Funeral Planned For Conn. Slave Who Died in 1798

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  • NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — 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 state in the Capitol rotunda in Hartford on Thursday before taken by state police escort to Waterbury for a memorial service at the church where he was baptized and burial in a cemetery filled with prominent residents. Plans call for bagpipers and the singing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

    “It’s a long overdue honor,” said Steven R. Mullins, one of the organizers. “We’re not just remembering one man. His body is representing all of the slaves that came over here and worked in this country.”

    Fortune was owned by Dr. Preserved Porter on a farm in Waterbury. When Fortune died in 1798, Porter, a bone surgeon, preserved his skeleton by having the bones boiled to study anatomy at a time when cadavers for medical study were disproportionately taken from slaves, servants and prisoners.

    One of Porter’s descendants gave the skeleton in 1933 to Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, where it was displayed from the 1940s until 1970. The descendant referred to the slave as “Larry,” and his name was forgotten at the time.

    A local historical account from 1896 claimed “Larry” slipped on a rock and drowned in the river. Tests over the years, including a recent exam at Quinnipiac University, found evidence of a neck fracture around the time of death not associated with hanging. The university has not been able to determine his cause of death.

    The study by Quinnipiac concluded that Fortune was about 5 feet 5 inches tall and died when he was around 55 years old, said Richard Gonzalez, an assistant professor and forensic anthropologist at Quinnipiac’s school of medicine. He suffered a number of painful ailments, including a fracture in his left hand, a severe ankle sprain and lower back pain.

    “He was an individual who was in considerable distress,” Gonzalez said.

    The museum has long wanted to give Fortune a proper burial, director Bob Burns said. The latest tests, which included CT scans of the bones, will allow researchers to continue studying the bones without the physical need for them, he said.

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