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To the first colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Company, their arrival near the site of modern Salem in 1629 marked a crucial moment in history. Puritans who had decided to leave England before it was engulfed by civil war saw their purpose, in the words of Governor John Winthrop, as the establishment of a utopian “City upon a hill”. Their new colony of MASSACHUSETTS was to be a beacon to the rest of humanity, an exemplar of sober government along sound spiritual principles. This clarity of thought and forcefulness of purpose can be traced from the foundation of Harvard College in 1636, through the intellectual impetus behind the Revolution and the crusade against slavery, to the nineteenth-century achievements of writers such as Melville, Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau.

Spending a few days in Boston is strongly recommended. While its history is often visible, there’s a great deal of modern life and energy besides, thanks in part to the presence of Cambridge, the home of Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), just across the river. Several historic towns are within easy reach – Salem to the north, Concord and Lexington just inland, and Plymouth to the south. Provincetown, a ninety-minute ferry ride across the bay at the tip of Cape Cod, is great fun to visit, and the rest of the Cape offers old towns and lovely beaches. Western Massachusetts, home to a handful of college towns such as Amherst, is much quieter; its settlements are naturally concentrated where the land is fertile, such as along the Connecticut River Valley and in the Berkshires to the west.

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