The state, known legally as a commonwealth, was explored in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and was first permanently settled at PLYMOUTH in 1620. One of the thirteen original states, it was the sixth to ratify the Constitution. BOSTON, the capital of Massachusetts, is the de facto capital of New England.
The name Massachusetts is thought to be of Algonquian origin and means “near the great hill.” The state has made many contributions to the nation in its cultural growth, its political activities, and its concern for social welfare. Like many of its neighboring states Massachusetts is working hard to maintain progress in the face of recent economic difficulties.
Land & Resources
Massachusetts displays a wide variety of topography within its small area, exhibiting on a small scale the landscapes found along the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the Appalachian mountain system. The western border of the state lies along the crest of the Taconic Mountains. Immediately to the east are the BERKSHIRE HILLS and the deep, narrow, north-south trending Berkshire Valley, eroded from soft limestones. Farther to the east is a high, rolling plateau of ancient crystalline rocks, deeply carved by Connecticut River tributaries.
The plateau gives way abruptly to the Connecticut River valley, which is nearly flat and up to 16-32 km (10-20 mi) wide. Its soils–a deep reddish brown derived from Triassic-age sandstones–are the state’s most fertile. Between the valley and the Atlantic Ocean is a hilly region of forests, lakes, and a few low mountains. Elevations decrease from west to east. Near the shoreline the topography displays little relief.
Southeastern Massachusetts is a low, sandy plain, interrupted by occasional moraines and other glacial debris. CAPE COD is an extension of glacial materials that reaches far into the open ocean. It is composed entirely of sand and gravel; bedrock lies far below sea level. The coast of Massachusetts varies from an occasional rocky headland, such as Cape Ann, to long sandy beaches, most of which are made up of glacial materials. MARTHA’s VINEYARD, NANTUCKET ISLAND, and the Elizabeth Islands lie offshore to the south.
Massachusetts is underlain with Paleozoic or pre-Paleozoic rocks. Igneous and metamorphic rocks, such as granites, gneisses, and schists, are common. Only the major river valleys contain sedimentary rocks on a large scale. Fossils are rare, and minerals of industrial value almost nonexistent.