Explorers from many European countries visited Massachusetts before the start of permanent settlement. The Vikings may have visited around 1000. John Cabot is thought to have seen the coast in 1498. Samuel de Champlain mapped the coastline in 1605.
The first permanent European settlement in Massachusetts was at Plymouth, where pilgrims who crossed from England on the Mayflower started a community in 1620. About half of the settlers did not survive the first winter, but the local Indians provided them with knowledge that enabled them to survive the following winter more comfortably. Within a few years, Plymouth Colony had 2,500 settlers.
Religious orthodoxy was very important to the Massachusetts Bay colonists, and their rigid views drove away such free spirits as Roger Williams. Facing opposition in Massachusetts and fearing the interference of England, the General Court was petitioned in 1646 for a synod to consider relaxing church discipline. The synod was convened but did not immediately reach decisions.
Meantime, the rise to power of Cromwell in England made intervention from that quarter less likely, so in the end the synod adopted what became known as the Cambridge Platform, which denied the appeals for more liberty.
Massachusetts was a center of agitation for independence. The BostonTea Party provoked the British into declaring the Intolerable Acts, which served to unite other colonies behind the cause. Massachusetts was less supportive of the War of 1812, which impacted its overseas trade. However, the embargo had the beneficial effect of requiring more local manufacture. Two of the first six American presidents were from Massachusetts John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.
The defeat of the Whig Party in 1844 demonstrated the declining influence of Massachusetts in the United States, which was growing westward. Rufus Choate, a prominent Massachusetts Whig, delivered a speech to the Mercantile Library Association on November 18, 1844, entitled "The Power of a State Developed by Mental Culture," meaning, of course, Massachusetts. He observed that:
After all, this is the thought I would present to you; is there a surer way of achieving the boast of Themistocles, that he knew how to make a small state a great one, than by making it wise, bright, knowing, apprehensive, quick-witted, ingenious, thoughtful; by communicating to the whole mass of its people the highest degree of the most improved kind of education in its largest sense, which is compatible with the system of practical things; by beginning at the cradle, by touching the infant lip with fire from heaven; by perfecting the methods of the free schools, and of all schools, so that the universal understanding shall be opened, kindled, guided at its very birth, and set forward, without the loss of a day, on the true path of intellectual life; by taking care that all the food of which the soul of the people eats shall be wholesome and nutritious; that the books and papers which they read, the sermons and speeches which they hear shall possess at least a predominance of truth, fact, honesty, of right and high thought, just and graceful feeling; by providing institutions to guide the mature mind the heights of knowledge; by collections of art and taste that shall unfold and instruct the love of beauty; by planting betimes the gardens of a divine philosophy and spreading out the pavilion of the Muses?
Let us think a little of mental culture as the true local policy of Massachusetts.
From the beginning, Massachusetts had been a leader among the colonies and later states in the provision of public education. Anxious to ensure that the benefits of education were provided to all children, the state passed the nation's first compulsory schooling law in 1850. Amended in 1852, it required three months of education each year for all children between the ages of 8 and 14.
The state was solidly for the Union during the Civil War, and ships built in Massachusetts contributed to the blockade of the Confederacy. Manufacturing was greatly stimulated by the demands of war.
Many inventions have originated in Massachusetts, including the sewing machine and the telephone. The first long-distance telephone line was strung between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, in 1881. Brandeis University is one of the newest private research universities in Massachusetts, as well as the only nonsectarian, Jewish-sponsored college or university in the country.