New England, name applied to the region comprising six states of the NE United States—Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The region is thought to have been so named by Capt. John Smith because of its resemblance to the English coast (another source has it that Prince Charles, afterward Charles I, inserted the name on Smith's map of the country). Topographically it is partly delineated from the rest of the nation by the Appalachian Mts. on the west. From the Green Mts., the White Mts., and the Berkshire Hills the land slopes gradually toward the Atlantic Ocean. Many short, swift rivers furnish water power. The Connecticut River is the region's longest river.
Because of the generally poor soil, agriculture was never a major part of the region's economy. However, excellent harbors and nearby shallow banks teeming with fish made New England a fishing and commercial center. Shipbuilding was important until the end (mid-1800s) of the era of wooden ships. During the colonial period the region carried on a more extensive foreign commerce than the other British colonies and was therefore more affected by the passage of the British Navigation Acts. New England was the major center of the events leading up to the American Revolution, particularly after 1765, and was the scene of the opening Revolutionary engagements.
The return of peace necessitated a reorganization of commerce, with the result that connections were made with the American Northwest and China. The War of 1812 had an adverse effect on the region's trade, and opposition to the war was so great that New England threatened secession (see Essex Junto; Hartford Convention). After the war the growth of manufacturing (especially of cotton textiles) was rapid, and the region became highly industrialized. A large part of the great migration to the Old Northwest Territory originated there. Agriculture dwindled with the growth of the West.
After World War II the character of New England industry changed. Traditional industries (e.g., shoe and textile) have been superseded by more modern industries such as electronics. Tourism, long a source of income for the region, remains important throughout the year. There is also stone quarrying, dairying, and potato farming. Boston has long been the chief urban center of New England; corporate activity, however, has sprung up in many of the smaller cities and suburbs.
New England has long been a leading literary (see American literature) and educational center of the country. Prior to the Civil War the region furnished many social and humanitarian leaders and movements. The area abounds with educational institutions, having some of the foremost universities in the United States.
See the works of V. W. Brooks, P. Miller, and S. E. Morison; J. T. Adams, The History of New England (3 vol., 1923–27, repr. 1971); J. Hale, Inside New England (1982).