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The History of Massachusetts:
Early Native Americans Through WWII

© 2006 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 2

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Early Immigration

          In order to keep their community strictly Puritan, the colonists created legislation that restricted immigration. In 1637, the General Court ordered that no person or town should receive or entertain a newcomer for more than three weeks without permission. In addition to the desire to keep their colony Puritan, they were also concerned with the immigration of paupers. In 1700, a law was passed that restricted the immigration of "lame, impotent, or infirm persons." Hardly any immigrants came to Massachusetts during the second half of the 17th century. In 1701, immigrants were so few in Boston that the General Court encouraged the import of white servants to relieve the labor shortage.

          An exception was made for a group of French Huguenot refugees in 1682. In that year, the colony granted this group land to settle on. The French Protestants proved to be exceptional citizens and were naturalized by special legislation in 1730. This act was very unusual due to the strict and limiting immigration laws.        

           Another group of immigrants managed to settle in the colony as well. A significant number of Scotch-Irish immigrants arrived in Boston in 1718. They went on to create a community in Worcester. These Scots eventually dispersed throughout the colony due to pressure from the Puritans.

          By the time of the American Revolution, immigration to Massachusetts had been minimal and the colony was mostly composed of British stock. Ninety-five percent of the population hailed from England.

Table 1: Nationality of the Residents of Massachusetts 1775
Number of Persons

Repressive Tax Measures and the American Revolution

          In 1763, after making peace with France, the English Parliament focused on the governmental structure of the colonies. Parliament decided to tax the colonists and enforce trade regulations, which had been relaxed while England was at war to help pay for war debts and the cost of providing soldiers to the colonies. Massachusetts became the center for agitation and protest against Parliament's enforcement of the new policies. The Sugar Act of 1764, the Stamp Act of 1765, and the Townshend Acts of 1767 generated widespread opposition to Parliament. The Sugar Act nearly abolished the foreign trade that Massachusetts depended on, and the Stamp Act taxed away a large amount of the colonies' money. This taxation without representation created a riot in Boston and a boycott of British goods. The Sugar Act was repealed in 1766, bringing some relief to the colonists, but the Boston Massacre would anger the citizens yet again. On March 5, 1770, British troops fired into a crowd of angry Boston citizens, killing five and wounding six. Three years later Parliament passed the Tea Act, giving the East Indian Company a monopoly on tea sales in America. The colonists rejected this act, refusing the East India Company's tea. In an act that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party, a group of Bostonians led by Samuel Adams disguised themselves as Native Americans and dumped the tea cargoes of three East India Company ships into the Boston Harbor. This act of protest became one of the most famous incidents in Colonial American history. England retaliated by closing the Port of Boston, requiring residents to house British soldiers, and revoking Massachusetts's charter. These Intolerable Acts helped to unite the other colonies with Massachusetts against Britain and led to the first Continental Congress.

          Despite the wide patriot support in New England, there were a significant number of Tories (people loyal to the crown) and other non-supporters in Boston prior to the war. Because of the presence of British soldiers in Boston, Tories from all over the colonies came to Boston in seek of protection from the sympathetic troops. There was also a constituency of conservative Boston merchants who were not supportive of the revolutionaries, despite the harsh restrictions Parliament had placed on shipping.

          The first battles of the American Revolution took place outside of Boston in 1775. It began when Governor Gage sent troops to seize the munitions supplies in Concord. Some Americans, including Paul Revere, heard of the governor's plans and warned the local militia that British troops were coming. The local militia responded and met the British troops the next morning in Lexington where fighting broke out and eight Americans were killed. The British continued on to Concord where they met more patriots and turned back to Boston. Thousands of patriots rallied from nearby areas and attacked the British returning to Boston. This encounter marked the beginning of the American Revolution. The next battle, known as the Siege of Boston, occurred on June 17 for control of Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill. Over 11,000 Massachusetts men fought during the Siege of Boston, but the Americans were unable to defeat the British during this battle. The British held Boston until March of 1776 when troops, led by George Washington, forced out the British. Although Massachusetts was home to the beginning of the revolution, there was only one other battle that took place within the colony. In September of 1778 the British burned New Bedford, a port where American ships often attacked British fleets. Despite the lack of battles later in the war, Massachusetts still remains the catalyst of the American Revolution.

Creating Constitutions

          The conclusion of the war brought independence as well as the need to create a new governmental system. Massachusetts struggled for several years under the Executive Council, but was unsatisfied with the lack of people's representation. A constitutional convention was held leading to the creation of Massachusetts's first state constitution. The document was ratified on June 15, 1780, and remains the oldest written constitution in the world that is still in effect. This constitution created a connection between church and state that lasted for over fifty years. Article III of the Massachusetts Constitution provided a provision for public worship and mandatory church attendance. This provision remained until 1833. The constitution was amended in 1820 giving the people a greater voice, and again in 1833 to completely separate church and state. This was an attempt to curtail the migration of Massachusetts' families to the west because of the religious freedom offered by the Northwest Ordinance, and to satisfy the increasing number of liberal groups, such as the Workingmen's Party, abolitionists, and the anti-Masons.

          Following the war, the new country entered a time of political and economic unrest. Shay's Rebellion prompted tax reforms within the state, and combined with other protests, stimulated the support for the creation of a strong federal government. In 1787, the Constitution of the United States was drafted, but Massachusetts refused to ratify it unless a Bill of Rights was added to protect the people. Massachusetts eventually ratified the Constitution in 1788, and the Bill of Rights was added in 1791.

The War of 1812

          Massachusetts enjoyed a stable economy through George Washington's tenure as President, but during Thomas Jefferson's first term, he enacted the Embargo Act in retaliation for British and French interference in American shipping. The English seamen captured and interred American seaman, forcing them to work on British ships. Despite the Embargo Act, the British continued to capture and force American seamen to work on their ships. Massachusetts' maritime business suffered severely from the embargo, and this suffering continued further when a complete embargo was placed on shipping during the War of 1812. Because of the embargos and their belief that it was unnecessary to enter another war with Great Britain, many Massachusetts citizens opposed the War of 1812, and nicknamed it "Mr. Madison's War." There were extreme Massachusetts Federalists who would have rather disbanded the union than enter into another war with England, and the state refused to send troops unless the state was directly invaded. Despite the state's lack of support, there were a number of Massachusetts's men who stepped forward and volunteered for the army. In 1814, two British ships anchored off Buzzard's Bay and sent 200 men to the Massachusetts shore to attack the villages. In September of the same year, Sandy Bay was attacked and a battle ensued between the British and the militia. After these attacks Massachusetts conceded to needing defense.

Antebellum Growth of Industry

          The antebellum period brought the growth of industry and manufacturing to Massachusetts. This was sparked during the embargo of the first years of the century when citizens had to manufacture necessary goods that they could not acquire through trade. Manufacturing became centralized in Massachusetts due to an abundance of waterpower. A new labor trend developed in Massachusetts where parents sent their unmarried daughters to work in the factories. This was a major step for women who enjoyed an uncommon opportunity to work outside of the home and enjoy independence.

          Another factor that led to the growth of industry in Massachusetts was the decline of agriculture. Expanding settlement in the fertile mid-west combined with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 provided cheap agricultural products in New England putting a large number of farmers out of business. These farmers either left the state or turned to factory work. These trends turned Waltham, Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, and New Bedford into booming manufacturing towns.

By Rickie Lazzerini

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2006 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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