The Heritage Trail offers research services involving the use of archival sources and community oral histories. Research into the life of Captain William Martin, the Island’s only known African American whaling captain was originally done by Elaine Cawley Weintraub, and published in the New England Journal of History in 1993. Since that time, further research has been undertaken and the results published into the lives of Captain Martin, and the three generations of women who preceded him. This research has been presented at the Mystic Seaport Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Maritime America, and published in the “African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard”, a booklet published in 1998.
In recent years, the Trail has been responsible for researching and publishing the story of the African American “landladies” who were the first to rent rooms to people of color on the island. The Trail has also researched the story of the rescue of a fugitive from enslavement on Martha’s Vineyard. This rescue involved the Wampanoag tribe and other parts of the island community that opposed the institution of slavery and the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which made it illegal to shelter or rescue a fugitive from enslavement in the south who had escaped. The story of the Jannifer family who were seasonal residents in Oak Bluffs was published last year following the gift to the Heritage Trail of a series of photographs that showed Mr. Jannifer as a member of a French regiment during WWI.
The Heritage Trail holds considerable resources and, as a community history project, welcomes requests to research and celebrate the lives of African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard.
Requests for assistance in researching community histories will be honored and the boards welcomes gifts of photographs and other resources that will serve as the basis for our continued research into the forgotten histories of people of color on this island. Dr. Cawley Weintraub’s sophomore students also act as research assistants under her supervision.
All board members will be happy to help initiate research or to receive memorabilia from the community.