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Nickname: The Bay State
Statehood: 1788; 6th state
Population (as of July 2016): 6,811,779
Biggest City: Boston
State bird: black-capped chickadee
State flower: mayflower
People started living in what’s now called Massachusetts about 12,000 years ago, when retreating glaciers uncovered the land. Some artifacts have even been discovered in lakes and rivers created by melting glaciers. Thousands of years later Native American tribes including the Wampanoag, Mohegan, and Mohican lived on the land.
In 1620 a ship called the Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod carrying settlers called Pilgrims. These people were escaping religious persecution in England and created the first permanent European settlement in New England, called Plymouth. (New England is a region in the northeastern United States that was settled by people from England.) Soon after the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag Indians, a tribe that still exists in Massachusetts today.
Massachusetts has been the scene of many historical events. In 1639 America’s first post office opened in Boston. In 1692 and 1693, untrue rumors led to witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts. And in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the first telephone.
But Massachusetts may be most historically significant for the role its people played in the Revolutionary War. Anger erupted in 1770 after five colonists were killed by British soldiers in what’s known as the Boston Massacre. Three years later, colonists disguised as Native Americans threw cases of tea into Boston Harbor to protest high taxes from England. The event is now known as the Boston Tea Party. In 1775 the Battles of Lexington and Concord became the first fight of the Revolutionary War. The movement of the British troops prompted silversmith Paul Revere to make his famous midnight ride to warn the colonists. Five years after the war ended, Massachusetts became the sixth U.S. state in 1788.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Massachusetts’ name might come from the Massachusett tribe, whose name can be translated to “near the great hill” or “near the range of hills.” It refers to the Blue Hills, southwest of Boston.
The state’s nickname the Bay State may originate from its many bays, or it might refer to the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was given a royal charter to colonize the land.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
What looks like a big hook in Massachusetts’ eastern coastline is actually land created by glaciers that exposed many rocky bays. Called the Coastal Lowland, this hilly, wet area includes Cape Cod Bay, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Nantucket Islands, all great for fishing, boating, and vacationing.
The center of the state has streams and plains with gentle hills. Toward the west, the land rises into mountains. It includes a popular spot for fall-leaf watching called the Berkshires, as well as Massachusetts’ highest point, Mount Greylock. In the far west are the Taconic Mountains.
Mammals such as black bears, bobcats, eastern coyotes, moose, and white-tailed deer roam around Massachusetts. Bald eagles, wild turkeys, northern cardinals, blue jays, mourning doves, and American robins fly through the state, and snapping turtles, eastern ribbonsnakes, and five-lined skinks are among Massachusetts’ reptiles. Eastern newts, American bullfrogs, and American toads are a few of the Bay State’s best-known amphibians.
Sugar maples, eastern white pines, sycamores, and American elms (the state tree) grow in the state’s forests. Massachusetts is also filled with wildflowers such as New England asters, blue violets, wild bleeding hearts, black-eyed Susans, and oxeye daisies.
The state’s fertile soil and its harbors (the Bay State has more than 1,500 miles of coastline), produce plenty of crops and seafood. Local farmers grow about 25 percent of the cranberries in the United States!
- Boston cream pie—chocolate-iced white cake filled with custard—is the official state dessert. But it’s not the only famous Massachusetts goodie: Chocolate chip cookies were invented here!
- Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, Susan B. Anthony, and Dr. Seuss (whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel) were all born in Massachusetts.
- You can visit Plymouth Rock, the boulder that’s said to be the exact spot where the Pilgrims stepped off the Mayflower. It’s less than half the size today as it was in the 1600s—tourists kept chipping off pieces!
- Boston’s Freedom Trail is a painted line through the city that leads history buffs to 16 official Revolutionary sites—including the Paul Revere House, where Revere lived at the time of his famous midnight ride.
- In the late 1600s about 20 people died because they were accused of witchcraft in a series of hearings called the Salem witch trials.
Text by Jamie Kiffel-Alcheh
Photo credits: ThereseMcK, iStockphoto (elm); Michael Mill, Dreamstime (chickadee); Sarah Jessup, Shutterstock (mayflower); ellesenterprises, Dreamstime (flag); Kary Nieuwenhuis, iStockphoto (quarter)
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