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John Kerry is switching islands

Then-secretary of state John Kerry in 2015. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Could a Nantucket guy ever really be happy on Martha’s Vineyard?

We’re talking about former US senator and secretary of state John F. Kerry, who is not really from Nantucket, though he has vacationed there often and has been closely associated with the island for years. Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz, in fact, married in 1995 at Heinz’s Nantucket summer house.

But now the prolific sailor, windsurfer and recently unemployed diplomat is switching islands.

Last year, Kerry and his wife put their Nantucket compound on the market, and in March, the couple bought an historic waterfront home in Chilmark, the up-island Vineyard town where the Obama family retreated for summer vacation when they inhabited the White House. Kerry’s exclusive new enclave at Seven Gates Farm is remote and secluded, far from the crowds that jam Edgartown and Oak Bluffs in the summer. The sale was first reported by the Vineyard Gazette.

Kerry and his wife — using a private trust to negotiate the deal — shelled out $11.75 million for the spectacular 18-acre property overlooking Vineyard Sound, the Gazette reported.


Thomas Wallace of Wallace & Co. Sotheby’s International Realty handled the sale, but declined to talk about it, citing a confidentiality agreement with the buyer.

For years, Kerry and Heinz had summered on the smaller Nantucket, which has a deserved reputation for being more corporate — more uptight, perhaps? — than the Vineyard, where the vibe is decidedly more relaxed. (Former GE chairman Jack Welch is a Nantucket guy; comedian Larry David likes Martha’s Vineyard.)

Based on public persona, it is easy to imagine John Kerry donning a blue blazer to put out the recycling. But “John is an interesting mixture,” said Kerry’s friend Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer, longtime Harvard law professor and a dedicated Vineyard guy. “He looks Brahmin, has Jewish heritage and Catholic religion. At least two-thirds of those heritages will fit in very well on Martha’s Vineyard.”


“The key for him being welcome is he has to start dressing down,” Dershowitz deadpanned. “He can’t wear those costumes any more that he wears for surfing or biking. Just ordinary shorts, jeans – Vineyard garb, not Nantucket garb.”

And Kerry will have to pass the “Chilmark porch test,” he said, referring to the renowned public gathering spot at the Chilmark General Store. “On the Chilmark porch you make it or you don’t by your quickness and your sense of humor, your ability to laugh at yourself. That will be a hard test for John. He’s a former secretary of state. He’s going to expect respect and he’s going to get none. He’ll have to earn his respect on the Chilmark porch.”

Trish Bridier, who co-owns her family’s business on Nantucket, Murray’s Toggery Shop, sounded as diplomatic about Kerry’s move as a State Department spokesman during treaty negotiations.

“John Kerry loves the outdoor activities,” she said. “The Vineyard had beautiful bike paths and bigger forests.” She said she doubts Nantucket folks will be mad at Kerry for leaving.

But the islands have a long and passionate rivalry, and she also slipped in, “They have skunks on the Vineyard and I don’t like that.”

Though he has been linked to Nantucket in recent years, a person close to the former cabinet secretary said Kerry has deep roots on the Vineyard.


Then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry kite surfed in 2004 off the coast of Nantucket. Luke Frazza/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Kerry, 73, grew up going to Martha’s Vineyard with his family. “His parents never went to Nantucket — always more this area,” the person said. The young Kerry learned to sail off the Vineyard, and times he spent as a kid camping on Naushon, the private Forbes family island across Vineyard Sound, are among Kerry’s “happiest memories.”

Politically, the Vineyard is considered to lean more toward the Democratic Party, though in presidential votes the difference seems nominal. Democrat Hillary Clinton won a massive 71 percent of the Vineyard vote last year, while earning a still healthy 64.7 percent on Nantucket. Clinton won about 60.8 percent of the vote statewide.

Last summer, Kerry and Heinz signaled it might be time for a change when they put the Nantucket compound on the market for $25 million. It appears the place Kerry used for years to entertain friends, foreign diplomats, and heads of state is still available, if you happen to be looking for a slightly used island mansion.

His new place on Martha’s Vineyard is quite old. The seven-bedroom house sits on one of the parcels that were part of the original Seven Gates, a province on the island’s north shore established by Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, a Harvard geologist who came to the island in the 1880s and, liking what he saw, bought up farmland totaling 1,600 acres. The name Seven Gates Farm comes from the number of fences Shaler had to pass on his way from the main road to his residence, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.


A once-thriving dairy operation at Seven Gates Farm ultimately went out of business, and the heirs of the enclave’s 12 original families incorporated to form the Seven Gates Corporation to control development. As far back as 1939, real estate listings for Seven Gates Farm promised “complete seclusion.”

Kerry and Heinz have kept a relatively low profile since Kerry left the State Department at the end of President Obama’s administration. Heinz, beset by health issues in recent years, has been especially sequestered. In 2013, she had a seizure while vacationing on Nantucket and was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital and, later, the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Dershowitz said he “argued a little bit” with Kerry over the Iran nuclear deal at opening day at Fenway Park, and he has plans “to continue that argument on Lucy Vincent Beach.”

Mark Arsenault can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark