Funeral Held for Slave Who Died in 1798

Abused in life and death, an enslaved man known as Mr. Fortune will be honored with an elaborate funeral more than 200 years after he died in Connecticut.

Fortune's remains will lie in repose in the Capitol rotunda in Hartford on Thursday before being taken by state police escort to Waterbury for a memorial service at the church where he was baptized and a burial in a cemetery filled with prominent citizens.

Organizers said it's a long overdue honor for a slave who was never properly buried.

"He was a slave and basically enslaved after his death by being used for scientific research without his permission," Steven Mullins, president of the Union of Black Episcopalians, said. "So today he's going to have the honors that (he) should've had and I feel this isn't just for Mr. Fortune, but on behalf of everyone in slavery."

Fortune died in bondage near the Naugatuck River in 1798 when he was in his mid-to-late-40s, according to Quinnipiac.

His owner, Dr. Preserved Porter, a Waterbury bone doctor, preserved his skeleton for medical study and a descendant eventually gave the bones to a museum, which displayed the skeleton for decades.

“Fortune was a Waterbury man who worked, lived and died in our state at a time when African Americans were denied basic civil rights. After 215 years, he will finally be laid to rest,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement. “While we can’t undo the wrongs of the past, we can honor those who were affected and push for positive change in the future. I commend the Mattatuck Museum, St. John’s Episcopal Church clergy and other committee members who worked for years to ensure a proper burial service for Fortune.”

Recent tests by Quinnipiac University confirmed Fortune lived with painful injuries but did not determine his cause of death.   

Fortune, his wife, Dinah, and their three children lived on Porter's farm, according to Quinnipiac and it is believed that Fortune worked on the doctor's farm.

St. John’s Episcopal Church held a ceremony at the Capitol this morning.

The memorial service will take place at the church in Waterbury at 4 p.m. Interment will follow at Riverside Cemetery.

For more information on Fortune's story, visit the Mattatuck Museum.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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