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Northeastern United States

The Northeast
Cultural region of the United States
US Northeastern states.png
The Northeast United States as defined by the United States Census Bureau is highlighted in the two darker shades of red. States in lighter shades of red and pink are defined as northeastern commonly by other sources.
Country  United States
States  Connecticut
 New Hampshire
 New Jersey
 New York
 Rhode Island
Federal districts  Washington, D.C.
 (2019 Census Bureau estimate)
 • Total 55,982,803
Demonym(s) Northerner, Yankee

The Northeastern United States, also referred to as the American Northeast or simply the Northeast or the North, is a geographical region of the United States bordered to the north by Canada, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Southern United States, and to the west by the Midwestern United States. The Northeast is one of the four regions defined by the United States Census Bureau for the collection and analysis of statistics.

The Census Bureau–defined region has a total area of 181,324 sq mi (469,630 km2) with 162,257 sq mi (420,240 km2) of that being land mass. Although it lacks a unified cultural identity, the Northeastern region is the nation's most economically developed, densely populated, and culturally diverse region. Of the nation's four census regions, the Northeast has the second-largest percentage of residents living in an urban setting, with 85 percent, and is home to the nation's largest metropolitan area. The Northeast is home to most of the Northeast megalopolis, the most economically significant and second most-populated of eleven mega regions within the United States, accounting for 20% of US GDP.


Geographically there is some debate as to where the Northeastern United States begins and ends. The vast area from central Virginia to northern Maine, and from western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) to the Atlantic Ocean, have all been loosely grouped into the Northeast at one time or another. Much of the debate has been what the cultural, economic and urban aspects of the Northeast are, and where they begin or end as one reaches the borders of the region.

Using the Census Bureau's definition of the Northeast, the region includes nine states: they are Maine, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. The region is often subdivided into New England (the six states east of New York State) and the Mid-Atlantic states (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania). This definition has been essentially unchanged since 1880 and is widely used as a standard for data tabulation. However, the Census Bureau has acknowledged the obvious limitations of this definition and the potential merits of a proposal created after the 1950 census that would include changing regional boundaries to include Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia, with the Mid-Atlantic states, but ultimately decided that "the new system did not win enough overall acceptance among data users to warrant adoption as an official new set of general-purpose State groupings. The previous development of many series of statistics, arranged and issued over long periods of time on the basis of the existing State groupings, favored the retention of the summary units of the current regions and divisions." The Census Bureau confirmed in 1994 that it would continue to "review the components of the regions and divisions to ensure that they continue to represent the most useful combinations of States and State equivalents."

Many organizations and reference works follow the Census Bureau's definition for the region. In the history of the United States, the Mason–Dixon line between Pennsylvania (the North) and Maryland (the South) traditionally divided the regions. In modern times, various entities define the Northeastern United States in somewhat different ways. The Association of American Geographers divides the Northeast into two divisions: "New England", which is the same as the Census Bureau; and it has the same "Middle States" but adds Delaware. Similarly, the Geological Society of America defines the Northeast as these same states but with the addition of Maryland and the District of Columbia. The narrowest definitions include only the states of New England. Other more restrictive definitions include New England and New York as part of the Northeast United States, but exclude Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Major Cities
City City Population Metro Population U.S. Rank
New York 8,398,748 19,979,477 1
Philadelphia 1,584,138 6,096,120 6
Washington 705,749 6,216,589 20
Boston 694,583 4,628,910 21
Baltimore 602,495 2,802,789 30
Pittsburgh 301,048 2,362,453 66

States beyond the Census Bureau definition are included in Northeast Region by various other entities:

  • Various organizations include: Delaware, Maryland and District of Columbia.
  • The US EPA and NOAA include in their Northeast Region: Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia.
  • The National Fish and Wildlife Service includes in their Northeast Region: Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, West Virginia, and Virginia.
  • The National Park Service includes in their Northeast Region: Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia (though small parts are also in the National Capital Region).


Indigenous peoples

Anthropologists recognize the "Northeastern Woodlands" as one of the cultural regions that existed in the Western Hemisphere at the time of European colonists in the 15th and later centuries. Most did not settle in North America until the 17th century. The cultural area, known as the "Northeastern Woodlands", in addition to covering the entire Northeast U.S., also covered much of what is now Canada and others regions of what is now the eastern United States. Among the many tribes that inhabited this area were those that made up the Iroquois nations and the numerous Algonquian peoples. In the United States of the 21st century, 18 federally recognized tribes reside in the Northeast. For the most part, the people of the Northeastern Woodlands, on whose lands European fishermen began camping to dry their codfish in the early 1600s, lived in villages, especially after being influenced by the agricultural traditions of the Ohio and Mississippi valley societies.

Colonial history

All of the states making up the Northeastern region were among the original Thirteen Colonies, though Maine, Vermont, and Delaware were part of other colonies before the United States became independent in the American Revolution. The two cultural and geographic regions that form parts of the Northeastern region have distinct histories.

New England

Robert Walter Weir - Embarkation of the Pilgrims - Google Art Project
Embarkation of the Pilgrims, Robert Walter Weir (1857)

The first Europeans to settle New England were Pilgrims from England, who landed in present-day Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims arrived on the ship Mayflower and founded Plymouth Colony so they could practice religion freely. Ten years later, a larger group of Puritans settled north of Plymouth Colony in Boston to form Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1636, colonists established Connecticut Colony and Providence Plantations. Providence was founded by Roger Williams, who was banished by Massachusetts for his beliefs in freedom of religion, and it was the first colony to guarantee all citizens freedom of worship. Anne Hutchinson, who was also banished by Massachusetts, formed the town of Portsmouth. Providence, Portsmouth and two other towns (Newport and Warwick) consolidated to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Although the first settlers of New England were motivated by religion, in more recent history, New England has become one of the least religious parts of the United States. In a 2009 Gallup survey, less than half of residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts reported religion as an important part of their daily life. In a 2010 Gallup survey, less than 30% of residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts reported attending church weekly, giving them the lowest church attendance among U.S. states.

New England played a prominent role in early American education. Starting in the 17th century, the larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school. The first public school in the English colonies was the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635. In 1636, the colonial legislature of Massachusetts founded Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.


The first European explorer known to have explored the Atlantic shoreline of the Northeast since the Norse was Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. His ship La Dauphine explored the coast from what is now known as Florida to New Brunswick. Henry Hudson explored the area of present-day New York in 1609 and claimed it for the Netherlands. His journey stimulated Dutch interest, and the area became known as New Netherland. In 1625, the city of New Amsterdam (the location of present-day New York City) was designated the capital of the province. The Dutch New Netherland settlement along the Hudson River and, for a time, the New Sweden settlement along the Delaware River divided the English settlements in the north and the south. In 1664, Charles II of England formally annexed New Netherland and incorporated it into the English colonial empire. The territory became the colonies of New York and New Jersey. New Jersey was originally split into East Jersey and West Jersey until the two were united as a royal colony in 1702.

Treaty of Penn with Indians by Benjamin West
Penn's Treaty with the Indians, Benjamin West (1772)

In 1681, William Penn, who wanted to give Quakers a land of religious freedom, founded Pennsylvania and extended freedom of religion to all citizens.

Penn strongly desired access to the sea for his Pennsylvania Province and leased what then came to be known as the "Lower Counties on the Delaware" from the Duke.

Penn established representative government and briefly combined his two possessions under one General Assembly in 1682. However, by 1704 the Province of Pennsylvania had grown so large that their representatives wanted to make decisions without the assent of the Lower Counties and the two groups of representatives began meeting on their own, one at Philadelphia, and the other at New Castle. Penn and his heirs remained proprietors of both and always appointed the same person Governor for their Province of Pennsylvania and their territory of the Lower Counties. The fact that Delaware and Pennsylvania shared the same governor was not unique. From 1703 to 1738, New York and New Jersey shared a governor. Massachusetts and New Hampshire also shared a governor for some time.


High Point Monument and Lake Marcia framed
High Point Monument as seen from Lake Marcia at High Point, Sussex County, the highest elevation in New Jersey at 1,803 feet (550 m) above sea level
Sunset on Cape Cod Bay
Cape Cod Bay, a leading tourist destination in Massachusetts
Palisades Sill from Palisades Parkway
The Palisades along the Hudson River, New Jersey
Appalachian Throughway
U.S. Route 220 as it passes through Lamar Township, Pennsylvania


While most of the Northeastern United States lie in the Appalachian Highlands physiographic region, some are also part of the Atlantic coastal plain which extends south to the southern tip of Florida. The coastal plain areas (including Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Long Island in New York, most of New Jersey, Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia) are generally low and flat, with sandy soil and marshy land. The highlands, including the Piedmont and the Appalachian Mountains, are generally heavily forested, ranging from rolling hills to summits greater than 6,000 feet (1,800 m), and pocked with many lakes. The highest peak in the Northeast is Mount Washington (New Hampshire), at 6,288 feet (1,917 m).

Land use

As of 2007, forest-use covered approximately 60% of the Northeastern states (including Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia), about twice the national average. About 12% was cropland and another 4% grassland pasture or range. There is also more urbanized land in the Northeast (11%) than any other region in the U.S.


The climate of the Northeastern United States varies from northernmost Maine to southernmost Maryland. The climate of the region is created by the position of the general west to east flow of weather in the middle latitudes that much of the USA is controlled by and the position and movement of the subtropical highs. Summers are normally warm in northern areas to hot in southern areas. In summer, the building Bermuda High pumps warm and sultry air toward the Northeast, and frequent (but brief) thundershowers are common on hot summer days. In winter the subtropical high retreats southeastward, and the polar jet stream moves south bringing colder air masses from up in Canada and more frequent storm systems to the region. Winter often brings both rain and snow as well as surges of both warm and cold air.

The basic climate of the Northeast can be divided into a colder and snowier interior (Pennsylvania, New York State and New England), and a milder coast and coastal plain from southern Rhode Island southward, including, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Trenton, Wilmington and Baltimore. Annual mean temperatures range from the low 50s F from Maryland to southern Connecticut, to the 40s F in most of New York State, New England and northern Pennsylvania.


The Northeast has 72 National Wildlife Refuges, encompassing more than 500,000 acres (780 sq mi; 2,000 km2) of habitat and designed to protect some of the 92 different threatened and endangered species living in the region.


Top of Rock Cropped
New York, the most populous city in the Northeast and all of the United States
Philly skyline
Philadelphia, the second most populous city in the Northeast and the sixth most populated city in the United States
WashMonument WhiteHouse
Washington, D.C., the third most populous city in the Northeast and the capital of the United States
Boston Skyline Over the Charles River
Boston, the most populated city in Massachusetts and New England and the fourth most populated city in the Northeast

As of the July 2019 US Census Bureau estimate, the population of the region totaled 55,982,803. With an average of 345.5 people per square mile, the Northeast is 2.5 times as densely populated as the second-most dense region, the South. Since the last century, the U.S. population has been shifting away from the Northeast (and Midwest) toward the South and West.

The two U.S. Census Bureau divisions in the Northeast (New England and Mid-Atlantic) rank #2 and #1 among the 9 divisions in population density according to the 2013 population estimate. The South Atlantic region (233.1) was very close behind New England (233.2). Due to the faster growth of the South Atlantic region, it will take over the #2 division rank in population density in the next estimate, dropping New England to 3rd position. New England is projected to retain the number 3 rank for many, many years, as the only other lower-ranked division with even half the population density of New England is the East North Central division (192.1) and this region's population is projected to grow slowly.

State 2017 Estimate 2010 Census Change Area Density
Connecticut 3,588,184 3,574,097 &10000000000000000394141+0.39% 4,842.35 sq mi (12,541.6 km2) 741/sq mi (286/km2)
Maine 1,335,907 1,328,361 &10000000000000000568068+0.57% 30,842.90 sq mi (79,882.7 km2) 43/sq mi (17/km2)
Massachusetts 6,859,819 6,547,629 &10000000000000004767985+4.77% 7,800.05 sq mi (20,202.0 km2) 879/sq mi (339/km2)
New Hampshire 1,342,795 1,316,470 &10000000000000001999665+2.00% 8,952.64 sq mi (23,187.2 km2) 150/sq mi (58/km2)
Rhode Island 1,059,639 1,052,567 &10000000000000000671881+0.67% 1,033.81 sq mi (2,677.6 km2) 1,025/sq mi (396/km2)
Vermont 623,657 625,741 Template:Number table sorting/negative−0.33% 9,216.65 sq mi (23,871.0 km2) 68/sq mi (26/km2)
New England 14,810,001 14,444,865 &10000000000000002527791+2.53% 62,688.4 sq mi (162,362 km2) 236/sq mi (91/km2)
New Jersey 9,005,644 8,791,894 &10000000000000002431216+2.43% 7,354.21 sq mi (19,047.3 km2) 1,225/sq mi (473/km2)
New York 19,849,399 19,378,102 &10000000000000002432111+2.43% 47,126.36 sq mi (122,056.7 km2) 421/sq mi (163/km2)
Pennsylvania 12,805,537 12,702,379 &10000000000000000812115+0.81% 44,742.67 sq mi (115,883.0 km2) 286/sq mi (110/km2)
Middle Atlantic 41,660,580 40,872,375 &10000000000000001928454+1.93% 99,223.24 sq mi (256,987.0 km2) 420/sq mi (160/km2)
Total 56,470,581 55,317,240 &10000000000000002084957+2.08% 161,911.64 sq mi (419,349.2 km2) 349/sq mi (135/km2)
Delaware 961,939 897,936 &10000000000000007127790+7.13% 1,948.54 sq mi (5,046.7 km2) 494/sq mi (191/km2)
Maryland 6,052,177 5,773,785 &10000000000000004821655+4.82% 9,707.24 sq mi (25,141.6 km2) 623/sq mi (241/km2)
District of Columbia 693,972 601,767 &10000000000000015322375+15.32% 61.05 sq mi (158.1 km2) 11,367/sq mi (4,389/km2)
Total (Census + DE/MD/DC) 64,178,669 62,590,728 &10000000000000002537022+2.54% 173,628.47 sq mi (449,695.7 km2) 370/sq mi (140/km2)


As of 2012, the Northeast accounts for approximately 23% of U.S. gross domestic product.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees 34 nuclear reactors, eight for research or testing and 26 for power production in the Northeastern United States.

New York, considered a global financial center, is in the Northeast.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains 17 federal prisons and two affiliated private facilities in the region.


The following table includes all eight airports categorized by the FAA as large hubs located in the Northeastern states (New England and Eastern regions):

Rank Metro area served Airport
Airport name Largest airline
1 New York JFK John F. Kennedy International Airport JetBlue (37%)
2 New York EWR Newark Liberty International Airport United (49%)
3 Philadelphia PHL Philadelphia International Airport American (80%)
4 Boston BOS General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport JetBlue (29%)
5 New York LGA LaGuardia Airport Delta (21%)
6 Baltimore/Washington BWI Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Southwest (65%)
7 Washington IAD Dulles International Airport United (41%)
8 Washington DCA Ronald Reagan National Airport American (50%)


One geographer, Wilbur Zelinsky, asserts that the Northeast region lacks a unified cultural identity, but has served as a "culture hearth" for the rest of the nation. Several much smaller geographical regions within the Northeast have distinct cultural identities.


Almost half of the National Historic Landmarks maintained by the National Park Service are located in the Northeastern United States.


According to a 2009 Gallup poll, the Northeastern states differ from most of the rest of the U.S. in religious affiliation, generally reflecting the descendants of immigration patterns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with many Catholics arriving from Ireland, Italy, French Canada - Quebec, Portugal and east-central Europe. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey are the only states in the nation where Catholics outnumber Protestants and other Christian denominations. More than 20% of respondents in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont declared no religious identity. Compared to other U.S. regions, the Northeast, along with the Pacific Northwest, has the lowest regular religious service attendance and the fewest people for whom religion is an important part of their daily lives.


The Northeast region is home to numerous professional sports franchises in the "Big Four" leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB), with more than 100 championships collectively among them.

Major League Soccer features five Northeastern teams: D.C. United, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union. The region also has three WNBA teams: Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty and Washington Mystics.

Notable golf tournaments in the Northeastern United States include the Deutsche Bank Championship, The Barclays, Quicken Loans National and Atlantic City LPGA Classic. The US Open, held in New York, is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, whereas the Washington Open is part of the ATP World Tour 500 series.

Notable Northeastern motorsports tracks include Watkins Glen International, Dover International Speedway, Pocono Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Lime Rock Park, which have hosted Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR and International Motor Sports Association races. Also, drag strips such as Englishtown, Epping and Reading have hosted NHRA national events. Pimlico Race Course at Baltimore and Belmont Park at New York host the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes horse races, which are part of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.

The region has also been noted for the prevalence of the traditionally Northeastern sports of ice hockey and lacrosse.

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