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Why Is Massachusetts Called the Bay State?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are two theories concerning how Massachusetts got its nickname, The Bay State. One theory says The Bay State evolved from the fact that Massachusetts’ founders settled on Cap Cod Bay. The second theory says the state nickname came from the company that was granted a British royal charter in 1629 to populate the New World, the Massachusetts Bay Company. The company settled in what is known today as New England, and it governed the region until 1684.

The Bay State began receiving English settlers to its shores in 1630, and they formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Boston, today the state’s capital, was the hub of a settlement that grew to 20,000 people within a decade. The royal charter allowed the colony to be self-governing, and it took on a heavily religious tone because most of the colonists were Puritans. By the turn of the century in 1700, the number of Puritans in the colony surpassed 100,000.

Massachusetts, which is also sometimes referred to as The Old Bay State, became a theocracy in the 17th century, with colonists and their leaders believing God’s Word was above man’s laws. Their strict religious beliefs outlawed music during religious services and also prohibited theatrical dramas. At the same time, the colony was the site of many “firsts.” A free education for children was established for the first time ever in any location in the world, thanks to the Puritans.

To communicate their ideals to children and help them learn, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony published books geared toward children, also a first. In keeping with this tradition of childhood education, today Massachusetts has named an official children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings. It also has named an official children’s book author, the best-selling and beloved Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel.

There are a number of state symbols for Massachusetts, including the state flower, the mayflower. It shares its name with a ship, the Mayflower, which brought a sect of Puritans, the Pilgrims, to Massachusetts for settlement in the early 17th century. In 1918, state lawmakers approved making the mayflower the official state flower after schoolchildren overwhelmingly voted for it over another choice, the water lily. Other state symbols include the black-capped chickadee as the official bird, and the wild turkey as the official game bird. The state dog is the Boston terrier, while the official tree of The Bay State is the American elm.

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Discussion Comments
By helene55 — On Dec 12, 2011

@FernValley- I would love to go to Cape Cod. I read years ago that it was perhaps the best place to live in the country, and while that might be far fetched, I'd love to see for myself.

And while of course it's a beautiful place to live, but I'd love to see Massachusetts' bay areas more in depth because of all the history. So many early revolutionary battles and other events happened there, and I'd love to see it all.

By FernValley — On Dec 11, 2011

Whatever the reason, I think many people associate Massachusetts with bays and with water in general. I have not been there, but what I know about the state is its past with the first settlers, The numerous vacation homes, like in Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, that are near the state, and all of the fishing and sailing that is common there and throughout New England.

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