How Did the State of Massachusetts Get Its Name?

The State of Massachusetts is named after the Native American Indian tribe, the Massachusett, who lived in the area when the first English colonists arrived. The Massachusett Indians are part of the Algonquin family of Native American tribes. Their lands were located in the area which now forms the modern-day Greater Boston area.

The translation of the Algonquin Indian word "Massachusett" refers to the inhabitants of the land by the great hill. It is believed that what the colonials later named the Blue Hill area south of Boston is the land referred to in the Algonquin language. The Native Americans there lived a migratory life based on the seasons before the English settlers arrived. Late spring and summer were spent foraging and fishing in coastal areas, and the winter months signaled a departure to inland homes and hunting sites.

Between the years 1617 and 1619, the tribal groups living in the area were almost wiped out by the diseases brought to North America by the European settlers. A second epidemic brought further devastation in 1633. By this time, the local tribes had already distanced themselves from the settlers after an altercation at the English Plymouth Colony left two tribal military leaders dead in 1623. Successful conversions to Christianity by the missionary John Eliot in the latter half of the 1600s brought some Native Americans into the Puritan lifestyle, but they were confined by English law to living within special settlements called "praying villages" and made to pay fines if they did not adhere to specific dress and conduct standards.