A Hartford, Conn., slave will receive a proper burial more than 200 years after his death on Thursday. A slave (only known as Mr. Fortune) who suffered physical abuse in life and a curious indignity in death will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda in the New England city before heading to a burial ceremony later in the day.
The dedication service took place this morning and was organized by St. John’s Episcopal Church at the state capitol building, reports WFSB. Later this afternoon, a memorial service complete with police escort will take place in nearby Waterbury with the interment taking place at Riverside Cemetery. Gov. Dannel Malloy offered a statement regarding the symbolic gesture:
“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. Malloy said. “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.”
Fortune, who died under bondage in 1798, had his bones preserved by owner Dr. Preserved Porter, a bone doctor who used Fortune’s skeleton for medical study and experiments. Dr. Porter donated the remains to a museum, and years later, Mr. Fortune’s remains found their way to the Mattatuck Museum in 1933. NBC Connecticut spoke with one of the organizers of today’s event who spoke of the injustices Mr. Fortune and other slaves faced in life and beyond.
“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.”
Bob Burns, director of the Mattatuck Museum, further explained to the Paradise Post why Mr. Fortune’s bones were likely used after his demise, “At this time in America, the study of medicine was very, very young. It was illegal to use a corpse unless it was a dead slave, which wasn’t considered human, or a dead prisoner. [It was] “most likely that Dr. Porter invited other young doctors to his home” to view the process.”
Of the ceremony, Mullins added, “I thought it was very important and meaningful for Mr. Fortune to lie in state,” Mullins said. “He was treated horribly in life and treated horribly in death.”
One of the reasons Mullins says that Mr. Fortune was “treated horribly in life” is because of all of the injuries he sustained while a slave.
Paradise Post reports on Quinnipiac School of Medicine professor Richard Gonzalez‘ anthropological examination of Fortune’s remains:
…Fortune had a broken left hand bone and severe right ankle injury from earlier in life. There was a bony elongation in the seventh cervical vertebra, so “he would have suffered a lot of pain in his left arm” from pressure on the nerve.
His left arm didn’t work as well as his right” because of the stress, Burns said.
Gonzalez said Fortune had a stress fracture in a lower back vertebra, which led to “weakening of the bone and weakening of the surrounding connective tissue.”
He also had “a broken first cervical vertebra, what is described as a Jefferson fracture,” which occurred at or near the time of death. In that type of break — found in football players — the bone breaks in three parts.
It is the type of injury that will not result in death but it could contribute to it, Gonzalez said.
Still, he was certainly a rugged individual, he said.
Learn more about the story of Mr. Fortune here.