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State Guide

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state located in the New England region of the northeastern United States. Most of its population of 6.4 million live in the Boston metropolitan area. The eastern half of this relatively small state is mostly urban and suburban. Massachusetts is the most populous of the six New England states and ranks third in overall population density and fourth by GDP per capita.

Massachusetts has been significant throughout American history. Plymouth was the second permanent English settlement in North America. Colonists from England founded many towns and villages in the present-day territory of Massachusetts very early in the nation's history in the 1620s and 1630s. The Boston area became known as the "Cradle of Liberty" for the ferment there which led to the American Revolution and the independence of the United States from Great Britain. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to abolish slavery and was a center of the temperance movement and abolitionist activity in the years leading to the American Civil War. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage. The state has contributed many prominent politicians to national service, including the Adams family and, more recently, the Kennedy family.

Originally dependent on agriculture and trade with Europe, Massachusetts was transformed into a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution. Migration of factories to the lower-wage Southern states caused economic stagnation during the first half of the 20th century. The economy of Massachusetts was revived after World War II, and today is prominent in higher education, health care, and high technology.


The Massachusetts Bay Colony was named after the indigenous population, the Massachuset, whose name can be segmented as mass-adchu-s-et, where mass- is "large", -adchu- is "hill", -s- is a diminutive suffix meaning "small", and -et is a locative suffix, identifying a place. It has been translated as "near the great hill," "by the blue hills" "at the little big hill," or "at the range of hills," referring to the Blue Hills, or in particular, Great Blue Hill, located on the boundary of Milton and Canton, to the southwest of Boston. (c.f. the Narragansett name Massachusêuck; Ojibwe misajiwensed, "of the little big hill").

Massachusetts is officially a "commonwealth." Colloquially, it is often referred to simply as "the Commonwealth," although "state" is used interchangeably. While this designation is part of the state's official name, it has no practical implications. Massachusetts has the same position and powers within the United States as other states and a similar form of internal government.


Massachusetts is bordered on the north by New Hampshire and Vermont; on the west by New York; on the south by Connecticut and Rhode Island; and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the state is uplands of resistant metamorphic rock that were scraped by Pleistocene glaciers that deposited moraines and outwash on a large, sandy, arm-shaped peninsula called Cape Cod and the islands Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to the south of Cape Cod. Upland elevations increase to the north and west and the highest point in the state is Mount Greylock at 3,491 feet (1,064 m) near the state's northwest corner.

The uplands are interrupted by the downfaulted Pioneer Valley along the Connecticut River and further west by the Housatonic Valley separating the Berkshire Hills from the Taconic Range along the western border with New York.

Boston is located at the innermost point of Massachusetts Bay, at the mouth of the Charles River, the longest river entirely within Massachusetts. Most of the population of the Boston metropolitan area (approximately 4.4 million) does not live in the city proper; eastern Massachusetts on the whole is fairly densely populated and largely suburban as far west as Worcester.

Central Massachusetts encompasses Worcester County, and includes the cities of Worcester, Fitchburg, Leominster, Gardner, Southbridge and small upland towns, forests, and small farms. The Quabbin Reservoir borders the western side of the county, and is the main water supply for the eastern part of the state.

The Pioneer Valley along the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts is urbanized from the Connecticut border (and greater Hartford) to north as far as Northampton, and includes Springfield, Chicopee, West Springfield, Westfield, and Holyoke. Pioneer Valley economy and population was influenced by agriculturally productive Connecticut River Valley land in the 17th and 18th century, water power for the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and expansion of higher education in the 20th century.

The remainder of the state west of Pioneer Valley is mainly uplands, a range of small mountains known as the Berkshires, summer home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra (Lenox), Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the Norman Rockwell Museum (Stockbridge), Monument Mountain and Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts. It largely remained in aboriginal hands until the 18th century when Scotch-Irish settlers arrived and found the more productive lands already settled. Availability of better land in western New York and then the Northwest Territory soon put the upland agricultural population into decline. Available water power led to 19th century settlement along upland rivers. Pittsfield and North Adams grew into small cities and there are a number of smaller mill towns along the Westfield River.

The geographic center of the state is in the town of Rutland, in Worcester county. The National Park Service administers a number of natural and historical sites in Massachusetts.

The fourteen counties, moving roughly from west to east, are Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, Worcester, Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes, and Nantucket. All but two of the Commonwealth's fourteen counties are named for British counties, cities, or nobles.


Massachusetts has a humid continental climate, with warm summers and cold, snowy winters. Massachusetts receives about 40 inches (1016 mm) of rain annually, fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, slightly wetter during the winter. Summers are warm with average high temperatures in July above 80 °F (26.7 °C) and overnight lows above 60 °F (15.5 °C) common throughout the state. Winters are cold, but generally less extreme on the coast with high temperatures in the winter averaging above freezing even in January, although areas further inland are much colder. The state does have extreme temperatures from time to time with 90 °F (32.2 °C) in the summer and temperatures below 0 °F (-17.8 °C) in the winter not being unusual.

The state has its share of extreme weather, prone to nor'easters and to severe winter storms. Summers can bring thunderstorms, averaging around 30 days of thunderstorm activity per year. Massachusetts has had its share of destructive tornadoes, with the western part of the state slightly more vulnerable than coastal areas in the east. Massachusetts, like the entire United States eastern seaboard, is vulnerable to hurricanes. Because its location is farther east in the Atlantic Ocean than states farther south, Massachusetts has suffered a direct hit from a major hurricane three times since 1851, the same number of direct hits suffered by the southern Atlantic state of Georgia. More often hurricanes weakened to tropical storm strength pass near Massachusetts.

Flora and fauna

The primary biome of inland Massachusetts is temperate deciduous forest. However, much of the state has been logged, leaving only traces of old growth forest in isolated pockets. Secondary growth has regenerated in many woodlots and forests, particularly in the western half of Massachusetts. Urbanization, particularly in the eastern half of the state, has affected much of Massachusetts. No longer are there vast expanses of wilderness. Gray Wolf, Elk, Wolverine and Mountain Lion once occurred here but have long since disappeared.

Wildlife species that are doing well are adapting to a changing setting. Coyote, White-tailed Deer, Raccoon, and Wild Turkey are now found in suburbs of major cities and are increasing in population. Black Bear and moose have made comebacks in western and central Massachusetts, and are slowly expanding their range. Peregrine Falcon can be found nesting on artificial platforms on many of the state's tallest buildings in larger cities such as Boston, Worcester and Springfield.

The Atlantic Flyway is the primary migration route for North American bird species. Common Loon are a relatively recent addition to the breeding bird list, their nests at the Wachusett Reservoir are considered the most southerly in the world population of this species. A significant portion of the eastern population of Long-tailed Duck winter off Nantucket. Small offshore islands are home to a significant population of breeding Roseate Terns, and some beaches are important breeding areas to the endangered Piping Plover.

Massachusetts has an extensive coastline and has a declining commercial fishery out to the continental shelf. Atlantic cod, haddock and American lobster are species harvested here. Gray Seal have a large nursery near Monomoy Island and other islands in Nantucket Sound. Harbor seals are commonly seen feeding and playing just offshore year round. Finally, a significant number of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales summer on feeding grounds in Cape Cod Bay. Whale watching is a popular summer activity off the coast of Massachusetts. Boats regularly sail to Stellwagen Bank to view species such as Humpback Whale, Fin Whale, Minke Whale and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin.


A field guide to the geology of NE Massachusetts and SE New Hampshire by Hon, R. , Hepburn, J.C. & Laird, Jo. (Siluro-Devonian igneous rocks of the easternmost three terranes in southeastern New England: examples from NE Massachusetts and SE New Hampshire. Guidbook to field trips in New Hampshire, adjacent Maine and Massachusetts, 42nd Ann Meet. NEGSA, March 11, 2007, p. 23–43) can be accessed at Field GuidePDF (3.60 MB); and a Google Earth .kmz file(Avalon_Nashoba.kmz)showing the field stops and associated geological map overlays can be downloaded from Google Earth.



Massachusetts was originally inhabited by several Algonquian tribes: the Wampanoag, Nauset, Nipmuc, Pocomtuc, Pennacook, Mahican, Massachuset, and some Narragansett and Pequot. A vast number of the indigenous people were killed by waves of smallpox inadvertently brought to the New World by Sir Herbert Popham and his ship to the Saco, Maine area in 1616.

Colonial Period

The first European settlers in Massachusetts, the Pilgrims, established their settlement at Plymouth in 1620, and developed friendly relations with the native Wampanoag. This was the second successful permanent English colony in North America, after the Jamestown Colony; both were preceded by temporary camps, the unsuccessful Popham Colony, and Spanish settlements in Florida in the 1500s. Most early settlers came from within 60 miles (100 km) of Haverhill, England. The Pilgrims were soon followed by more Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony at present-day Boston in 1630. The Puritans, whose beliefs included exclusive understanding of the literal truth of the Bible, came to Massachusetts for religious freedom. Dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and Thomas Hooker left Massachusetts because of the Puritan society's lack of religious tolerance. In 1636, Williams founded the colony of Rhode Island, and Hooker founded Connecticut.

By 1636, the colonists had also begun to settle the inland Pioneer Valley along the Connecticut River, where the state's best agricultural land is concentrated.

Native American-European racial tensions led to King Philip's War of the years 1675–76. Mendon was involved in an early battle in July of 1675 and settlers were killed in the Blackstone Valley. There were major campaigns in this war in the Pioneer Valley and Plymouth Colony. In 1690 there was an unsuccessful expedition against French Quebec under William Phips. Massachusetts became a single colony in 1692, the largest in New England, and one where many American institutions and traditions were formed. The colony fought alongside British regulars in a series of French and Indian Wars that were characterized by brutal border raids and successful attacks on British forces in New France (present-day Canada).

Federal Period

Massachusetts was a center of the movement for independence from Great Britain, earning it the nickname, the "Cradle of Liberty". Colonists here had long had uneasy relations with the English monarchy, including open rebellion under the Dominion of New England in the 1680s.

The Boston Tea Party is an example of the protest spirit of the later pre-revolutionary period in the 1770s, and the Boston Massacre is a famous incident which escalated the conflict. With actions by patriots such as Sam Adams and John Hancock followed by counter-actions by the Crown were a main reason for the unity of the Thirteen Colonies and the outbreak of the American Revolution. The Battles of Lexington and Concord initiated the American Revolutionary War and were fought in the Massachusetts towns of Concord and Lexington.

After independence and during the formative years of independent American government, Shays' Rebellion was an armed uprising in the western half of the state from 1786 to 1787. The rebels were mostly small farmers angered by crushing war debt and taxes which resulted from their lack of representation in Congress.

19th Century

On March 15, 1820, Maine separated from Massachusetts, of which it had been a non-contiguous part, and entered the Union as the 23rd state as a result of the ratification of the Missouri Compromise.

During the 19th century, Massachusetts and the New England Region became a national and world leader in the Industrial Revolution, with the development of machine tools and textiles. The economy transformed from primarily agricultural to industrial, initially making use of its many rivers, and later the steam engine to power factories for textiles, shoes, furniture, and machinery that drew labor from Yankees on subsistence farms at first, and later drew upon immigrant labor from Canada and Europe.

Horace Mann made the state system of schools the national model. Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson made major contributions to American thought. Members of the Trancendentalism movement, they emphasized the importance of the natural world to humanity.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Massachusetts was a center of social progressivism, the temperance movement, and abolitionist activity within the United States. Antagonism to their views resulted in anti-abolitionist riots in Massachusetts between 1835 and 1837. The works of abolitionists contributed to subsequent actions of the state during the Civil War. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to abolish slavery, in a 1783 judicial interpretation of its 1780 constitution, and was the first state to recruit, train, and arm a Black regiment with White officers, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Massachusetts would establish itself as a leader in education and innovation during this time. Alexander Graham Bell invented his telephone in Boston in 1876.

20th Century

The industrial economy began a decline in the early twentieth century with the exodus of many manufacturing companies. By the 1920s competition from the South, followed by the Great Depression, led to the collapse of Massachusetts' two main industries, textiles and shoes, although a few companies would survive into the 1950's. In the years following World War II, Massachusetts was transformed from a factory system to a largely service and high-tech based economy. Although some manufacturing does exist in the State today, generally in specialized markets.

Government contracts, private investment, and research facilities led to a new and improved industrial climate, with reduced unemployment and increased per capita income. Suburbanization flourished, and by the 1970s, the Route 128 corridor was dotted with high-technology companies who recruited graduates of the area's many elite institutions of higher education.

The Kennedy family was prominent in Massachusetts politics in the 20th century, especially with President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. The famous Kennedy Compound is located at Hyannisport on Cape Cod.

21st Century

In recent years tourism has played an ever-important role in the State's economy, with Boston and Cape Cod being the leading destinations. Other popular tourist destinations include Salem, Plymouth and the Berkshires.

In 1987, the state received federal funding for the Central Artery/Tunnel Project. Known as the "the Big Dig," it was at the time the biggest federal highway project ever approved. Often controversial, with its estimated $14.6 billion price tag, and claims of mismanagement, the Big Dig has changed the face of Downtown Boston, connecting areas that were once divided by elevated highway, and improving traffic conditions (although traffic problems still exist).

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, and the sixth jurisdiction in the world (after the Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec) to do so.



Massachusetts had an estimated 2006 population of 6,437,193. An estimated increase of 3,826, or 0.1%, from the prior year and an increase of 88,088, or 1.4%, since the year 2000. This includes an increase since the last census of 149,992 people (499,440 births minus 349,448 deaths) and a decrease from net migration of 89,812 people out of the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 200,155 people, and net migration within the country resulted in a loss of 289,967 people. As of 2000, Massachusetts is the third most densely populated U.S. state, with 809.8 per square mile (312.68 per square kilometer), after New Jersey and Rhode Island, and ahead of Connecticut and Maryland

Massachusetts has seen both population increases and decreases in recent years. For example, while some Bay Staters are leaving, others including Asian, Hispanic and African immigrants, arrive to replace them. Massachusetts in 2004 included 881,400 foreign-born residents.

Most Bay Staters live within a 60 mile radius of the State House on Beacon Hill, often called Greater Boston: the City of Boston, neighboring cities and towns, the North Shore, South Shore, the northern, western, and southern suburbs, and most of southeastern and central Massachusetts. Eastern Massachusetts is more urban than Western Massachusetts, which is primarily rural, save for the cities of Springfield, Chicopee, and Northampton, which serve as centers of population density in the Pioneer Valley of the Connecticut River. The center of population of Massachusetts is located in Middlesex County, in the town of Natick.

Race, ancestry, and language

The five largest reported ancestries in Massachusetts are: Irish (23.5%), Italian (13.5%), French/French Canadian (or Franco-American) (12.9%), English (11.4%), German (5.9%).

The Irish are by far the largest and most influential ethnic group in the state. Massachusetts is also the most Irish state in the country in terms of percentage of total population. Massachusetts also has large communities of people of Finnish and Swedish descent; Armenian, Lebanese (Worcester) descent; and Italian descent. Other influential ethnicities are Greek Americans, Lithuanian Americans and Polish Americans. Massachusetts "Yankees," of colonial English ancestry, still have a strong presence. French Americans are the largest group in parts of western and central Massachusetts. Boston has a large African American population, and its largest immigrant group consists of Haitians. Fall River and New Bedford on the south coast have large populations of people with Portuguese, Brazilian, and Cape Verdean heritage, which is also very prevalent in the Brockton area. There is a growing Brazilian population in the Boston area (especially in Framingham) and also an abundant population of Brazilians thrive in Cape Cod especially in Barnstable, Falmouth, and Yarmouth. Lowell, in the northeast of the state, is home to the second largest Cambodian (Khmer) community in the country, outside of Long Beach, California. Although most of the Native Americans intermarried or died in King Philip's War (1675), the Wampanoag tribe maintains reservations at Aquinnah, Grafton, on Martha's Vineyard, and Mashpee. The Nipmuck maintain two state-recognized reservations in the central part of the state. Other Wampanoags and other Native people live scattered around the state outside of reservations.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 6.21% of the population aged 5 and over speak Spanish at home, while 2.68% speak Portuguese, 1.44% French, and 1.00% Italian.


Massachusetts was founded and settled by staunch Puritans in the 17th century. The descendants of the Puritans belong to many different churches; in the direct line of inheritance are the Congregational/United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist churches. Both of these denominations are noted for their strong support of social justice, civil rights, and moral issues, including strong and early advocacy of abolition of slavery, women's rights, and (after 2000) legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The world headquarters of the Unitarian-Universalist Church is located on Beacon Hill in Boston. Today Protestants make up less than 1/4 of the state's population. Roman Catholics now predominate because of massive immigration from Ireland, Quebec, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. A large Jewish population came to the Boston area 1880–1920. Mary Baker Eddy made the Boston Mother Church of Christian Science the world headquarters. Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, Seventh-Day Adventists, Muslims, and Mormons also can be found. Kripalu and the Insight Meditation Center (Barre) are examples of non-western religious centers in Massachusetts.

The religious affiliations of the people of Massachusetts, according to a 2001 survey, are shown in the table below:

  • Christian – 69%
    • Catholic – 44%
    • Protestant – 22%
      • Baptist – 4%
      • Congregational/United Church of Christ – 3%
      • Episcopal – 3%
      • Methodist – 2%
      • Pentecostal – 2%
      • Other Protestant or general Protestant – 8%
    • Other or General Christian – 3%
  • Jewish – 2%
  • Other Religions – 6%
  • Non-Religious – 16%
  • Refused to answer – 7%

Emigration and Immigration

The latest (2007) estimated Census population figures show that Massachusetts has grown by slightly over 1 percent, to 6,449,755, since 2000. This slow growth is likely attributable to the fact that Massachusetts continues to attract top scholars and researchers from across the United States as well as large numbers of immigrants, combined with steady emigration away from the state towards New Hampshire and southern and western regions of the U.S. because of high housing costs, taxes, weather, and traffic.

Recent census data shows that the number of immigrants living in Massachusetts has increased over 15% from 2000–2005. The biggest influxes are Latin Americans. According to the census, the population of Central Americans rose by 67.7 percent between 2000 and 2005, and the number of South Americans rose by 107.5 percent. And among South Americans, the largest group to increase appeared to be Brazilians, whose numbers rose by 131.4 percent, to 84,836. This surge of immigrants tends to offset emigration, and, of course, given the 350,000 increase in population in the Commonwealth between 1990 and 2000, many immigrants to Massachusetts come from elsewhere in the USA.

Following the shift to a high-tech economy and the numerous factory closures, few jobs remain for low skilled male workers, who are dropping out of the workforce in large numbers. The percentage of men in the labor force fell from 77.7% in 1989 to 72.8% in 2005. This national trend is most pronounced in Massachusetts. In the case of men without high school diplomas, 10% have left the labor force between 1990 and 2000.


The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that Massachusetts's gross state product in 2006 was US $338 billion. Per capita personal income in 2004 was US$42,102, making it the 2nd highest, just behind that of Connecticut. Gross state product increased 2.6% from 2004 to 2005, below the national average of 3.5%.

Sectors vital to the Massachusetts economy include higher education, biotechnology, finance, health care, financial services and tourism. Route 128 was a main center for the development of minicomputers. Massachusetts was the home of many of the largest computer companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation, Data General, and Wang Laboratories situated around Route 128 and Route 495 (another beltway approximately 25 miles (40 km) farther away from Boston). Most of the larger companies fell into decline after the rise of the personal computer, which was based in large part on software such as Visicalc and Lotus 1-2-3 and hardware technology such as memory and operating systems developed by many of these companies. High technology remains an important sector, though few of the largest technology companies are based there.

Its agricultural outputs are seafood, nursery stock, dairy products, cranberries, tobacco and vegetables. Its industrial outputs are machinery, electrical and electronic equipment, scientific instruments, printing, and publishing. Thanks largely to the Ocean Spray cooperative, Massachusetts is the second largest cranberry producing state in the union (after Wisconsin).

As of 2005, there were 6,100 farms in Massachusetts encompassing a total of 520,000 acres (2,100 km²), averaging 85 acres apiece. Almost 2,300 of Massachusetts' 6,100 farms grossed under $2,500 in 2007. This very low mode income shows that most farms in Massachusetts are not the primary sources of income for their owners. Particular agricultural products of note include tobacco; animals and animal products; and fruits, tree nuts, and berries, for which the state is nationally ranked 11th, 17th, and 16th, respectively.

Massachusetts has a flat-rate personal income tax of 5.3%, with an exemption for income below a threshold that varies from year to year. The state imposes a 5% sales tax on retail sales of tangible personal property—except for groceries, clothing, and periodicals—in Massachusetts by any vendor. The 5% sales tax is charged on clothing that costs more than $150.00. Only the amount over $150.00 is taxed. All real and tangible personal property located within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is taxable unless specifically exempted by statute. The administration of the assessment and collection of all real and tangible personal property taxes in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is handled by the city and town assessor and collected in the jurisdiction where the property is located. Massachusetts imposes a tax on any gains from the sale or exchange of capital assets held for more than one year. The state also collects a 12% tax on the sale or exchange of capital assets held for one year or less (short-term capital gains). Interest from non-Massachusetts banks is no longer taxed at 12%, but the first $100 of interest from Massachusetts banks is tax exempt from even the 5.3% tax. There is no inheritance tax and limited Massachusetts estate tax related to federal estate tax collection.

A recent review by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found 13 states, including several of the nation's largest, face budget shortfalls for FY2009. Massachusetts faces a deficit that could be as large as $1.2 billion.



The major airport in the state is Logan International Airport. The airport serves as a focus city for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways, and JetBlue Airways.


Interstate highways crossing the state include: I-91, I-291, I-84, I-93, I-95, I-495, I-195, I-395, I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), I-290, and I-190 . Other major thoroughfares are U.S. Route 1, Route 2, Route 3, U.S. Route 3, U.S. Route 6, U.S. Route 20, Route 24, and Route 128. A massive undertaking to depress I-93 in the Boston downtown area called the Big Dig has brought the city's highway system under public scrutiny over the last decade.


The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates public transportation in the form of subway, bus and ferry systems in the Metro Boston area. It also operates longer distance commuter rail services throughout the larger Greater Boston area, including service to Worcester and Providence, Rhode Island.

Fifteen other regional transit authorities provide public transportation in the form of bus services in their local communities. The regional transit authorities are:

  • Berkshire Regional Transit Authority
  • Brockton Area Transit Authority
  • Cape Ann Transportation Authority
  • Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority
  • Franklin Regional Transit Authority
  • Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority
  • Greenfield Montague Transportation Area
  • Lowell Regional Transit Authority
  • Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority
  • Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority
  • Montachusett Regional Transit Authority
  • Nantucket Regional Transit Authority
  • Pioneer Valley Transit Authority
  • Southeastern Regional Transit Authority
  • Worcester Regional Transit Authority

The regional transit authorities shown in italics above are within MBTA's commuter rail service area, and provide connections to MBTA's trains.

Law, government, and politics


The Massachusetts Constitution was ratified in 1780 while the Revolutionary War was in progress, four years after the Articles of Confederation was drafted, and seven years before the present United States Constitution was ratified in 1787.

Following a November 2003 decision of the state's Supreme Court, Massachusetts became the first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses, on May 17, 2004. (See the articles on same-sex marriage in the United States and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.) Massachusetts is the first state in the union to mandate health insurance for all its citizens. (See Massachusetts 2006 Health Reform Statute for more details.)


The governor is head of the executive branch and serves as chief administrative officer of the state and as commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts National Guard. The current governor is Deval Patrick. All governors of Massachusetts are given the official style His/Her Excellency, a carry-over from the Commonwealth's British past, despite such styles being uncommon in American political traditions. The title is actually used only on the most formal occasions, such as when the governor addresses the two houses of the General Court sitting in joint convention. Responsibilities of the governor include preparation of the annual budget, nomination of all judicial officers, the granting of pardons (with the approval of the Governor's Council), appointments of the heads of most major state departments, and the acceptance or veto of each bill passed by the Legislature. Several executive offices have also been established, each headed by a secretary appointed by the governor, much like the President's cabinet.

The Governor's Council (also called the Executive Council) is composed of the Lieutenant Governor and eight councilors elected from councilor districts for a two-year term. It has the constitutional power to approve judicial appointments and pardons, to authorize expenditures from the Treasury, to approve the appointment of constitutional officers if a vacancy occurs when the legislature is not in session, and to compile and certify the results of statewide elections. It also approves the appointments of notaries public and justices of the peace.

The Massachusetts state legislature is formally styled the "General Court." (See Massachusetts General Court) Elected every two years, the General Court is made up of a Senate of 40 members and a House of Representatives of 160 members. The Massachusetts Senate is said to be the second oldest democratic deliberative body in the world. Each branch elects its own leader from its membership. The Senate elects its president; the House its speaker. These officers exercise power through their appointments of majority floor leaders and whips (the minority party elects its leaders in a party caucus), their selection of chairs and all members of joint committees, and in their rulings as presiding officers. Joint committees of the General Court are made up of 6 senators and 15 representatives, with a Senate and House chair for each committee. These committees must hold hearings on all bills filed. Their report usually determines whether or not a bill will pass. Each chamber has its own Rules Committee and Ways and Means Committee and these are among the most important committee assignments.

Judicial appointments are held to the age of seventy. The Supreme Judicial Court, consisting of a chief justice and six associate justices, is the highest court in the Commonwealth; it is empowered to give advisory opinions to the governor and the legislature on questions of law. All trials are held in departments and divisions of a unified Trial Court, headed by a Chief Justice for Administrative and Management, assisted by an administrator of courts. It hears civil and criminal cases. Cases may be appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court or the Appeals Court for review of law, but findings of fact made by the Trial Court are final. The Superior Court, consisting of a chief justice and 66 associate justices, is the highest department of the Trial Court. Other departments are the Boston Municipal, District, Housing, Juvenile, Land, and Probate Courts.

Massachusetts's Congressional delegation is entirely Democratic. U.S. senators are Edward Kennedy and John Kerry. The ten members of the state's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives are John Olver, Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Barney Frank, Niki Tsongas, John F. Tierney, Ed Markey, Mike Capuano, Stephen Lynch, and Bill Delahunt. Federal court cases are heard in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Appeals are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.


During the first half of the 1900s, Boston was socially conservative and strongly under the influence of Methodist minister J. Frank Chase and his New England Watch and Ward Society, founded in 1878. In 1903, the Old Corner Bookstore was raided and fined for selling Boccaccio's Decameron. Howard Johnson's got its start when Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude was banned in Boston, and the production had to be moved to Quincy. In 1927, works by Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, and Sherwood Anderson were removed from bookstore shelves. "Banned in Boston" on a book's cover could actually boost sales. Burlesque artists such as Sally Rand needed to modify their act when performing at Boston's Old Howard Casino. The clean version of a performance used to be known as the "Boston version." By 1929, the Watch and Ward society was perceived to be in decline when it failed in its attempt to ban Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, but as late as 1935 it succeeded in banning Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour. Censorship was enforced by city officials, notably the "city censor" within the Boston Licensing Division. That position was held by Richard J. Sinnott from 1959 until the office was abolished on March 2, 1982. In modern times, few such puritanical social mores persist. Massachusetts has since gained a reputation as being a politically liberal state and is often used as an archetype of liberalism, hence the usage of the phrase "Massachusetts liberal."

Massachusetts is the home of the Kennedy family, and routinely votes for the Democratic Party in federal elections: it is the most populous state to have an all-Democratic Congressional delegation (ten representatives and two senators); this also makes Massachusetts the largest state to have a solid delegation of either party. As of the 2006 election, the Republican party holds less than 13% of the seats in both legislative houses of the General Court: in the House, the balance is 141 Democratic to 19 Republican, and in the Senate, 35–5.

Although Republicans held the governor's office continuously from 1991 to 2007, they have mostly been among the most liberal Republican leaders in the nation, especially William Weld (the first of four recent Republican governors). Two of these governors, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, took office when their predecessors resigned to take other positions. In presidential elections, Massachusetts supported Republicans until 1912, from 1916 through 1924, in the 1950s, and in 1980 and 1984. From 1988 through 2004, Massachusetts has supported Democratic presidential candidates, most recently giving native son John Kerry 61.9% of the vote and his largest margin of victory in any state. (It should be noted, however, John Kerry's margin of victory in the District of Columbia was much higher.)

During the 1972 election, Massachusetts was the only state to give its electoral votes to George McGovern, the Democratic nominee (The District of Columbia also voted for McGovern). Following the resignation of President Nixon in 1974, two famous bumper stickers were sold in Boston, one saying "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts," and the other read "Nixon 49, America 1"

Cities and towns

There are 50 cities and 301 towns in Massachusetts, grouped into 14 counties. Eleven communities which call themselves "towns" are, by law, cities since they have traded the town meeting form of government for a mayor-council or manager-council form. Boston is the state capital and largest city. It is the center of the nation's 11th largest metropolitan area. Cities over 100,000 in population (2004 estimates) include Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, and Cambridge. Massachusetts shares the governmental structure known as the New England town with the five other New England states, as well as New York and New Jersey.


Massachusetts has historically had a strong commitment to education. It was the first state to require municipalities to appoint a teacher or establish a grammar school (albeit paid by the parents of the pupils) with the passage of the Massachusetts Education Law of 1647; this mandate was later made a part of the state constitution in 1789. The town of Rehoboth, has been noted to be the birthplace of public education in North America. Massachusetts is home to the country's oldest high school, Boston Latin School (founded 1635), America's first publicly funded high school, Dedham, (founded 1643), oldest college, now called Harvard University (founded 1636), first racially integrated school (Nantucket), and oldest municipally supported free library, Boston Public Library (founded 1848). In 1852, Massachusetts became the first state to pass compulsory school attendance laws. The per-student public expenditure for elementary and secondary schools (kindergarten through grade 12) was fifth in the nation in 2004, at $11,681. Massachusetts has scored highest of all the states in math on the National Assessments of Educational Progress.

Massachusetts is home to many well-known preparatory schools, colleges, and universities. There are more than 40 colleges located in the greater Boston area alone. Ten colleges and universities are located in the greater Worcester area. The University of Massachusetts (nicknamed UMass) is the five-campus public university system of the Commonwealth. The population of metropolitan Boston and Worcester, and of the Five Colleges area in Western Massachusetts, in particular, surges during the school year.


There are two major television media markets located in Massachusetts. The Boston/Worcester market is the 7th largest in the United States. All major networks are represented. The other market surrounds the Springfield area. Some communities in Berkshire county are serviced by the Albany, New York market, and some southeastern Massachusetts communities are serviced by the Providence, Rhode Island market. The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Worcester Telegram & Gazette and the Springfield Republican are the Commonwealth's largest daily newspapers. In addition, there are many community dailies and weeklies found throughout the state. There are a number of major radio stations (AM 50,000 watts, FM over 20,000 watts) which service Massachusetts, along with many more regional and community based stations. Some colleges and universities also operate campus television and radio stations, and print their own newspaper.

Sports and recreation

Organized sport

Massachusetts has a long history with amateur athletics and professional teams. Most of the major professional teams have won multiple championships in their respective leagues. Massachusetts teams have won 5 Stanley Cups (Boston Bruins), 17 NBA Championships (Boston Celtics), 3 Super Bowls (New England Patriots), and 8 World Series (7 Boston Red Sox, 1 Boston Braves). The state is also the home to the Basketball Hall of Fame (Springfield) and the Volleyball Hall of Fame (Holyoke), because those sports were invented within the Commonwealth, as well as the Cape Cod Baseball League. It is also home to prestigious sports events such as the Boston Marathon, the Eastern Sprints on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, and the Head of the Charles Regatta. The Falmouth Road Race in running and the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in bicycle racing are also very popular events with long histories.

The PGA Deutsche Bank Championship and the Champions Tour Bank of America Championship are regular professional golf tour stops in the state. Massachusetts has played host to 9 US Opens, 4 US Womens Opens, 2 Ryder Cups, 1 PGA Championship, and 1 Senior Open. The New England Revolution is the Major League Soccer (MLS) team in Massachusetts.

Many colleges and universities in Massachusetts are active in college athletics. There are a number of NCAA Division I members in the state for multiple sports: Harvard University, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern University, College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Outdoor recreation

Boating activities such as sailing and yachting are popular all along the Massachusetts coast and its offshore islands. Hiking and cross-country skiing are also popular activities in many of the state's undeveloped lands. The Appalachian Trail, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, the Midstate Trail, and the Bay Circuit Trail are all long distance hiking trails that run the length of the state. The Tully Trail, a 22-mile (35 km) loop in the North Quabbin Region (through the towns of Athol, Orange, Warwick and Royalston) incorporates waterfalls and vistas. A handful of downhill skiing operators still maintain slopes in Massachusetts, although many skiers drive to major resorts in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for the weekend. Sport fishing still remains a strong outdoor activity. Spincasting during the warmer months and ice fishing during winter on inland lakes and ponds, Fly fishing inland rivers for trout, surf casting for striped bass and bluefish and deep sea fishing for cod and haddock all remain popular. Hunting, primarily for whitetail deer and waterfowl continues to attract a number of residents.

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