When I was a kid, like every other schoolkid in Waterbury, we toured the local Mattatuck Museum. One of its featured attractions was a centuries-old skeleton with the name “Larry” etched in his skull and hanging in a glass display case.
The skeleton was that of a slave whose mistreatment is a reminder of the North’s role in slavery. The slave’s name was Fortune. He died in 1798 but the circumstances of his death is mostly speculation. Did he drown? Was he escaping and fell, breaking his neck? Fortune’s master was a bone doctor, Preserved Porter. After Fortune’s death, Porter, who ran an anatomy school in Waterbury, boiled his bones and used his skeleton as a specimen. "Larry’s" skeleton eventually was discovered in a closet in a Waterbury building. That’s when it went into the museum.
In the 1970s, wiser heads prevailed and the display was taken down. “Larry” stayed boxed up for years until museum folks started looking into the history of African-Americans in the area. A local resident urged them to add "Larry" to their
research. This turned into the Fortune Project, a decades-long program for the museum as scientists studied Fortune’s bones.
At the same time this was going on, others were looking into how to best serve Fortune’s legacy. As Maxine Watts, chair of the African American History Project, which worked with the museum on its Fortune research, said, “(Fortune’s) living and death were not in vain. Slaves were not considered totally human. Yet Fortune’s bones were used as a teaching tool for human anatomy. Fortune is proof that we are all equal underneath the skin.”
Finally, 215 years after his death, Fortune will be buried a week from today at Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury. The Rev. Amy Welin will preside and she is quoted in The Statesaying, “The service will be for the rest of us…What are we supposed to do with the racial injustice around us now, the ghosts of slavery still haunt us.” She won’t
eulogize Fortune’s life, but will preach about God’s justice, The State reported.
Fortune and his wife, Dinah, had four children. His descendants can’t be found. So, members of the southern Connecticut chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians will escort his casket down the church aisle.
Fortune, may you finally rest in peace.