In the mid 18th century, there lived a slave on a Waterbury, Connecticut plantation named Fortune. He was owned by a famous bone surgeon named Dr. Preserved Porter. Fortune, his wife Dinah and their three children served the Porters on a 75 acre-farm. Fortune had an additional son named Africa, born in 1772. The family lived in a house on the Porter plantation and tended to the farm’s produce of rye, Indian corn, onions, potatoes, apples, beef, hogs, cider, hay, oats and buckwheat.
In 1797, Fortune was baptized at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Waterbury, but apparently died a few weeks later. He was about 60 years old. Instead of a burial, Dr. Porter chose to boil Fortune’s bones and use them for medical study. The study was a part of Dr. Porter’s School of Anatomy, a place in which he allowed other doctors to study his work. Human bones were a rare presence for study. The bones remained in the family for over four generations. They were donated to the Mattatuck Museum in Connecticut in the 1930s, but were stored during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The label on the bones read the name “Larry,” since the generations that knew him as Fortune were long gone.
Only through recent analysis at Howard University have experts discovered who Fortune was, how he may have looked and how he may have died. A group of researchers, Dr. Warren Perry, Dr. Nick Bellantoni and Dr. Michael Parks, have taken on the skeleton to determine several certainties about the life of Fortune. It appears that he had suffered a broken lower back and injuries to his hands and feet. The doctors suggest that his cause of death was a snapped vertabrae in the back of his neck. However, the doctors have determined that it was not likely by a hanging, but by a whiplash-type jerking. It had been said that Fortune slipped and drowned in the Naugatuck River.