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Massachusetts Cultural Symbols

Holy stampede, tiny Massachusetts has about 33 official cultural symbols! Unfortunately, I cannot cover all of them in detail on this website. The information I have available can be found on this page, along with symbols of the arts and political symbols. If you need additional information, you may find it in some of my books.

Cultural Symbols  
Colors blue, green and cranberry 2004
Historical Rock Plymouth Rock 1983
Explorer Rock Dighton Rock 1983
Dessert Boston cream pie 1996
Donut Boston creme donut 2003
Cookie chocolate chip cookie 1997
Muffin corn muffin 1986
Beverage cranberry juice 1970
Heroine Deborah Sampson 1983
Folk Hero Johnny Appleseed 1996
Inventor Ben Franklin 2006
Sport basketball 2006
Recreational and Team Sport volleyball 2014
Vessel Ernestina 1994
Tartan 2002
Folk Song Massachusetts 1981
Patriotic Song Massachusetts (Because of You Our Land is Free) 1989
Glee Club Song The Great State of Massachusetts 1997
Ode Ode to the Commonwealth 2000
Polka Song Say Hello to Someone in Massachusetts 1998
Ceremonial March The Road to Boston 1985
Folk Dance square dance Redundant Symbol 1990
Poem Blue Hills of Massachusetts 1981
Children’s Book Make Way for Ducklings 2003
Children’s Author and Illustrator Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss 2003
Artist Norman Rockwell 2008
Blues Artist Taj Mahal 2006
Language English Redundant Symbol 1975
Peace Statue Orange Peace Statue
Veterans of Southeast Asia War Monument Worcester, Desert Calm Committee, Inc. 1993
Vietnam War Memorial Memorial in Worcester 1990
MIA/POW Memorial Massachusetts National Cemetery MIA/POW Memorial
Korean War Memorial Charlestown Navy Yard Korean War Memorial

Where do we begin? Let’s take a look at Massachusetts’ state tartan first. The Bay State Tartan features the colors blue, green, and red.


Blue represents the Atlantic Ocean as well as Massachusetts’ inland waters. Green represents the Boston Hills, Worcester Hills, and the Berkshire Mountains. Red represents apples and cranberries.

A fourth color is said to represent Massachusetts’ beaches. It is reportedly tan, though it looks white to me.

Massachusetts’ state flower is the Mayflower. It shares its name with the famous ship that brought the first Pilgrims to America in 1620. In fact, the Pilgrims might have given the flower its name.

According to tradition, the site where the Mayflower landed is marked by a granite boulder, which was named Plymouth Rock. Today, Plymouth Rock is Massachusetts’ official historical rock.

Plymouth RockLeft to right: Mayflowers, Mayflower (the ship) and Plymouth Rock.

Food ˆ

Massachusetts State FoodLeft: cranberries and chocolate chip cookies; Right: Boston baked beans, Boston cream pie, and corn muffin.

In 1621, newly arrived Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth for an autumn harvest celebration. This milestone feast is commonly cited as America’s “first Thanksgiving.”

The Indians allegedly offered their guests cranberries. However, it isn’t known if turkey was on the menu. Turkeys were certainly plentiful, but so were many other edible species.

Of course, turkey and cranberries are essential menu items today. Not surprisingly, the turkey and cranberry are Massachusetts’ official game bird and berry. Cranberry juice is the official beverage, and the official colors are blue, green, and cranberry.

Another famous food associated with Massachusetts is baked beans. The main ingredient is the navy bean. The baked navy bean is Massachusetts’ official bean.

Native Americans were baking beans long before the arrival of Europeans. In fact, it is believed that the Pilgrims and Puritans learned how to bake beans from local tribes.

The religious beliefs of the Pilgrims and Puritans forbade cooking on the Sabbath. So, they ate baked beans for dinner on Saturday, eating the leftovers for breakfast on Sunday morning.

Far more familiar than Boston creme pie is Massachusetts’ official cookie, the chocolate chip cookie. The chocolate chip cookie was invented about 1938 at the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts. Its inventor, Ruth Wakefield, won a lifetime supply of free chocolate.

Question: How many of the food symbols listed in the table above have you tasted?

Boston ˆ

State symbols that share their name with Massachusetts’ capital city include the Boston terrier, Boston cream pie, Boston creme donut, and the official ceremonial march (“The Road to Boston”).

Boston also made its mark on baked beans.

Indians added maple syrup and bear fat to their baked bean dishes. Bostonians replaced these with molasses and salt pork. (Molasses was the main ingredient of rum, of which Boston became a major producer.)

Today, “Boston baked beans” remain among the most famous beans in the world

The bean pot—an implement used for cooking beans—also became a symbol of Boston, which is still known as “Bean Town.”

If Bay Staters ever decide to adopt an official state bread, they’ll probably adopt brown bread, which is also closely associated with baked beans.

Sports ˆ

Massachusetts State Sports

Massachusetts has two official sports, both of which originated in Massachusetts.

Basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a Springfield, Massachusetts teacher. The Basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield.

Just four years later, volleyball (the official recreational and team sport) was born a mere ten miles away in Holyoke. Volleyball was the creation of William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director in Holyoke. Today, Holyoke is the home of the Volleyball Hall of Fame.

People ˆ

Massachusetts State PeopleLeft to right: Deborah Samson/Sampson, John Chapman/Appleseed, and Ben Franklin.

Massachusetts has adopted six people as symbols, more than any other state. The most famous are Ben Franklin (the official inventor) and Johnny Appleseed (the official folk hero). However, the toughest was undoubtedly the Bay State’s official heroine, Deborah Samson (sometimes spelled Sampson).

Samson was a Revolutionary War hero who stood nearly six feet tall, taller than the average man at that time. She may have been tougher than today’s U.S. Navy Seals; she certainly wasn’t backed up by helicopter gunships and cruise missiles.

Samson first enlisted as Timothy Thayer but was recognized by a local resident. She later enlisted as Robert Shurtleff (also spelled “Shurtliff” or “Shurtlieff”). Samson fought in several skirmishes and was recognized for outstanding service before she was wounded in battle. Most state symbols references claim that was the end of her masquerade, but that’s apparently not true.

During her first battle, Samson took two musket balls in the thigh and a cut on her forehead. She begged her comrades to let her die, rather than take her to a doctor.

Samson was rescued against her will and forced to see a doctor. However, she fled before the doctor could tend to her leg. She removed one of the musket balls herself with a penknife and sewing needle. The other ball was too deep to reach.

Only after Samson later became ill did a doctor discover her secret.

Her church wasn’t happy with Samson’s act of deception, but her fraudulent enlistment eventually paid off handsomely. The U.S. won the war, and Samson became the first woman to be awarded a military pension (with the help of her friend, Paul Revere).

Deborah Samson Gannett’s enlistment in the Continental Army is celebrated as Deborah Sampson Day each May 23. (As an official heroine, her name is spelled Samson, but the letter p is added in the annual observance. Contrary to many references, it is NOT Deborah Sampson Gannett Day, though her married name was Deborah Samson/Sampson Gannett.)

The Canton Massachusetts Historical Society has more information about a woman no Texan would want to mess with at

Designating Ben Franklin the official inventor seems a little strange. He was also a scientist, an author and printer, postmaster, statesman, political theorist, civic activist, diplomat, and humorist. Perhaps Massachusetts legislators thought Franklin was a better inventor than a diplomat.

John Chapman was an interesting person. He wandered the frontier, planting apple trees from New England to the Ohio River Valley. Eventually, he became known as Johnny Appleseed.

Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1744—two years before the Revolutionary War. He was said to be a little strange and was often seen barefoot. Hostile Indians left him alone because of his strangeness. They allegedly thought he had been touched by the Great Spirit.

Beloved for his kindness and generosity, Johnny Appleseed became a frontier legend.

The remaining cult heroes are discussed under symbols of the arts.

Boulders ˆ

Massachusetts’ symbols include three granite boulders that can be variously classified as earth symbols or cultural symbols.

We’ve already met Plymouth Rock. Rolling Rock is a giant boulder that a glacier deposited in the town of Fall River. Actually, the boulder was moved there long before Fall River was built. Today, it serves as Massachusetts’ official glacial rock.

Massachusetts State RockDighton Rock (left) and Rolling Rock

More mysterious is Dighton Rock, Massachusetts’ official explorer rock. Dighton Rock is notable because of the petroglyphs someone carved in it. No one knows who.

It wasn’t a recent practical joke, because a drawing of the petroglyphs was reportedly made by an English colonist in 1680. Who would go to the trouble of chiseling all those marks in a boulder nearly a hundred years before the United States was born? Even if it was a practical joke, the marks still had to be carved by someone.

Some have speculated that Vikings made the petroglyphs. However, let’s not forget the possibility that the marks could have been made by Native Americans.

And we’re still not finished, because Massachusetts also has an official building rock and monument stone. What else could it be but granite?

* * * * *

Wow, are you still awake? If so, you can continue with symbols of the arts and political symbols. If you still need additional information, you may find it in some of my books.

By the way, this is my vision of a Massachusetts tartan. It features the official colors. Gray represents Massachusetts’ granite bedrock, while white represents the state flower and winter snows. Green and blue reprsent land and sea.

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