The earliest known inhabitants of New England were American Indians who spoke a variety of the Eastern Algonquian languages. Prominent tribes included the Abenakis, Mi'kmaq, Penobscot, Pequots, Mohegans, Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, and Wampanoag. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the Western Abenakis inhabited New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, as well as parts of Quebec and western Maine. Their principal town was Norridgewock in Maine.
The Penobscot lived along the Penobscot River in Maine. The Narragansetts and smaller tribes under their sovereignty lived in Rhode Island, west of Narragansett Bay, including Block Island. The Wampanoag occupied southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The Pocumtucks lived in Western Massachusetts, and the Mohegan and Pequot tribes lived in the Connecticut region. The Connecticut River Valley linked numerous tribes culturally, linguistically, and politically.
As early as 1600, French, Dutch, and English traders began exploring the New World, trading metal, glass, and cloth for local beaver pelts.
On April 10, 1606, King James I of England issued a charter for the Virginia Company, which comprised the London Company and the Plymouth Company. These two privately funded ventures were intended to claim land for England, to conduct trade, and to return a profit. In 1620, the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower and established Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts, beginning the history of permanent European settlement in New England.
In 1616, English explorer John Smith named the region "New England". The name was officially sanctioned on November 3, 1620 when the charter of the Virginia Company of Plymouth was replaced by a royal charter for the Plymouth Council for New England, a joint-stock company established to colonize and govern the region. The Pilgrims wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact before leaving the ship, and it became their first governing document. The Massachusetts Bay Colony came to dominate the area and was established by royal charter in 1629 with its major town and port of Boston established in 1630.
Massachusetts Puritans began to settle in Connecticut as early as 1633. Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts for heresy, led a group south, and founded Providence Plantation in the area that became the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1636. At this time, Vermont was yet unsettled, and the territories of New Hampshire and Maine were claimed and governed by Massachusetts.
French and Indian Wars
Relationships between colonists and local Indian tribes alternated between peace and armed skirmishes, the bloodiest of which was the Pequot War in 1637 which resulted in the Mystic massacre. On May 19, 1643, the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, New Haven, and Connecticut joined together in a loose compact called the New England Confederation (officially "The United Colonies of New England"). The confederation was designed largely to coordinate mutual defense, and it gained some importance during King Philip's War which pitted the colonists and their Indian allies against a widespread Indian uprising from June 1675 through April 1678, resulting in killings and massacres on both sides.
During the next 74 years, there were six colonial wars that took place primarily between New England and New France, during which New England was allied with the Iroquois Confederacy and New France was allied with the Wabanaki Confederacy. Mainland Nova Scotia came under the control of New England after the Siege of Port Royal (1710), but both New Brunswick and most of Maine remained contested territory between New England and New France. The British eventually defeated the French in 1763, opening the Connecticut River Valley for British settlement into western New Hampshire and Vermont.
The New England Colonies were settled primarily by farmers who became relatively self-sufficient. Later, New England's economy began to focus on crafts and trade, aided by the Puritan work ethic, in contrast to the Southern colonies which focused on agricultural production while importing finished goods from England.
Dominion of New England
By 1686, King James II had become concerned about the increasingly independent ways of the colonies, including their self-governing charters, their open flouting of the Navigation Acts, and their growing military power. He therefore established the Dominion of New England, an administrative union comprising all of the New England colonies. In 1688, the former Dutch colonies of New York, East New Jersey, and West New Jersey were added to the Dominion. The union was imposed from the outside and contrary to the rooted democratic tradition of the region, and it was highly unpopular among the colonists.
The Dominion significantly modified the charters of the colonies, including the appointment of Royal Governors to nearly all of them. There was an uneasy tension between the Royal Governors, their officers, and the elected governing bodies of the colonies. The governors wanted unlimited authority, and the different layers of locally elected officials would often resist them. In most cases, the local town governments continued operating as self-governing bodies, just as they had before the appointment of the governors.
After the Glorious Revolution in 1689, Bostonians overthrew royal governor Sir Edmund Andros. They seized dominion officials and adherents to the Church of England during a popular and bloodless uprising. These tensions eventually culminated in the American Revolution, boiling over with the outbreak of the War of American Independence in 1775. The first battles of the war were fought in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, later leading to the Siege of Boston by continental troops. In March 1776, British forces were compelled to retreat from Boston.
New England in the new nation
After the dissolution of the Dominion of New England, the colonies of New England ceased to function as a unified political unit but remained a defined cultural region. By 1784, all of the states in the region had taken steps towards the abolition of slavery, with Vermont and Massachusetts introducing total abolition in 1777 and 1783, respectively. The nickname "Yankeeland" was sometimes used to denote the New England area, especially among Southerners and the British.
Vermont was admitted to statehood in 1791 after settling a dispute with New York. The territory of Maine had been a part of Massachusetts, but it was granted statehood on March 15, 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise. Today, New England is defined as the six states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
New England's economic growth relied heavily on trade with the British Empire, and the region's merchants and politicians strongly opposed trade restrictions. As the United States and the United Kingdom fought the War of 1812, New England Federalists organized the Hartford Convention in the winter of 1814 to discuss the region's grievances concerning the war, and to propose changes to the Constitution to protect the region's interests and maintain its political power. Radical delegates within the convention proposed the region's secession from the United States, but they were outnumbered by moderates who opposed the idea.
Politically, the region often disagreed with the rest of the country. Massachusetts and Connecticut were among the last refuges of the Federalist Party, and New England became the strongest bastion of the new Whig Party when the Second Party System began in the 1830s. The Whigs were usually dominant throughout New England, except in the more Democratic Maine and New Hampshire. Leading statesmen hailed from the region, including Daniel Webster.
Many notable literary and intellectual figures were New Englanders, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, George Bancroft, and William H. Prescott.
New England was key to the industrial revolution in the United States. The Blackstone Valley running through Massachusetts and Rhode Island has been called the birthplace of America's industrial revolution. In 1787, the first cotton mill in America was founded in the North Shore seaport of Beverly, Massachusetts as the Beverly Cotton Manufactory. The Manufactory was also considered the largest cotton mill of its time. Technological developments and achievements from the Manufactory led to the development of more advanced cotton mills, including Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Towns such as Lawrence, Massachusetts, Lowell, Massachusetts, Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and Lewiston, Maine became centers of the textile industry following the innovations at Slater Mill and the Beverly Cotton Manufactory.
The Connecticut River Valley became a crucible for industrial innovation, particularly the Springfield Armory, pioneering such advances as interchangeable parts and the assembly line which influenced manufacturing processes all around the world. From early in the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth, the region surrounding Springfield, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut served as the United States' epicenter for advanced manufacturing, drawing skilled workers from all over the world.
The rapid growth of textile manufacturing in New England between 1815 and 1860 caused a shortage of workers. Recruiters were hired by mill agents to bring young women and children from the countryside to work in the factories. Between 1830 and 1860, thousands of farm girls moved from rural areas where there was no paid employment to work in the nearby mills, such as the famous Lowell Mill Girls. As the textile industry grew, immigration also grew. By the 1850s, immigrants began working in the mills, especially Irish and French Canadians.
New England as a whole was the most industrialized part of the U.S. By 1850, the region accounted for well over a quarter of all manufacturing value in the country and over a third of its industrial workforce. It was also the most literate and most educated region in the country.
During the same period, New England and areas settled by New Englanders (upstate New York, Ohio's Western Reserve, and the upper midwestern states of Michigan and Wisconsin) were the center of the strongest abolitionist and anti-slavery movements in the United States, coinciding with the Protestant Great Awakening in the region. Abolitionists who demanded immediate emancipation such as William Lloyd Garrison, John Greenleaf Whittier and Wendell Phillips had their base in the region. So too did anti-slavery politicians who wanted to limit the growth of slavery, such as John Quincy Adams, Charles Sumner, and John P. Hale. When the anti-slavery Republican Party was formed in the 1850s, all of New England, including areas that had previously been strongholds for both the Whig and the Democratic Parties, became strongly Republican. New England remained solidly Republican until Catholics began to mobilize behind the Democrats, especially in 1928, and up until the Republican party realigned its politics in a shift known as the Southern strategy. This led to the end of "Yankee Republicanism" and began New England's relatively swift transition into a consistently Democratic stronghold.
20th century and beyond
The flow of immigrants continued at a steady pace from the 1840s until cut off by World War I. The largest numbers came from Ireland and Britain before 1890, and after that from Quebec, Italy and Southern Europe. The immigrants filled the ranks of factory workers, craftsmen and unskilled laborers. The Irish assumed a larger and larger role in the Democratic Party in the cities and statewide, while the rural areas remained Republican. Yankees left the farms, which never were highly productive; many headed west, while others became professionals and businessmen in the New England cities.
The Great Depression in the United States of the 1930s hit the region hard, with high unemployment in the industrial cities. The Democrats appealed to factory workers and especially Catholics, pulling them into the New Deal coalition and making the once-Republican region into one that was closely divided. However the enormous spending on munitions, ships, electronics, and uniforms during World War II caused a burst of prosperity in every sector.
The region lost most of its factories starting with the loss of textiles in the 1930s and getting worse after 1960. The New England economy was radically transformed after World War II. The factory economy practically disappeared. Like urban centers in the Rust Belt, once-bustling New England communities fell into economic decay following the flight of the region's industrial base. The textile mills one by one went out of business from the 1920s to the 1970s. For example, the Crompton Company, after 178 years in business, went bankrupt in 1984, costing the jobs of 2,450 workers in five states. The major reasons were cheap imports, the strong dollar, declining exports, and a failure to diversify. The shoe industry subsequently left the region as well.
What remains is very high technology manufacturing, such as jet engines, nuclear submarines, pharmaceuticals, robotics, scientific instruments, and medical devices. MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) invented the format for university-industry relations in high tech fields, and spawned many software and hardware firms, some of which grew rapidly. By the 21st century the region had become famous for its leadership roles in the fields of education, medicine and medical research, high-technology, finance, and tourism.
Some industrial areas were slow in adjusting to the new service economy. In 2000, New England had two of the ten poorest cities (by percentage living below the poverty line) in the U.S.: the state capitals of Providence, Rhode Island and Hartford, Connecticut. They were no longer in the bottom ten by 2010; Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire remain among the ten wealthiest states in the United States in terms of median household income and per capita income.