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Massachusetts is steeped in history. It was the home of many of America's foremost religious, literary, cultural, and political leaders throughout the centuries and remains proud of its heritage and its contributions to the founding and growth of America. In 1620, the Pilgrims landed south of Boston to escape religious persecution in Europe and to found their city on a hill. Their ensuing struggles and eventual triumph, achieved with the help of Native Americans, led to the creation of Thanksgiving. The first American female writer was Puritan Anne Bradstreet, who wrote "To My Dear and Loving Husband." In 1636, Harvard College was founded to train boys for the ministry.
As it grew, the City on a Hill (a term coined by Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop) faced internal struggles regarding the piety of its members and the right way to worship. Dissenter Roger Williams moved south and founded Rhode Island.
The Salem Witch trials, in 1692, was the result of factional infighting and Puritan witch hysteria, which resulted in the deaths of 19 men and women. You can visit the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, outside of Boston, and each Halloween, fairs and haunted house tours are held. One of the judges who condemned the witches to death was an ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American writer.
Boston was a hotbed of revolutionary thought in the years leading up to the American Revolution (1775-1783). Samuel Adams and other patriots gathered in taverns and under liberty trees to discuss the oppression of England. They were strongly influenced by the works of pamphleteers such as Thomas Paine, who penned the powerful argument Common Sense.
The Boston Tea Party took place in Boston Harbor in 1773. The colonists dumped crates of tea in the Harbor as a protest against the taxes levied on colonial tea by England.
There were many Patriots who lived in Boston, but there were Tories (or loyalists to England) as well. You can visit Tory Row, a row of handsome colonial houses that have been restored or renovated, in a quiet, upscale neighborhood in Harvard Square.
Revolutionary War Battles took place in Lexington and Concord, with the colonial milita winning as the result of advance warning by Patriot Paul Revere. Revere took note of the two lanterns in Old North Church and rode to Lexington to tell the troops that the British were coming by sea. His ride was later immortalized in poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Another major batttle was the Battle of Bunker Hill, an important victory for colonists in 1775. The Revolutionary War ended 1783 and America was an independent nation.
In the 19th century, New England grew prosperous through the whaling and trading industries, since Boston was a major seaport. A society of Boston Brahmins, or elites, solidified. These First Families of Boston included descendents from the first colonial settlers in Massachusetts as well as propserous merchants who married into older families. It was said that "the Lowells only talk to the Cabots, and the Cabots only talk to God."
Unitarianism and Transcendentalism, religious and literary movements, flourished in Massachusetts during this time. Prominent Transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In 1851, Herman Melville published an epic whaling novel, considered the first American novel of consequence. You can visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum outside of Boston to get a sense of what the whaling life was like. Emily Dickinson, an Amherst native whose grandfather helped found Amherst College, wrote her poems in the mid-19th century, although they would not be published after her death in 1890.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, there were many abolitionists in Boston (including Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott's father), and Boston was a major stop in the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape to Canada. The mid-19th century also saw increasing industrialization. One example was the Lowell textile factories, which had deplorable and sometimes inhumane work conditions for the underage girls it employed.
In the 20th century, Massachusetts was the political home of John F. Kennedy, the first Irish-Catholic President and still a legend in the Boston area. His maternal grandfather was Honey Fitz, a Boston mayor, and his father was Joe Kennedy, who served as Ambassador to England.
The 1970s and 1980s were marked by racial tensions created by Boston school busing, and was documented in J. Anthony Lukas' Pulitzer-Prize winning book, Common Ground.