Early twentieth century
Gift of Island Affordable Housing
The Reverend Oscar Denniston (1875–1942) came from Jamaica to Martha's Vineyard in 1901 to join Madison Edwards, head of the Seamen's Bethel in Vineyard Haven, in his mission to provide religious guidance to sailors in port. Denniston soon began to work with Susan Bradley at the Oakland Mission in Oak Bluffs as well, and when she died in 1907 he took over the mission and renamed it the Bradley Memorial Church in her honor.
The church served the Portuguese, Cape Verdean, Wampanoag, and African American communities and is considered the first African American church on Martha's Vineyard. For fifty years, the house at 11 Masonic Avenue in Oak Bluffs provided worship and educational spaces and was the home of the Denniston family.
The church closed in 1966, and in 2007 much of the contents of the house were transferred to the Martha's Vineyard Museum. Archives that show the value of education to the family; photographs that record both the church history and the family's history; furnishings from the church, including this pulpit—all came into the collection. It is easy to picture Reverend Denniston with his hands gripping the edges of the top, reading from his Bible, blessing his congregation, and preaching the word of God to the faithful of Martha's Vineyard.