Sep 13, 2013
04:22 AMConnecticut Today
Fortune, the Connecticut Slave Whose Body Was Used as Medical Model, Finally Buried in Waterbury
Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
September 12, 2013 Hartford.The bones of the slave known as Fortune, who lived in Waterbury in the 18th century, lay in state in the State Capitol, Hartford, before his burial in Waterbury. Visitors could sign a guest book near the casket.
The man called Fortune, who worked as a slave for a Waterbury doctor and then, after his death, was misused as a medical model, was given his ultimate freedom Thursday, his life celebrated by state and church and his bodily remains put to rest.
First he was given a place of honor, lying in state under the Capitol dome, with crowds stopping to ponder his story.For the preachers at his funeral, Fortune’s lesson after all this time was one of identity: the unifying identity of all people under God.
Fortune was 58 when he died in 1798 by drowning in the Naugatuck River — probably an accident but no one really knows. He had been baptized in St. John’s Episcopal Church about a year before. St. John’s, full of worshipers, is where his funeral service was held and Riverside Cemetery, where the rich and powerful of Waterbury lie in repose, is where his bones were finally buried, 215 years after his death.
“We have come to bury a man whose descendants we cannot identify … but it does not mean Fortune has no kin,” said the Rev. Amy Welin, priest in charge of St. John’s, in her homily.
“The Union of Black Episcopalians and the African-American History Project, here today, stand in as his family.”
In a theological sense, “we are all his family,” Welin said, and “as we pay our respects to him we can remember that we are bound to one another by the unbreakable love of God.”
Dr. Preserved Porter owned Fortune and his wife, Dinah, and four children. Fortune was a strong man who probably lived in continual pain while working on the Porters’ 75-acre farm, according to examination by archaeologists and high-tech digital CT scanners.
After Fortune’s death, Porter dissected and boiled his body to recover the skeleton, which he used to teach anatomy to medical students. Porter’s descendants sent the bones to Germany in the 1930s to be articulated, or reattached, and his remains were acquired by the Mattatuck Museum in the 1940s, which put them on display. The name “Larry” was scrawled on his skull. In the 1970s, respect prevailed and the skeleton was removed from display and put in storage.
It was not until the 1990s that the African-American History Project Committee, in researching Connecticut’s ancient black residents, came upon Fortune and worked to have his bones properly researched and buried. State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni and, later, diagnostic imaging researchers from Quinnipiac University, studied the bones and made facsimiles in order to examine them once Fortune was buried.