Massachusetts State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General Massachusetts State History

Excavations in Massachusetts reveal that the earliest human inhabitants arrived about 3,000 years ago. The first European mention of Native Americans dates from about 1500 A.D. The Native Americans in Massachusetts were mostly from the Algonquian Nation; tribes included the Massachuset, Nauset, Nipmuc, Pennacook, Pocumtuc, and Wampanoag. Tragically, diseases brought over by pre-Pilgrim European settlers decimated the Indians in 1616 and 1617. By 1620, the Pilgrims found that the Indian population had dropped from 30,000 to about 7,000.

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 in 1620 and established their colony in Plymouth' 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, there to join Roger Conant's band of refugees from the abandoned fishing station on Cape Ann. The following year 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.

Colonizing 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.



Massachusetts Historic Figures

John Adams
1735-1826: John Adams born on Oct. 30 (Oct. 19, old style), 1735, at Braintree (now Quincy), Mass. A Harvard graduate, he considered teaching and the ministry but finally turned to law and was admitted to the bar in 1758. Six years later, he married Abigail Smith. He opposed the Stamp Act, served as lawyer for patriots indicted by the British, and by the time of the Continental Congresses, was in the vanguard of the movement for independence. In 1778, he went to France as commissioner. Subsequently he helped negotiate the peace treaty with Britain, and in 1785 became envoy to London. Resigning in 1788, he was elected vice president under Washington and was re-elected in 1792.

Though a Federalist, Adams did not get along with Hamilton, who sought to prevent his election to the presidency in 1796 and thereafter intrigued against his administration. In 1798, Adam's independent policy averted a war with France but completed the break with Hamilton and the right-wing Federalists; at the same time, the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts, directed against foreigners and against critics of the government, exasperated the Jeffersonian opposition. The split between Adams and Hamilton resulted in Jefferson's becoming the next president. Adams retired to his home in Quincy. He and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


John Quincy Adams
1767-1848: John Quincy Adams was born on July 11, 1767, at Braintree (now Quincy), Mass., the son of John Adams, the second president. He spent his early years in Europe with his father, graduated from Harvard, and entered law practice. His anti-Paine newspaper articles won him political attention. In 1794, he became minister to the Netherlands, the first of several diplomatic posts that occupied him until his return to Boston in 1801. In 1797, he married Louisa Catherine Johnson.

In 1803' Adams was elected to the Senate, nominally as a Federalist, but his repeated displays of independence on such issues as the Louisiana Purchase and the embargo caused his party to demand his resignation and ostracize him socially. In 1809, Madison rewarded him for his support of Jefferson by appointing him minister to St. Petersburg. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, and in 1815 became minister to London. In 1817 Monroe appointed him Secretary of State where he served with great distinction, gaining Florida from Spain without hostilities and playing an equal part with Monroe in formulating the Monroe Doctrine.

When no presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes in 1824, Adams, with the support of Henry Clay, was elected by the House in 1825 over Andrew Jackson, who had the original plurality. Adams had ambitious plans of government activity to foster internal improvements and promote the arts and sciences, but congressional obstructionism, combined with his own unwillingness or inability to play the role of a politician, resulted in little being accomplished. After being defeated for re-election by Jackson in 1828, he successfully ran for the House of Representatives in 1830. There though nominally a Whig' he pursued as ever an independent course. He led the fight to force Congress to receive antislavery petitions and fathered the Smithsonian Institution.

Adams had a stroke while on the floor of the House, and died two days later on Feb. 23, 1848. His long and detailed Diary gives a unique picture of the personalities and politics of the times.


Benjamin Franklin
1706-90: Though best remembered for his services as a diplomat and statesman during the American Revolution' this "wisest American" was also a philosopher, publisher, and scientist. His collection of common-sense sayings in Poor Richard's Almanack won immediate and lasting success. His other contributions came as the colonies, first postmaster general, and as founder of the American Philosophical Society, which later became the University of Pennsylvania.


Paul Revere
1735-1818: Paul Revere, a leading silversmith of New England and political leader in the American Revolution was born in Boston. He also turned to various other skills-designing, engraving, printing, bell founding, and dentistry. In the French and Indian War he was a soldier, and in the period of growing colonial discontent with British measures after the Stamp Act (1765), he was a passionate anti-British spokesman. He took part in the Boston Tea Party, and was a courier (1774) for the Massachusetts committee of correspondence. Revere became a figure of popular history and legend, however, because of his ride on the night of April 18, 1775, to warn the people of the Massachusetts countryside that British soldiers were being sent out, which started the American Revolution. William Dawes and Samuel Prescott also rode forth with the news. Revere did not reach his destination at Concord but was captured by the British.

In 1780 he returned to silversmithing. His shrewdness in other enterprises, particularly the establishment of a copper-rolling and brass-casting foundry at Canton, made the remainder of his years very prosperous.


Clara Barton
1821-1912: Organizer of the American Red Cross, born in North Oxford (now Oxford), Mass. She taught school (1839-54) and clerked in the U.S. Patent Office before the outbreak of the Civil War. She then established a service of supplies for soldiers and nursed in army camps and on the battlefields. She was called the Angel of the Battlefield. In 1865 President Lincoln appointed her to search for missing prisoners; the records she compiled also served to identify thousands of the dead at Andersonville Prison. In Europe for a conference at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870), she went to work behind the German lines for the International Red Cross. She returned to the United States in 1873 and in 1881 organized the American National Red Cross, which she headed until 1904. She worked successfully for the President's signature to the Geneva treaty for the care of war wounded (1882) and emphasized Red Cross work in catastrophes other than war. Among her writings are several books on the Red Cross.