Geography and Landforms:

Massachusetts is 45th in size among the states. At its widest point, it is 190 miles from East to West and 110 miles from North to South. Massachusetts has a coastline of 192 miles.

The eastern part of the state, including the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket is a low coastal plain. It is an area of marshes, low hills, small lakes, and shallow rivers. There are many fine harbors along this coastal area.

The Eastern New England Upland is a 40-60 mile wide region that extends westward from the coastal area. It rises to 1000 feet above sea level before sloping down to meet the Connecticut Valley Lowland.

The Connecticut Valley Lowland is a 20-mile wide valley that has a mild climate and rich farmland. The Connecticut River cuts through this region.

Massachusetts' highest point, Mount Greylock, is found in the Berkshire Hills region, to the west of the Connecticut Valley Lowland. Mount Greylock is 3,491 feet above sea level. The 10-mile wide Berkshire Valley borders this area to the west.

To the extreme west is a very narrow region of the Taconic Mountains. At its widest, the area is only 5-6 miles across.


Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, European explorers roamed the coast of Massachusetts. They included the Viking Leif Erickson, Spanish and French fishermen, and John Smith, an English sea captain. His book, A Description of New England, influenced a group of English Protestants to make a pilgrimage to the shores of Massachusetts. They had separated from the Church of England and were seeking religious freedom.

These Pilgrims founded the Plymouth settlement in 1620. The colonists set up a democratic government under the terms of the "Mayflower Compact." The first year was very difficult. Their homes were only small shelters made of bark. There was little food. More than half of the 100 colonists died during that winter.

But by 1621, the colonists had befriended the local Wampanoag Indians. The Indians taught the settlers how to grow corn and beans. The colony began to prosper and later that year, the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving. The colony soon grew to include eight towns and 2500 people.

King Charles I of England granted a charter to the Puritans in 1629. The Puritans, led by John Winthrop, were also seeking religious freedom in the Massachusetts Bay area. The charter gave them authority to establish a self-contained English colony in Massachusetts. They settled in Salem in 1630, joining a settlement that had been established three years earlier. Soon they relocated to the site of present-day Boston. The Puritans only permitted their own religion to be practiced within the settlement. As a result, some religious groups were not welcome in the colony. These groups eventually helped colonize the rest of New England, establishing settlements in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire.

During this early colonial period, the Massachusetts Bay Colony contributed many important "firsts" to the nation. The first American public secondary school, the Boston Latin Grammar School, was established in 1635. America's first university, Harvard, was founded in Cambridge in 1636. The first American printing press was put into service in Cambridge in 1638, and the first American public library was founded in Boston in 1653.

The Native Americans resented the presence of the Europeans. They were fearful that the colonists would take away their lands and destroy their civilization. In 1675, King Philip, the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, led a revolt against the colonists. It became known as King Philip's War. The conflict ended in 1678, but hundreds of men, women, and children on both sides died.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was unhappy with trade restrictions imposed by England. The colony continued to trade with other countries but this angered King Charles II. He took away their charter in 1684. When King James II ascended the throne in 1685, he appointed Sir Edmund Andros governor of the colony. When King James II was overthrown in 1688, the colonists drove Andros out and set up a government of their own.

The joint rulers of England, William and Mary, granted a new charter to Massachusetts in 1691. It united the Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colonies under the single royal colony of Massachusetts.

The town of Salem was rocked by a witchcraft panic that reached a climax in the summer of 1692. Several dozen citizens were accused of practicing witchcraft and were put to death. This practice continued until Sir William Phips was appointed Massachusetts' first royal governor later that year. One of his most important actions was to end this persecution.

Great Britain found itself in heavy debt after successfully fighting in the French and Indian wars between 1754 and 1763. It began imposing stiff taxes on the colonies. Citizens revolted. In 1770, British soldiers in Boston fired upon a group of angry colonists. Many were killed. This became known as the Boston Massacre. In 1773, Samuel Adams led a group of men dressed as Indians to a British ship loaded with tea in Boston Harbor. To protest the most recent tea tax, they dumped hundreds of cases of tea overboard.

On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride through the Massachusetts countryside, warning of the approaching British. On April 19, the Revolutionary War began in Concord, Massachusetts, with the "shot heard round the world." The first important victory of the Revolution occurred in Massachusetts at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775. British troops left Massachusetts in March of 1776 and never returned to the colony.

The Massachusetts Constitution was ratified in 1780. The state is still governed under this original document. Written by John Adams, it is the oldest constitution in the nation still in use.

The Revolution ended in 1783 and Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the United States Constitution in 1788.

The years following the Revolution were prosperous ones for Massachusetts. But the War of 1812 forced President Thomas Jefferson to stop American trade with other countries. As a result, the colonies had to start manufacturing items that they had previously imported. Initial hardships soon disappeared as many infant industries grew rapidly throughout Massachusetts. The state became the center of the American textile industry. Shoes and leather goods were also mass-produced. Agriculture declined and many of the state's farmers moved to the West or found jobs in factories.

Massachusetts strongly supported the anti-slavery movement in America. It was the first state to send troops after the Civil War began in 1861 and Massachusetts soldiers were among the first to die in the conflict. More than 130,000 men from the state served in the Union army between 1861 and 1865.


Since colonial times, Massachusetts has been an important industrial state and a pioneer in developing new technologies. Today the state leads in the production of electronic and technical equipment, plastics, paper products, and metal and rubber products.

Its busy port cities are thriving shipping centers. Printing and publishing are also important to the economy. The state's jewelry manufacturing industry has been in existence since before the American Revolution.

Massachusetts farms produce cranberries, apples, dairy products, and nursery items.

First Inhabitants:

When European explorers first came to the coast of what is now Massachusetts, there were already tens of thousands of Native Americans living there. They were all part of the Algonkian family and lived in organized communities where they farmed, hunted, and fished. They lived in dome-shaped houses called wigwams and produced their own ceramics, textiles, leather, and basketry.

These Algonkian tribes included the Massachusetts, Mohican, Nauset, Wampanoag, Pennacook, and Pocumtuck. But when the Europeans arrived around 1550 AD, they brought with them many new diseases. The Indians had no natural immunity to these illnesses. In 1616 and 1617, epidemics swept throughout the Native Americans communities, killing many people. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620, only a few thousand Indians remained in Massachusetts.

Books Related To Massachusetts

Abigail's Drum - John Minahan
(978-0945912255) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-5, Lexile: 760, ESL level: 3
The Bates sisters, living in a lighthouse in Massachusetts, help their father protect their lighthouse home when British troops invade.

Blue Heron - NA Avi
(978-0380720439) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-8, Lexile: 590, ESL level: 3
Maggie enjoys the wonders of nature at a Massachusetts beach, especially fascinated with a blue heron, while her family and its new baby face crises.

Firehorse - Diane Lee Wilson
(978-1442403314) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-8, Lexile: 840, ESL level: 4
Rachel perseveres in her determination to become a veterinarian despite family opposition and the social problems of an arsonist and a horse epidemic.

How Ya Like Me Now - Brendan Halpin
(978-0374334956) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 1080, ESL level: 4 - 5
Eddie tries to adjust to life in a private school in Boston after his father dies and his mother is absent due to a drug problem.

I Walk in Dread - Lisa Rowe Fraustino
(978-0545311656) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-6, Lexile: 910, ESL level: 4 - 5
Pre-teen Deliverance expresses her doubts in her diary about a friend who is found guilty of witchcraft during the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials.

Lyddie - Katherine Paterson
(978-0142402542) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 860, ESL level: 4
Lyddie looks at her new job in a textile mill in Lowell, Massachusetts as the way to independence and some sort of financial security after growing up poor on a farm.

M is for Mayflower: A Massachusetts Alphabet - Margot Theis Raven
(978-1585360727) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about Massachusetts.

Olive's Ocean - Kevin Henkes
(978-0060535452) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 3 - 4
Martha uses her summer at her grandmother's cottage by the ocean to come to terms with the death of a classmate and her dreams of having a boyfriend and becoming a writer.

The Rag and Bone Shop - Robert Cormier
(978-0440229711) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 730, ESL level: 4
When a 12-year-old boy is indited for the murder of his much younger friend, the police pressure him to confess.

Someday - Jackie French Koller
(978-1440186752) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 3 - 4
Although Celie's grandmother refuses to move so a reservoir can be built in the immediate vicinity, it is constructed and Celie must adjust to losing her home and some of her friends because of the forced migration.

Torchlight - Carol Otis Hurst
(978-0618276011) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-6, Lexile: 640, ESL level: 3-4
Charlotte finds her town's attitudes toward Irish Americans puzzling after she makes friends with an immigrant girl from Ireland.

Famous Citizens:

Florence Bascom
Born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, Florence was the youngest of six children of a schoolteacher/women's suffragist and a professor at Williams College. She is best known as one of the first woman geologists in the US. She was the second woman to receive a PhD in geology in the US, and the first woman hired by the US Geological Survey. In 1889, while studying at Johns Hopkins University, she was required to sit behind a screen in classrooms so she would not "disrupt" the attention of the male students. She was also the first woman to present a paper before the Geological Society of Washington. After the joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr College, she founded the college's geology department and went on to train many of the most accomplished woman geologists of the 20th century.

Alexander Graham Bell
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He also invented the process by which sound is transmitted on a beam of light - a forerunner to fiber optics.

Theodore Geisel
Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was an author and illustrator of children's books that are known for their zany humor and verse, catchy phrases, and whimsical illustrations. His books include The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Oh, the Places You'll Go.

Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He was one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century. Homer was a self-taught artist who became famous for his portraits of the American landscape and his seascapes along the coast of Maine.

John Kennedy
John F. Kennedy, born in Brookline, Massachusetts, was the 35th president of the United States. He was the youngest man ever to be elected to that office. His presidency was cut short in 1963 when he was killed by an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas. Some of his major achievements while President include the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the escalation of the American Space program.

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Best known for his poetry and short stories, Poe is considered to be the father of the modern detective story. Some of his most famous works include The Raven, and The Telltale Heart.

Capital: Boston
Entered Union: February 6, 1788
Population: 6,745,408
Area 10,555
Bird Chickadee
Flower Mayflower
Nickname: Bay State, Old Colony State
Governor Charlie Baker

Places to Visit in Massachusetts: (Click the links to learn more.)

The House of Seven Gables - Salem
Explore the oldest mansion in New England and learn about the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his novel of the same name. Built in 1668, the house is located along the Salem Harbor. A secret stairway, an 18th century sea wall, and colonial gardens can all be explored. The home in which Hawthorne was born in 1804 is located just a few feet away from this mysterious mansion.

Plimoth Plantation - Plymouth
This living museum takes you back to the 17th century Plymouth settlement. Tour the Mayflower II, learn about the Wampanoag Indians, and discover what every-day life was like for the Pilgrims in 1627.

Walden Pond - Concord
Writer Henry David Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 1845 to September 1847. His experiences there provided the material for his book Walden, a work that is credited with inspiring awareness and respect for nature. Walden Pond is a National Historic Landmark and is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement.

Salem Wax Museum - Salem
Life-like wax figures depict the history of Salem from its founding in 1626 to the hysteria of its witch trials in 1692. Old Burial Point, the nation's second oldest burial ground is located behind the museum, along with the Witch Trials Memorial, erected in memory of the victims.

Museum of Fine Arts - Boston
Boston's finest and most comprehensive art museum features art from all periods and cultures. The museum offers lectures and film series; gallery talks; concerts; and many special exhibits. It is well known for its collections of European paintings, European and American decorative arts and furnishings, Egyptian sculpture, and Asian fine and decorative arts.