Originally, the Pilgrims were trying to sale to Virginia, but they wound up landing on Cape Cod in 1620, instead. The climate was cold and harsher than expected, but they were still able to establish Plymouth Colony, which they intended to be self-governed and provide religious freedoms. Ten years after that, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded, creating new types of record keeping systems, as well as new forms of political and community views. From 1620 to 1643 there was a period of “Great Migration,” which led to more than 20,000 people moving to those two colonies from England. In 1691, the Province of Massachusetts was created when then two colonies blended together.
For the next 400 years or so, many thousands of people came to Massachusetts, and later to other New England coastal settlements. Soon, settlements also developed along the rivers and in the forests, creating lumber and fur industries in the area. As each of those areas developed, they all developed their own differences of opinion regarding both politics and religion. As a result, some people moved west to start new colonies. Others settled in other areas on the east coast. That led to several Massachusetts systems of record keeping and government being used in other areas at various times.
Generally, the Native Americans continued to peacefully coexist with the Massachusetts settlers. Chief Massasoit, who was the chief of the Wampanoag tribe, had a peace agreement with the white settlers. However, in 1675 King Phillip (Metacom), who was Massasoit’s son, declared war on the white settlers. That led to 50 towns in the central and southeastern parts of the state being raided. The conflict ended a year later, after towns were destroyed and many people, including King Phillip, died. In 1713 economic and political practices in Europe changed quite a bit as the result of the Peace of Utrecht. That led to an increase in commercial and colonial power in Great Britain and even more settlers immigrating to the Massachusetts area.
Over the following 20 years or so, New England grew and expanded, as more towns were settled. However, there were many conflicts during the French and Indian Wars, which caused many settlers to head for the western frontiers or the more well-established and protected towns.
Massachusetts residents around the American Revolution time frame could almost all trace their relations back to the first influx of 20,000 settlers. The earlier English immigrants married Sottish, Irish, and French Huguenots who came to the area later on. A small number of Germans and Portuguese people also started colonies in the area, but larger numbers of them did not come to the area until quite a bit later.
Massachusetts had its own strong voice from the beginning and often disagreed with England, which eventually led to the American Revolution. Both Loyalists and Minutemen staunchly supported their own sides, often causing rifts in families. Each side was supported by former neighbors and family members in other New England settlements. After the war, many Loyalists could be found in New Orleans or Canada. New York and the frontiers of northern New England became home to several patriots. For a time after the war, Maine was part of Massachusetts, but it broke off from Massachusetts in 1820.
Soon, the Industrial Revolution began, which caused people of many cultures to come to the area, as the economy began to grow. That began when hundreds of prisoners from Scotland were brought over to work in the Lynn and Braintree ironworks in the middle of the 1600s. For 200 more years, immigrants steadily came to Boston. Many came between the 1840s and the 1850s, as a result of the Potato Famine in Ireland. Soon, other ethnic groups followed, supporting the growth of the Industrial Revolution.
When the Civil War broke out, Massachusetts was once again in the middle of things. Many of its residents traveled to the battlefields in the south. As the 1800s came to a close, New York became more of an industrial hub than Massachusetts, and it also became a more popular immigration port. However, ethnic diversity and industrial developments have made Massachusetts one of the most unique New England states and led to it having a major impact on other states as well.
Massachusetts Ethnic Group Research
Massachusetts African American Research – White settlers and African Americans, whether free or slaves, were recorded together in the same county records from colonial times. Records from the 1600s and 1700s may refer to an African American as “Negro,” “black,” “colored,” or “slave.” Mentions of African Americans may be found in vital records, probate records, land records, and court records. However, information specific to African Americans has not been extracted for easier research.
- Massachusetts African American Books (amazon.com)
Massachusetts Native American Research – any Native American tribes lived in the Massachusetts are for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims. Relations were friendly between the two groups when the Pilgrims first arrived. However, the later part of the 1600s saw more and more conflicts between white settlers and Native Americans. King Phillip’s War, was one of the most famous conflicts. It took place between the Plymouth Colony’s white settlers and the Wampanoag tribe. The conflicts started to come to an end in the middle of the 1700s, when many Native Americans had become slaves, been killed, died from a smallpox epidemic, or been forced to the west or north.
There were several other ethnic groups in Massachusetts during the 1800s, especially. Those groups consisted of French-Canadians, Irish, and many southern and eastern European groups. In more recent history, Asian and Latino groups also came to the area. TIARA, which is the Irish American Research Association, is an excellent resource for information on Catholic and Protestant Irish residents of Massachusetts. Jewish immigration records, meanwhile, can be found at the American Jewish Historical Society.
- Massachusetts Native American Books (amazon.com)
Massachusetts History Databases and other Helpful Links
The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Massachusetts genealogy work.
- Historical Data Relating to the Incorporation of and Abolishment of Counties in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (sec.state.ma.us)
- Massachusetts Pioneers
- First Settlers of Connecticut and Massachusetts: Genealogical Notes and Contributions
- Massachusetts Pioneers to the West Index
- Western Massachusetts : a history : 1636-1925
- A record of the names of the passengers on the good ship Mayflower in December 1620 f
- Representative men and old families of southeastern Massachusetts : containing historical sketches of prominent and representat
State Genealogy Guides