Havard, fall foliage, and the pilgrims are some of the things we instantly associate with Massachusetts, but besides these what is Massachusetts famous for?
Located in New England, Massachusetts shares borders with Connecticut to the southwest and Rhode Island to the southeast, New Hampshire to the northeast, Vermont to the northwest, and New York to the west. Massachusetts is the 7th smallest state, but with more than 7 million people it is the 3rd most densely populated state in the union.
Nicknamed the Bay State, Massachusetts took its official name from the indigenous Massachusett people. The Bay State is also one of the original 13 colonies (the 6th to sign the constitution) and one of the earliest sites of English colonization in America.
So, let’s explore what is Massachusetts famous for!
12 Things Massachusetts is famous for
Plymouth and the Pilgrims
Established in 1620, the Plymouth Colony was the first permanent colony in New England and the second successful English colony in the US, after Jamestown in Virginia. Despite being relatively short-lived (it only lasted until 1692), it plays a special role in American history and culture.
The Plymouth Colony was founded by the Mayflower Pilgrims, who came to the New World to escape religious persecutions in England. After a grueling voyaging in the Mayflower, the 102 passengers and 30 crew members reached America, dropping anchor in Cape Cod in November 1620.
Early life in the colony was harsh, as the pilgrims had a strenuous voyage and came ill-prepared for the winter weather they encountered in Massachusetts. In the first winter, almost half of the population had died from starvation and disease, but the colony establish good relations with the native American tribes which helped them survive.
Many of the people and events of the Plymouth colony became well-known in American history, particularly the tradition of thanksgiving.
One of the things we immediately associate with Massachusetts is the thanksgiving tradition. The first American thanksgiving happened in the Plymouth colony in 1621, about one year after the arrival of the first Pilgrims.
The original thanksgiving brought together the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe for a harvest celebration. The two people had a feast that took several days and help consolidate their peace agreements. The native-Americans had already helped the colonist by teaching them ways to cultivate and make good use of the land. It is curious to note that in this celebration there was almost a two-to-one ratio of native Americans (about 90) and colonists (about 50).
Today’s thanksgiving is all about the roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Despite these being seasonal dishes and having some ingredients in common, it is a rather different meal from what the pilgrims had in the original thanksgiving.
The thanksgiving tradition made a long way since 1621, and it took many years to consolidate as the main traditional holiday in the USA. It first became popular in New England and the northern colonies. Only much later, and after a series of controversies it started being celebrated around the country. It was only in 1942 that it became official that it was celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November.
Salem witch trials
One of the most famous events in Massachusetts history happened in Salem between February 1692 and May 1693. During this period, a series of hearings and prosecutions accused more than two hundred people of witchcraft, of which thirty were found guilty and nineteen were executed by hanging. These happenings are known as the Salem witch trials.
Salem’s witch hunt and trials were the deadliest witch hunt in the history of North America. Besides the 19 people who were killed in Salem, only 14 women and 2 men were executed in Massachusetts and Connecticut during the whole 16th century. Though, many more witch hunts were made in Europe, with much larger killings.
This is one of the most infamous cases of mass hysteria in the US and it is regularly used in pop culture as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of religious extremism, isolationism, false accusations, etc. As we said, it was not a unique case, but it was the most infamous American example of a broader phenomenon of medieval times.
Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party is another crucial colonial American event that happened in Massachusetts. It was a political and mercantile protest targeting the Tea Act that allowed the British East India Company to sell tea without paying taxes. The Sons of Liberty opposed this and thought of it as a violation of their rights and destroyed an entire shipment of tea by boarding the ship and throwing the tea into the Boston Harbor.
The British response was harsh and with time escalated a conflict that became the American Revolution. One of the responses was the intolerable acts (or Coercive Acts) that ended self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston’s commerce. Colonists responded with more protests, now from all the other 13 colonies, and convened the First Continental Congress.
The crisis continued to escalate, and the war was inevitable. By the end of the war, and with American independence, the Tea Party became one of the most iconic events of American History and an example for other political movements.
The Boston Tea Party could have been just a small quarrel, but ended up becoming the first major act of defiance to British rule in America and rallied patriots across the 13 colonies to fight for independence.
What is Massachusetts known for? Many people probably think of the stunning fall foliage. The fall foliage is a trademark of New England, and people come to the region from all over the world to see the bright colors of the leaves.
Fall foliage season usually lasts about six weeks across all of New England, but it usually only stays for a week or two in a particular area. Thus, it is important to time your trip, so you don’t miss it. In Massachusetts, the fall foliage usually starts in the second half of September and peaks around Columbus day, but it really depends on the weather of each year.
One of the best ways to experience the beautiful red, orange, and yellow colors of the Massachusets foliage is by driving some popular routes.
Successful sports teams
As a huge sports fan, when someone asks me what is Massachusets famous for, I usually remember the Bruins (Ice Hockey), the Celtics (Basketball), the Red Sox (Baseball), and, of course, the Patriots (Football). But, what is really impressive is how successful all four Massachusets teams are:
- The Boston Celtics have 17 NBA championships (first tied with the Lakers)
- The Boston Red Sox have 9 World Series (third-most, tied with the Athletics)
- The New England Patriots have 6 Super bowls (first, tied with the Steelers)
- The Boston Bruins have 6 Stanley Cups (fourth, tied with the Blackhawks)
Besides the success, or maybe because of the success, the Massachusetts teams are also well known for having very noisy and hard-core home fans. Attending the home games is usually a fun activity for anyone who enjoys sports and is traveling to Massachusetts.
One other curious thing is that Basketball and volleyball were both invented in Massachusetts. Basketball was invented in 1891 by James Naismith, a PE teacher who wanted an indoor winter sport for his students, while volleyball was invented in 1895 by William Morgan in Holyoke.
Harvard and MIT
Another thing Massachusets is famous for is the quality of its higher education. Cambridge, in particular, is home to two of the best high education institutions in the world, Harvard and MIT.
Founded in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest higher learning institution in the USA and one of the most prestigious universities in the world. According to the US News ranking, it is considered overall the second best University in the USA (tied), only after Princeton, New Jersey.
Named after the Puritan minister John Harvard who left his 400-book library and half of his estate to the school, Harvard University is one of the most famous members of the Ivy League. The Harvard Library is the world’s largest academic library system, containing 79 libraries with about 20.4 million items. Originally, it was created to educate members of the clergy, but today has more than 5000 undergraduates and a campus of 5075 acres.
Founded in 1861, the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is a much more recent institution. However, that doesn’t make it less good. In fact, MIT ties with Harvard in the second position of the overall best universities in America, according to the same US news ranking.
MIT is particularly known for the high quality of its applied science and engineering programs. Since its foundation during the industrialization of the US, it has adopted a polytechnic university model and played a critical role in the development of modern technology and science.
That unique accent
One of the noticeable and consequently famous things about Massachusetts is the accent, particularly the Boston accent. Almost anyone will recognize the Boston accent immediately after the person starts talking.
Yet, one thing is clear the Boston accent is unmistakable but really difficult to master and replicate. Even some great actors have butchered it. Its most conspicuous feature is being non-rhotic (dropping the r), but even that is full of caveats. We cannot do the Boston accent, so we can’t and won’t try to teach you how to talk with a Boston accent.
Because it’s such an easily identifiable regional feature, the Boston accents have been widely featured in films set in Boston, such as Good Will Hunting, Manchester by the sea, the Departed or Mystic River and famous tv series like Boston Public and Cheers.
The accent has also been significantly used for comic relief. As Jon Stewart jokingly explained in the book America: Although John Adams drafted the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, “delegates from his state refused to ratify the letter ‘R’.
The large Irish heritage is another thing Massachusetts is known for. Although Massachusetts was initially a Puritan stronghold, the wave of European immigrants of the 19th century changed that. The great famine in Ireland lead hundreds of thousands of Irish to migrate to America, and many of them concentrated in Boston and Massachusetts.
The huge Irish wave left its mark in the region that can still be seen today, with large Irish neighborhoods, iconic families like the Kennedys, the establishment of the catholic Boston College, the huge Saint Patrick’s day parades, and obviously the Boston Celtics. Even Fenway Park was built by an Irishman.
Today Massachusetts is the most Irish state in America, with more than 21% of its population claiming to have Irish ascendency and some cities south of Boston reaching 46%. With 46.4 percent of its residents claiming Irish ancestry, Marshfield is officially the state’s most Irish town. Though, we need to mention that the rest of New England also has high numbers of Irish people, particularly New Hampshire with 21 percent.
Cape Cod is one of the most famous parts of Massachusetts. It is known for its seemingly endless beaches, the tranquil and coastal lifestyle, and fishing culture. Because of its 64 km of beaches, Cape Cod is a popular summer destination but the wonderful views are available all year. Some would even argue that there’s something even more special about going there in cold misty weather.
One of the highlights of Cape Cod is the 15 lovely beach towns that offer a romantic and relaxed way of life and the historic lighthouses of different sizes, formats, and colors. Five of them are available for a visit, but our suggestion is to visit the Highland Light, also known as the Cape Cod Lighthouse.
Besides grassy beaches, Cape Cod is also popular for its lobster rolls and crispy fried clams, golf courses, and whale watching tours. If you enjoy a more active trip, you’ll certainly have fun cycling through the Shining Sea Bikeway, surfing, or hiking in the Cornelia Carey Sanctuary.
Dunkin’, which used to be called Dunkin’ Donuts is possibly the most famous Massachusetts company. Though it’s more than just a famous company from Massachusetts, it’s also the state’s favorite coffee brand and a New England staple.
Founded in 1950 in Quincy, Massachusetts by William Rosenberg, the firm was bought in the 1990s by Baskin-Robbins and in 2020 by Inspire Brands. Today Dunkin’ has about 12 900 stores in 42 countries making it one of the biggest coffee shop and donut shop chains in the world. Dunkin’ is very popular for its donuts, bagels, coffee, and munchkin (donut holes).
Despite being spread throughout America and the world, New England is where Dunkin’ is really popular and part of the everyday life of many Massachusetts. Traveling through the state, you will find countless shops and have many opportunities to try their popular donuts and coffee.
Cranberries are one of the most famous produces from Massachusetts and the state’s largest food crop. With more than 14,000 acres of bogs and 400 family-owned farms, Massachusetts is only second to Wisconsin in cranberry production.
The cranberry is a native fruit of Massachusetts. It was one of the ingredients of the original thanksgiving and it is still present today every year. The plant itself is a low-growing, trailing, woody vine with a perennial habit. They are layered in beds of sand, peat, gravel, and clay known as bogs.
Cranberry production started on Cape Cod in the mid-1800s and it still continues to grow excellent crops. They have been nurtured for generations and cultivated in Massachusetts wetlands, contributed to the community, provided shelter and habitat for other species, and helped preserve the charm of the region’s countryside.
The Cranberry is naturally the official berry of the state, while cranberry juice is the official juice of the state, and cranberry color is one of the official colors (blue and green are the others). It is also used in many sauces and baked goods. It is obvious that the people from Massachusetts love their cranberries.
Fun facts and records
Lastly, Massachusetts holds a few well-known records and is home to unusual, fun facts that are globally recognized. Let’s delve into some of them:
- The name Massachusetts derives from one of the Native tribes – the Massachusett tribe. It translates literally to “near the great hill”.
- Besides the Bay state, Massachusetts is also nicknamed: The Pilgrim State, The Puritan State, The Old Colony State, and less often The Baked Bean State.
- It was the native Americans that taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and beans to help them survive.
- Fought in 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord were the first of the American Revolutionary War.
- The first lighthouse in the USA was built in 1716, in the Boston Harbor on Little Brewster Island.
- The first subway system in the United States opened in Boston in 1897.
- Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. It happened in 2003.
- The first public school in the US was founded in 1635 in Boston. As it still exists, the Boston Latin School is the oldest school in the USA.
- Both the second (Boston Public Library) and third (Harvard Library) largest libraries in the United States are located in Massachusetts. The first is the library of the Congress.
- America’s first library was created in Franklin, Massachusetts after Benjamin Franklin donated a collection of books to the town. It is still open today.
- The first phone call was made between Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson on the 10th of March 1876 in Boston.
- The Boston cream pie is the state’s official dessert since 1996.
- The Granite Railway was the first railway in America. It had three miles from Quincy, MA to the Neponset River