Italian adventurer, Giovani da Verrazzano cruised the New England coast for the French and reported that he found the country "as pleasant as it is possible to conceive" with "open plains as much as 20 or 30 leagues (48–75 miles) in length, entirely free from trees" and so fertile "that whatever is sown there will yield an excellent crop". At the time of the arrival of the French and English most of the local tribes had been well settled in the New England for at least the preceeding 1,000 years however there were probably also a few scattered tribes who were more recent comers.

We will never know the exact number of Indians in New England just prior to the first European contact with the French and English, however, it is clear that the local population was well organized into villages - in excess of 325, connected by hundreds of well trodden pathways, worn deep by footsteps over hundreds of years. An Indian messenger could travel a hundred miles in clear passage in a single day if the need presented itself. The current best guess of the Indian population of the New England State area at the time of contact is estimated to be about 75,000 - with 15,000 of those from Maine and very few from Vermont. The remaining 60,000 populated the lands of the other four states.

Local tribes were goverened by a single leader, the sachem, while the individual villages by the sachem's subordinates known as sagamores. Early Europeans had noted that the New England Indians had cleared huge tracts of land for their use in extensive cultivation - many in excess of 500 acres or more throughout the populated tribal areas. Here the Indians grew a variety of crops such as corn, tobacco, squash, Jerusalem artichokes, strawberries, cherries, mulberries, peas, beans and grapes. The shoreline of Plymouth which greeted the Pilgrims was almost entirely cleared, except for a few scattered trees. Native dwellings with attendent gardens had surrounded the harbor.

Likewise, areas of today's Boston, Beacon Hill, Chelsea and Wollaston had been cleared of trees by the Indians. An extensive treeless plain stretched throughout Quincy and was known as the Massachusetts Fields.