlement. Disease and war took a heavy toll of Native American lives during the remainder of the seventeenth century. Despite decades of oppression and poverty, Native American communities persevered and continue to this day. They are a deeply rooted, vigorous part of the diverse mix of peoples that comprise twenty-first century Massachusetts.
European history in Massachusetts begins with adventurous explorers, who roved about the coast of Massachusetts centuries before the Mayflower made its famous voyage. There is a legend that Leif Ericson and his Norsemen touched here in the year 1000, and probably fishermen from France and Spain, bound for the teeming waters off the Grand Banks, stopped now and again to cast their nets for cod. In 1497 and 1498 John Cabot carried through the explorations upon which England based her original claim to North America. Other occasional landings were made by voyagers seeking a new route to the fabled treasures of the exotic East, and occasionally abortive plans for colonization took vague shape. In 1602 Bartholemew Gosnold explored the bay and christened Cape Cod for the fish that swarmed about it. Twelve years later John Smith wrote of his New England journeyings with a fervor that stirred the blood of discontented English farmers, describing "Many iles all planted with corne; groves, mulberries, salvage gardens and good harbours". A second enthusiast, William Wood, in 1634 contributed his "New England Prospect" to the growing travel literature of the New World. There was talk in Europe of the wealth that lay here and the trade that might be established; but the first important movement toward settlement originated not in material but in religious aspirations.
The Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom, set sail for North America. After approximately 65 days at sea their first landing was in what is now Provincetown harbor on Saturday, the 11th of November 1620. The Pilgrims spent a few weeks exploring the surrounding area before deciding to cross the bay establishing their colony in Plymouth December 2, which they had chosen under the influence of Smith’s “A Description of New England”. There they set up a democratic government in accordance with the terms of the famous “Mayflower Compact”, an agreement binding all to conform to the will of the majority. In spite of great hardship, the Pilgrim settlement prospered (the local Wampanoag, including the English-speaking Squanto and Chief Massasoit, were very helpful), and in 1621 the first Thanksgiving was observed. Gradually small fishing and trading stations were established, notably at Wessagusset (Weymouth), Quincy, and Cape Ann.
More important, however, was the arrival of the Puritans, who were also determined to find a place where their religious views and practices would be free from persecution. In 1628 a shipload of emigrants led by John Endicott left England for Salem to join Roger Conant's band of refugees from the abandoned fishing station on Cape Ann, which had been originally formed in 1623 as the "Dorchester Company" by Rev. John White. It had originally consisted of a group who came to be called the "Old Planters", and included Richard Norman, John Balch, Peter Palfrey, Walter Knight, and John Woodbury. The company was not successful as a fishing station, so it was abandoned and some of the members returned to England. The remaining settlers, including John Woodbury, moved in 1626 from Cape Ann further south to Salem, then called "Naumkeag". In 1627 Woodbury was chosen to return to England to try and obtain a charter for Rev. White's supporters. On March 19, 1628, a royal charter was granted to the Massachusetts Bay Company, to promote the settlement of the territory "from sea to sea" that had been granted to the Puritans, and to govern its colonies. The charter given to the Company was the foundation of the government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It provided for a General Court which was a single body, of which the Court of Assistants was an integral part. Later the Court of Assistants separated from the General Court and became America's first elected Upper House.
When John Winthrop and a large group of Puritans arrived at Salem in 1630, bearing with them the prized charter, a self-contained English colony, governed by its own members, was assured. Winthrop moved from Salem to Charlestown and thence to Boston, other settlements were founded, and by 1640 the immigrants in Massachusetts numbered 16,000, all seeking greater opportunity and a free environment for their dissentient religious views. Many also felt it their mission to "civilize" the land and its people; the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony shows a Native American saying "Come Over and Help Us".
The colonizing movement spread rapidly along the coast and then westward; those who were restless and rebellious against the rigid rule of the ministers went out into what are now other New England states, founding towns based upon the Massachusetts pattern. Small-scale farming was the fundamental way of earning a living, and compact settlements with outlying fields grew up around the central green, which is a characteristic of old New England towns. The long winters gave leisure for handicraft, and "Yankee ingenuity" first showed itself in the variety of products the farmers turned out to supply their own and their neighbor's needs. The most enduring feature of the community pattern was the town meeting, in which every taxpayer had equal voice. In evolving that most democratic of governmental procedures, Massachusetts contributed greatly to the political development of the nation.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony worked out its problems without interference from across the sea until 1660, when the Stuarts were restored to the throne. Thereafter, a policy of stricter control was instituted. Massachusetts stoutly resisted all attempts at regulation from abroad, and consequently lost its charter in 1684, becoming a part of the Dominion of New England under the administration of Sir Edmund Andros. Massachusetts continued to oppose the will of the Crown for four years. When James II fled in 1688 the Puritans failed in their attempt to revive the Massachusetts Bay Company, and Massachusetts, in 1691, became a Royal Province under a Governor appointed by the Crown. Two legislative houses were permitted, however, and the requirement that every voter must be a church member was abolished.
The new restrictions incidental to the status of a Royal Province, applied in Massachusetts and elsewhere, provoked the series of controversies that culminated in the Revolutionary War. During the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century, Massachusetts grew in population and in maritime trade. These were the years of the so-called Second Hundred Years' War between France and England. In these wars, 1688-1760, Massachusetts played an important part. Its crowning feat was the capture in 1745 of the fortress of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island (NS), a fortress so strong it was known as the Gibraltar of America. At the same time, Massachusetts' maritime trade, especially with Caribbean ports, rose to the point that Boston was known as "The Mart (or market town) of the West Indies".
Lax enforcement of the restrictive laws, due to the fact that England was engrossed through much of the eighteenth century by a series of wars with France, gave Massachusetts a breathing spell. The conduct of the colonies, however, in carrying on trade with the enemy during these struggles of the mother country, and their failure to pay a fixed share of the war's expenses finally brought about a stricter colonial policy. The Sugar Act (1764) almost abolished the foreign trade upon which Massachusetts depended for its gold; the Stamp Act (1765) taxed out of the colony most of the funds remaining to her. Rioting and boycotts brought about the repeal of the Sugar Act in 1766, but other repressive measures followed and the people of Massachusetts were active in their defiance of each new imposition.
The "Boston Massacre" of March 5, 1770, when British soldiers of the garrison stationed in that recalcitrant town fired upon a taunting crowd of citizens, was an ominous portent of the Revolution to come. When the Tea Act was passed in 1773 it gave overwhelming subsidies, by means of a tax rebate, to the East India Company. Samuel Adams organized and directed a group of Bostonians, disguised as Indians, and dumped the cargoes of three East India Company ships into Boston Harbor. England retaliated by closing the Port of Boston and by other "Intolerable Acts", and the colonial patriots called a Continental Congress that ordered a general boycott of English goods. On April 19, 1775, the embattled farmers, warned by the historic rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes, engaged the British regulars at Lexington and Concord, firing "the shot heard round the world". There followed the siege of Boston, the "glorious defeat" at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and on March 17, 1776, the British evacuation. Massachusetts, where the first blood of the Revolution was shed, had won the first important victory. hereafter, the State had no enemy troops within its borders.
With independence came the post-war problems of government, social, and economic progress without, for the first time in history, the English Parliament's guidance. After several years of friction under an unsatisfactory Executive Council, which did not properly represent the people, a Constitutional Convention drew up a Constitution drafted in the main by John Adams, and the people ratified it on June 15, 1780. Massachusetts originated the Constitutional Convention and insisted on separate popular ratification of every article in the original Constitution and of every subsequent amendment. The Constitution of Massachusetts is the oldest written Constitution in the world still in effect.
After a period of economic depression and political discontent, the Federal Constitution was adopted, and under the presidency of Washington, Massachusetts prospered and expanded her foreign commerce both by entering upon the renowned and immensely profitable China trade and by acquiring, after 1793, much of the carrying trade formerly shared between England and France, then at war.
The Commonwealth remained affluent and satisfied with the state of the nation throughout Washington's administration and through Jefferson's first term. After his re-election, however, the President imposed the Embargo Act as retaliation for the interference of France and England with American shipping. Maritime Massachusetts suffered more than any other state. Worse was to come, for the war of 1812 put a complete stop to her ocean trade, and the Commonwealth opposed "Mr. Madison's War" until its conclusion in 1815.
Then began a new era, the gradual development of the industrial interests that were eventually to absorb the capital and enterprise heretofore devoted almost entirely to commerce. During the Embargo and the War of 1812 the American States had been forced to manufacture essential goods, which could not then be brought across the sea from England. In 1816 a protective tariff was enacted to shield the infant industries from foreign competition. Gradually manufacturing became more and more concentrated in New England and particularly in Massachusetts. Waterpower was plentiful, the labor of farmers trained in handcraft was available, and capital was looking for new investments. In 1814 Francis Cabot Lowell set up his perfected power loom in Waltham, and the textile industry, which was to transform Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, New Bedford, and other cities into great manufacturing centers, was off to a flying start.
The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 accelerated the decline of agriculture. Products from the fertile West now moved cheaply and rapidly to New England, and competition was difficult. Massachusetts farmers went West or left their farms for the factories. Young women were also employed in great numbers in the factories, for the first time; this allowed women to be more accepted in public life, and later, in political activism.
Dismayed by the westward movement of its people, the Commonwealth attempted to stay the trend by reforming governmental and religious affairs. The Constitutional Convention of 1820 liberalized the Constitution in a number of ways, giving the people a greater voice in their government, and in 1833 another Constitutional Amendment completely separated Church and State. The course of government had moved nearer to the goal of a democratic people.
The early decades of the nineteenth century were marked by vigorous intellectual activity. Emerson, Thoreau, and their followers were preaching the Transcendentalist theory of the innate nobility of man and the doctrine of individual expression. Social strivings were exemplified in the campaign of Horace Mann for universal education and in the crusade of Dorothea L. Dix on behalf of the mentally disturbed. Colonies of idealists gathered here and there, notably at Brook Farm, in West Roxbury, seeking to demonstrate that the sharing of labor and the fruits of labor was the ideal basis for community living. Minds teemed with ideas for social progress.
Out of this lively intellectual ferment came the abolitionist fervor. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, a most ardent and uncompromising foe of slavery, founded his weekly, "The Liberator". The next year the New England Anti-Slavery Society was formed in Boston. Prominent men and women of this society helped slaves to escape to Canada by means of the "Underground Railway", and a reforming spirit dominated the Commonwealth throughout the years until the conclusion of the Civil War. To that war, Massachusetts gave men and money without stint, including the first African-American regiments to be mustered.
The post-war years were devoted primarily to the expansion of industry. The Port of Boston was now depending mainly upon the increasing volume of imported raw materials that its factories required. The Commonwealth continued to net large sums from its fisheries, concentrated mainly in Boston and Gloucester after the decline of New Bedford whaling, but its living henceforth came largely from machines.
At the close of the century Massachusetts factories produced more than one-third of the nation's woolen goods, and Fall River, Lawrence, Lowell, and New Bedford were preeminent in cotton textiles. The boot and shoe industry and the associated industry of leather tanning spread by leaps and bounds, until by 1900 the factories of Lynn, Brockton, Haverhill, Marlborough, Worcester, and other Massachusetts cities were making about half the boots and shoes produced in the entire country.
Much of the basic pattern of the Bay State's continuing success was woven during this period. Machinery of all kinds became increasingly important and large plants were established for its manufacture. These plants employed thousands of workers, a large percentage of whom were highly skilled. Industrial diversification plus a large reservoir of expert workers have played major roles in maintaining the status of Massachusetts as an important segment of the country's economy.
The floods of immigrants that had rolled in since the early nineteenth century, drawn here by the industrial opportunities, transformed the once predominantly English population into a mixture of national groups. In 1930 the inhabitants of Massachusetts numbered 4,249,614, of whom 65.04% were either foreign-born or of foreign or mixed parentage. Into the Puritan Commonwealth, enriching it with their varied Old World cultures, came new Americans from most countries of the world. Finns, Letts, Lithuanians, and Turks joined the Scots and Irish who had arrived in large numbers before the Civil War; French, Italians, Poles, Portuguese, Germans, and Slavs came around the turn of the century. (In recent years, numbers of people from Asia, Latin America, Africa, and others from the Indian Subcontinent and the Caribbean have come to cast their fortunes along with the descendants of those first immigrants, the Pilgrims and the Puritans).
New ways of living, new types of citizens, brought fresh problems for the Commonwealth to solve. The General Court enacted laws, more progressive for their day than any in the nation, to prevent the exploitation of women and minors, and to guard the health of all workers. The civil rights laws of Massachusetts were also quite progressive at an early stage. However, although many prominent suffragettes came from Massachusetts (Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone among them), the Commonwealth was still debating the full enfranchisement of women when the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution rendered the question moot.
The public school system soon became established in every village and city; and Massachusetts also attained a high degree of fame for its many universities and colleges. Public libraries, which by the turn of the century had been established in every Massachusetts community, and many museums, some of national repute, provided important educational and cultural advantages.
Industry, which had expanded to meet the demands of World War I, continued to spiral until 1929 when the nationwide depression began. The trend toward decentralization and the movement of industry nearer to the sources of raw materials slowed recovery in the years that followed.
By 1939, however, when World War II began in Europe, the economy had returned to normal. Massachusetts was again profiting by two of her major assets, skilled labor and proximity to major markets. World War II expanded the economy to levels never before attained.
Employment after World War II remained high. Workers were busy in ever-widening fields and new industries were attracted by the unsurpassed research facilities in Massachusetts.
The Korean War kept industry stimulated, and activity continued after the war was over, maintaining a high level of employment.
During the early years of the war in Vietnam, the economic future of the Commonwealth appeared to lie in the military and aero-space industries. By the end of the 1960s, however, de-escalation of the war and a cutback in funds for the space program made it evident that new industrial markets would have to be found.
The latter part of the seventies saw the leadership trend of Massachusetts in more sophisticated and efficient manufacturing methods become apparent in the evolution of segments of the manufacturing industry known as high technology, once again demonstrating the Commonwealth's proficiency in adapting new techniques developed by research.
A large pool of educated people, a fortuitous economic atmosphere, and perhaps some of the old Yankee entrepreneurial spirit fueled an economic boom in Massachusetts in the mid-1980s, mostly in the high-tech industries. Unemployment rates were among the lowest in the nation; many ambitious social and environmental programs were begun; and Route 128, a road encircling Boston, earned its title as "America's Technology Highway" as high-technology companies continued to cluster there. However, in the late 1980s, an economic decline struck Massachusetts and the rest of the Northeast, forcing a retrenching and reappraisal of the government and economy of the state. This cycle is a phenomenon that Massachusetts has encountered often in its long history. Fortunately, Massachusetts is not standing still. Logan International Airport and improvements in the Port of Boston have made Boston one of America's premier transport centers. The Export Program takes advantage of the Commonwealth's trading potential with Canada, which signed a treaty fully opening trade with the U.S. in 1988, with Europe, whose economic borders now have disappeared within the European Economic Community created in 1992, and with other nations as well. Newer industries such as biotechnology, biomedicine, artificial intelligence, marine sciences, and polymer technology are being strengthened, many in conjunction with the Centers of Excellence program, an ambitious mutual support network of government, business, and academia. Indeed, the Commonwealth's more than eighty colleges and universities, its still impressive industrial capacity, its environmental study institutions, and its world-renowned medical centers are reasons for Massachusetts to be optimistic about its future in a changing world.
Massachusetts has undergone a profound economic transition over the past ten years. While the old manufacturing base lost much of its competitive edge, the state adapted - by necessity as much as by choice - to a "New Economy" characterized by knowledge-intensive production, high-tech innovation, and global trading. During the 1990s, especially between 1993 and 2000, great statewide economic expansion occurred. The Commonwealth expanded its export sector in the following industries: information technology, financial services, knowledge creation, health care, traditional manufacturing and travel and tourism.
Massachusetts continues to have an abundance of assets in the area of entrepreneurship and innovation. The Commonwealth attracts substantial venture capital (VC) investment that supports the creation of new business ventures. Much of this investment leverages the state's solid knowledge creation network, comprised of universities, laboratories, incubators, angel investors, and supporting service firms. The state is also a leader in attracting federal investments in research and development (R&D).
Indeed, Massachusetts continues as a leader in the nation, working hard to ensure a high quality of life for all citizens of the Commonwealth.
(Source: Department of Economic Development's Toward A New Prosperity: Building Regional Competitiveness Across the Commonwealth, 2002).