A Guide to the African American Heritage Trail on Martha's Vineyard

A Guide to the African American Heritage Trail on Martha's Vineyard

When you're planning a family vacation to Martha's Vineyard, it can be tough to decide which sites to see. Whether you're planning to hit the beach or get out on the water, it's a good idea to choose some informational activities that will leave a lasting impact on your family long after the trip is over.

The African American Heritage Trail is the perfect activity for families who are interested in the rich history of the island. With more than thirty sites on the trail, visitors will get a real insight into Black history as well as a look back in time to the beginning of Martha's Vineyard.

To complete your stay on the island, visit Island Collection for luxury vacation rentals that can provide your family with everything you need for a relaxing getaway.

What is the African American Heritage Trail?

The African American Heritage Trail is a collection of historic sites on Martha's Vineyard that demonstrate the contributions that people of African descent have made to the island throughout its history. These contributions have largely gone unrecognized by the general public, and the Trail's founders have dedicated much of their time and energy curating the sites that visitors will traverse.

The mission of the Trail is to continue to document the contributions made by people of color to the development and prosperity of Martha's Vineyard. As they travel from site to site, visitors can read about the importance of each one with descriptive plaques created especially for the Trail.

Tours can be booked with trained guides who can provide a personal aspect to your exploration of the trail. For a more hands-on approach, fully-narrated walking tours are also available. No matter how your family chooses to experience the African American Heritage Trail, you'll leave the island more knowledgeable and understanding than you had arrived.

Notable Trail Sites

There are more than thirty sites on the African American Heritage Trail. When booking your tour, you can choose to visit a select few or devote an entire day to stopping at each one on the island. Along the way, take in the beauty and spirit of the landscape while appreciating the history that came before you.

Each site has been selected due to its unique connection to Black history on Martha's Vineyard. Some of these notable spots include:

  • Menemsha
  • William A. Martin's homestead
  • Pulpit Rock
  • Eastville Cemetery
  • Bradley Square Memorial Church
  • Shearer Cottage
  • The home of Dorothy West
  • Wampanoag Tribe dedication
  • The Overton House


This small fishing village marked the start of many slaves' journey to freedom. Aided by the Wampanoag Tribe, numerous slaves passed through Menemsha on their way to New Bedford, where they could finally begin to cultivate a life of their own.

William A. Martin's Homestead

Born just one generation after enslavement, William A. Martin made his place in history by becoming the only African American captain of a whaling ship on Martha's Vineyard. At this site, you can visit the home he shared with his wife when he wasn't out on a long whaling voyage.

Pulpit Rock

Pulpit Rock marks the spot where preacher John Saunders gave his sermons to people of color in the Oak Bluffs area. Saunders' enthusiasm played a large role in the widespread acceptance of religion on Martha's Vineyard.

Eastville Cemetery

As a community built on the dangerous whaling industry, many seamen met unfortunate ends on distant voyages. The Eastville Cemetery was a place to honor people of color who worked as whalers and their families.

Bradley Square Memorial Church

Founded by Reverend Oscar Denniston, the Bradley Memorial Church provided spiritual guidance, education, social activities, and community development to people of color in the Oak Bluffs area.

Shearer Cottage

Shearer Cottage originally operated as a laundromat for those living in Oak Bluffs. Later, it became the first Black-owned guest house on Martha's Vineyard. It is still run today by a descendant of its original owners.

The Home of Dorothy West

Dorothy West was a writer who spent her life on Martha's Vineyard, where she was also an essential member of the Harlem Rennaissance. The plaque in front of her home quotes the author, stating "There is no life that does not contribute to history."

Wampanoag Tribe Dedication

Due to the Federal Slave Act of 1850, assisting the escape of an enslaved person was considered a crime. The Wampanoag Tribe deliberately defied this act, facing their own dangers as they provided a refuge for escapees and helped them find their way to freedom.

The Overton House

Joe Overton lived in this home while he worked as a union organizer. Over the years, the home became a landing point for many who worked to advance the Civil Rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to whom the house is now dedicated.

The Importance of the African American Heritage Trail

Because many of the contributions made by African Americans to Martha's Vineyard have largely been lost to history, their role in the island's history has gone unrecognized. Thanks to the African American Heritage Trail History Project, these important contributions are finally getting the notice and respect they deserve.

By visiting the African American Heritage Trail you and your family will become part of the movement to recognize and celebrate Black history, and the large role they played in the prosperity of places like Martha's Vineyard.

Educational, moving, and a truly unforgettable experience, the African American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard is one thing you just shouldn't miss during your stay on the island. And to complete this memorable vacation with an equally-notable vacation home, visit Island Collection and book your home today. With plenty of amenities and gorgeous interiors, you and your family can truly enjoy a luxury island experience on Martha's Vineyard.



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