The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state 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. The west is primarily rural, also with most of its population in urban enclaves. Massachusetts is the most populous of the six New England states and ranks third in overall population density among the 50 states.
The first Europeans to settle New England landed in present-day Massachusetts. These settlers were primarily separatist non-conformists later called Pilgrims, and also Puritans from England seeking religious freedom. They founded Plymouth, Salem, and Boston, which soon became the hub of the region, then the Pioneer Valley along the Connecticut River where the state's best agricultural land was concentrated. A century and a half later, Massachusetts became known as the 'Cradle of Liberty' for the revolutionary ferment in Boston that helped spawn the war of the Thirteen Colonies for independence.
During the 19th century, the Massachusetts economy transformed from primarily agricultural to manufacturing, making use of its many rivers to power factories for shoes, furniture, and clothing that drew labor from Yankees on subsistence farms at first, and later drew upon immigrant labor from Europe. The industrial economy declined in the early twentieth century with the movement of many manufacturing companies to the southern United States, to draw upon cheaper labor. A revitalization came in the 1970s when, nourished by the graduates of the area's many elite institutions of higher education, the Boston suburbs (particularly those near Route 128) became home to dozens of high-technology companies. Massachusetts's colleges and universities, as well as its technology sectors, continue to thrive.
Massachusetts has been a significant state in American history. The first battles of the American Revolution were fought in the Massachusetts towns of Concord and Lexington. The Boston Tea Party is an example of the protest spirit of the pre-revolutionary period. In the 19th century, the state became a bastion of social progressivism and a birthplace of the abolitionist movement that emancipated southern blacks from slavery. The Kennedy family was prominent in Massachusetts politics in the 20th century. In the 21st century, the state continues to lead the country in social and cultural change, and in 2004 became the first state in the union to allow same-sex couples to marry.