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Origins of Massachusetts


Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain

The earliest human inhabitants of the Massachusetts area lived about 10,000 bc, after the glaciers had retreated. Archaeological sites indicate several other cultures developed in the millennia that followed. For centuries before Europeans arrived in the area it was inhabited by Algonquian-speaking groups of Native Americans. When European colonization began in the early 1600s, seven major groups lived in the area. The Wampanoag and the Nauset were on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Island; the Massachuset had settlements along Massachusetts Bay; the Nipmuc were in central Massachusetts; the Pocomtuck lived in the northwest; the Pennacook were near the New Hampshire border; and the Mahican were in the Berkshire area. The native peoples lived largely by hunting deer, catching fish and shellfish, and growing corn, beans, and squash, migrating from forest to coastal areas to take advantage of seasonal resources. Approximately 30,000 native people inhabited Massachusetts in 1614, but epidemics of disease brought by whites soon greatly reduced the population.

European Exploration


Norsemen may have visited Massachusetts about the year 1000. However, the first recorded exploration took place nearly 500 years later, when Italian navigator and explorer John Cabot sailed along the Massachusetts coast in 1498 while searching for a route to Asia. Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, sailing under the French flag in 1524, also traced the Massachusetts coast. In 1602 Bartholomew Gosnold, an English captain, named Cape Cod for the schools of codfish he found there. Later explorers included Martin Pring in 1603, George Waymouth in 1605, Samuel de Champlain in 1605 and 1606, Henry Hudson in 1609, and Adriaen Block and John Smith in 1614.

Smith, one of the founders of Jamestown, Virginia, the first English settlement in America, mapped Massachusetts Bay and gave the area many of its names.

Plymouth Colony


In 1606 the territory of present-day Massachusetts was included in the vast North American coastal tract granted by the English king to the Plymouth Company, which was reorganized in 1620 as the Council for New England. The company had trade and colonization rights but was unable to promote settlement within its domain. This task fell by chance to a group of religious dissenters, known as Pilgrims, who had faced persecution in England after breaking from the Church of England, the official church there. With the hope of starting a new life, the Pilgrims turned to North America in 1620, sailing on the ship Mayflower, destined for Virginia. They were blown off course, landed instead at Provincetown Bay in November, and finally settled at Plymouth in mid-December. Because they were outside the jurisdiction of Virginia and had no grant to settle in the region controlled by the Plymouth Company, the Pilgrims drew up the Mayflower Compact.

Under this informal agreement or covenant, government was based on consent of the governed, an important precedent for the development of American democracy. John Carver was elected governor of the settlement, the Plymouth Colony.

The Pilgrims’ first winter was difficult, and almost half the colonists perished. In the spring some friendly Native Americans taught the settlers about their new land, showing them how to raise corn and catch fish. The Wampanoag leader Massasoit and the colonists signed a peace treaty, each promising to live in peace and to support the other if attacked by an aggressor. In the fall of 1621 the bountiful harvest of corn and beans, along with fish and game, was shared between the settlers and Native Americans in the first American Thanksgiving celebration. From then the Plymouth Colony prospered on its own until it merged with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691. "Massachusetts" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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