What Is Massachusetts Known For?

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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the Atlantic Coast of the USA is one of the original states in New England that achieved independence from the English. It is the largest by population in New England but nevertheless amongst the smallest by area. Boston is its capital and a city that was central in that struggle for independence.

In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers landed in what is now Boston, founding a colony known as Plymouth but later Massachusetts, taking the name of the indigenous Massachusett people. In those days, fishing, hunting and agriculture were important but over the years, Massachusetts has become famous as a seat of learning (Harvard University in another of its cities, Cambridge), an industrial then service base and more recently biotechnology, finance and AI (artificial intelligence). As a result, Massachusetts is one of the wealthiest states in the country, with a highly educated population.

There is much to recommend the state. Boston and the relatively close city of New York (just over 4 hours by train) provide huge employment opportunities. Visitors are certain to enjoy what Massachusetts has to offer. It has a very interesting coastline, lovely walking trails and great fishing for those interested in the outdoor life. Historians and art lovers are equally well catered for. Read on to learn more.

What Is Massachusetts Known For?

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1- Religious Formation

Church In Boston
Religious history is what Massachusetts is known for.

Religious persecution in England caused the Pilgrim Fathers to resolve to head over the Atlantic in search of a new life.

The year was 1620 and they left from Plymouth in Devon on the Mayflower on a trip that took more than two months.

Their new home was therefore called New Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts.


They had looked for better religious freedom years earlier in Holland before deciding to make that crossing.

They were the first Europeans to actually seek shelter in the New World and they set about building Congregationalist churches on the east coast of what is now the United States.

Their beliefs were irreconcilable with the Church of England but now they could pray without fear of persecution.

Problems persisted, one of the most serious being disease that began on board and took the lives of a large proportion of crew and passengers.

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2- Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party is what Boston, Massachusetts is known for.

There was inevitably tension between the colonists and the British over the years and it came to a head in 1773 when the American colonists protested against the British East India Company being able to sell China tea in the colonies without paying significant taxes.

They destroyed a whole shipment one day in Boston by throwing it into the harbour.

The British saw this as treason and responded with a harsh response that resulted in the beginnings of the movement that led to the fight for independence.

There were 13 colonies in the 1770s and they petitioned the British Government to repeal a series of unpopular Acts.

The colonists’ case was that there should be no taxation without representation and the tax on tea was extremely unpopular.

Those pleas were rejected with the result that armed conflict began in 1775 at Lexington and Concord.

December 2023 is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Book your tickets to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.

4- The First Telephone

Antique Old Fashioned Retro Brass Candlestick Telephone A 1920'S
The first telephone is what Massachusetts is known for producing as an invention.

Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland into a family that had always been involved in elocution and speech.

Both his mother and wife were deaf and that certainly had an impact on his career and achievements.

The family moved to Canada and when Alexander was working as a teacher of the deaf in Boston his “invention” emerged.

American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) remains an important company in the USA today.

Bell was its co-founder in 1885 and he was able to patent the first telephone in the country in 1876.

Ironically, he thought the telephone was intrusive and he refused to have one in his office.

He regarded some of his other achievements as more important and he was deeply involved in the publication of the National Geographic magazine.

The world may well say that few achievements could possibly match the first practical telephone.

5- Salem Witches

Old Door In Salem
Salem’s witches is what Massachusetts is known for.

In the last decade of the 17th century, the town of Salem came under the spotlight.

There were a series of prosecutions accusing people, women and men, of witchcraft.

Of the 200 who were accused, 30 were found guilty, 19 hanged and five died in jail.

There had been other hangings during the century but this was by far the biggest purge.

Mass hysteria had been a feature of Protestant Europe before but this was the most significant such event in the Americas.

Historians often quote the event as one that began to weaken the importance of religious extremism.

The 300th anniversary of the trials in 1992 saw a park in Salem and memorial dedicated to the victims.

Most, but not all, of the victims have been exonerated. Find out more about the history and hauntings of Salem on a guided walking tour and it’s one of the best places to go on a ghost tour.

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6- Food Festivals

Dine Out Boston is effectively a food festival that takes place twice a year, March and August.

Participating restaurants each produces a tasting menu for lunch and dinner for a specified week with a ceiling on price.

August is also the month when the Seafood Festival takes place.

You can expect clambake which includes clams, lobster, mussels and crab.

You may like to wash it down in the beer garden.

The origins of the Phantom Gourmet Food Festival were a TV show.

These days every summer, you get the chance to sample local food in streets close to Fenway Park, the home of the famous Boston baseball team, the Red Sox.

St Anthony’s Feast is a three-day event at the end of August so if you like Italian food, this is the festival for you.

The Boston Local Food Festival is free.

Head to the Rose Kennedy Greenway one weekend in September where you will meet fishermen, local farmers, restaurants, and food trucks.

There are culinary demos, competitions, music, and something for the kids.

Recommended tour: Boston Seafood Lovers Food & History Walking Tour

7- The Kennedy Dynasty

The most famous family in the USA is surely the Kennedys.

The family of Patrick Joseph (P.J.) Kennedy, father of the assassinated President John F. came from Wexford, Ireland in the middle of the 19th century.

He took public office for a decade from 1885 and amassed a fortune in business and finance.

From 1947 until 2011, there was at least one Kennedy serving in elective office, the 1947 reference being the beginning of John F. Kennedy’s rise to the highest US Office.

P.J.’s son, Joseph has 9 children including John F. and Robert F. (Attorney General and also assassinated as he sought the Presidency).

A third son, Edward, was a senator for almost half a century but the dynasty went further.

The Kennedys include several who served in the House of Representatives, two US Ambassadors, a US envoy, three state legislators and a mayor.

8- The Irish Association

While the early settlers in Massachusetts were the Pilgrim Fathers and their descendants, in the 19th century, there was significant immigration from Europe, especially from Ireland.

The Great Irish Potato Famine saw a huge number of Irish arriving, then heading to Massachusetts.

The Irish are the largest single ethic group in the State.

Boston was no longer Anglo-Saxon and Protestant after this influx.

Initially there was some resistance to the arrival of immigrants but it did not last long and any resentment about their presence began to evaporate as they fought for the Union in the Civil War that began in 1861.

In the following years, Irish people became involved in politics (example the Kennedys).

Some neighbourhoods remain known as “Irish” by descent, notably South Boston and Charlestown.

The famous basketball team representing Boston is the Celtics, another example of the impact the Irish has had in Massachusetts.

9- A City Of Art

Lions On The Staircase Of Boston Pubic Library
Art and culture is what Massachusetts is known for. Pictured here is the Boston Pubic Library.

If you are a lover of art, you could immerse yourself in your passion for a week and still not have covered all that Boston has to offer.

There are numerous local art galleries and art experiences that display everything from contemporary to fine art.

The South End of Boston was initially the district for art but the “community” has expanded far more widely.

If your time is limited, you may need to do your research to ensure you visit the places that most closely fit in with your interests.

The Vose Galleries are still privately owned after well over a century, initially focusing on the impressionists but expanding from there.

Robert Klein Gallery specialises in fine art photography and the Boston Center for the Arts has provided support for local artists for half a century.

Do your research to get a comprehensive list of places to visit, places such as Praise Shadows Art Gallery, Godine Family Gallery, DTR Modern, Galerie D’Orsay, Gallery NAGA and more.

10- Local Language & Dialect

Settlers brought new languages and there was no official language in Massachusetts until 1975 when it implied it was English after a case in the state’s Supreme Court.

Before the arrival of those settlers, there was the indigenous population.

The English became predominant yet that changed with the arrival of great numbers of Irish in the mid-19th century.

French Canadians also arrived so there was then a real mix of people.

Greeks, Italians and Portuguese followed.

The Immigration Act of 1924 slowed down immigration yet Afro-Americans leaving the South in the 1950s changed the mix once again.

Today, a quarter of Massachusetts households comprise people speaking a language other than English at home.

That represents 635,000 households.

Almost 10% of the population has Spanish as its first language with the figure for Portuguese 3% and Chinese 2.25%.

There are also small numbers speaking Haitian, Vietnamese, French, Russian, Arabic, Italian and Hindi.

Greasy Pole St. Peter’s Fiesta in Gloucester Massachusetts is a tradition dating back to 1927.

St. Peter is the patron saint of fishermen and Gloucester is one of the main fishing ports in the state.

The city’s Italian population began the tradition, both religious and community-based.

The fiesta lasts 5 days towards the end of June and includes plenty of music, parades, competitions and prayers to protect the city’s fishermen.

One of the top highlights is the Greasy Pole competition when local men, one after another, walk along the greasy pole, a telephone pole mounted on a platform in the harbour.

There is a flag at the end of the pole and the aim is to reach it.

Most slip fairly quickly, falling into the water below and the distance they fall depends upon the tide but it can be 20 feet (6 metres).

The Coast Guard attends the event just in case of problems.

The winner of course is the one that somehow reaches the flag.

11- The Scenic Coastline

Beautiful Nantucket Coast
A scenic coastline is what Massachusetts is known for.

The coastline of Massachusetts is a mix of sandy beaches and rocky bluffs stretching for around 1,500 miles (2,415 kilometres), with numerous coves and bays.

There are several important historic ports including Boston, Cambridge, Gloucester, Salem and New Bedford, each settled in natural harbours.

There are also marshes and estuaries as well as designated parks to enjoy.

While you might like a guide, there are good maps and exploring independently using one of the ports as a base is easy.

The coastline can be divided into five sections: North Shore, Boston, South Shore, Cape Cod & Islands and South Coastal.

12- Heritage Trails

Boston Old State House Building In Massachusetts
What is Massachusetts best known for? History trails.

The Heritage Trails in Massachusetts offer both history and exercise.

There is plenty of choice and in most cases, you do not need a great level of fitness to enjoy them.

It is worth mentioning some of the best ones to whet your appetite.

The Freedom Trail in Boston tells the story of the American Revolution and includes churches and cemeteries, museums, parks and even a ship.

The Black Heritage Trail is all about the Afro-Americans who headed up to Massachusetts from the Deep South.

The Salem Heritage Trail not surprisingly talks of the witches’ trials at the end of the 17th Century.

The South Shore Irish Heritage Trail goes from Weymouth to Plymouth, quite a distance but you can do any section that you like.

There are also numerous hiking trails in the countryside to enjoy the beauty of the state’s interior.

13- Red Sox

Aerial View Of Fenway Park, Boston
The Boston Red Sox team is another thing Massachusetts is known for.

The USA is passionate about sport.

One of its favourite games is basketball where the competition is known as the World Series despite no other country taking part.

Boston’s team is the Red Sox which began in 1901 and has played at Fenway Park since 1912.

The Red Sox, owned today by the same people who own the famous English football team, Liverpool, has nine World Series championships and has competed in four further end of season finals.

One of the most famous names in baseball played for the Red Sox.

Babe Ruth but his sale to New York Yankees in 1918 saw the Red Sox unable to win a World Series Championship for another 86 years, quite a drought! That 2004 title was the Red Sox’ 6th.

The wins after that were in 2007, 2013 and 2018. Every game at Fenway Park is a complete sell out. Get in early and book your tickets here.

14- Harvard University

The Harvard University Building In Cambridge
Harvard University is what Massachusetts is famous for.

You may have noticed that there are several towns and cities in Massachusetts that take English names

It is apt that the famous “Ivy League” university, Harvard, is in Cambridge, a serious seat of learning in today’s United Kingdom.

Harvard and Yale in nearby New Haven, Connecticut are the two predominant universities in North America.

John Harvard was a Puritan clergyman and Harvard is the oldest university in the USA.

Its research has been, and remains, very important.

There are 10 faculties, for both under graduate and post graduate students, in three campuses.

Eight US Presidents were educated at Harvard as well as several other Heads of State.

Add to that 10 Academy Award winners, 48 Pulitzer Prizes, and 110 Olympic medals (46 golds) and you can see the quality of the students that have been educated at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Join a student-led tour here.

15- Bluefin Tuna

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is one of the most endangered, and most valued, fish in the world.

Ports such as Cambridge and Gloucester in Massachusetts specialise in catching and selling these huge fish, some well in excess of 500 lbs (227 kilogrammes) and 10 feet (3 metres) long.

There is a limited season yet fishing is an activity that takes place all year around.

Some amateurs seek out bluefin but it is very difficult for such amateurs to catch them yet the waters include such as bass, flounder and haddock.

The blockbuster film, fiction of course, “Jaws” tells the story of a Great White Shark off this coastline.

Cape Cod is a very popular tourist resort and sharks do exist in these waters.

However, migrating whales are more of an attraction to holidaymakers.

The waters are safe with the white stretches of sand something that continues to attract great numbers for their summer holidays.

Map Of United States With Massachusetts Highlight

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Stephen Smith
Steve Smith is a widely travelled writer who has lived on the South West Coast of Turkey since 2008. He hails from North East England where he lived most of his life but has been to every continent of the world, with a particular love for Southern Africa and its wildlife. Argentina, India and Vietnam as other favourite places that he enjoyed greatly while sport is also a passion, cricket and golf as a participant, rugby union and soccer as a spectator.