He waited 215 years for a proper burial, but a slave named Mr. Fortune finally got the respect he deserved Thursday when his bones were laid in repose at the state Capitol.
A tradition usually reserved for ex-governors and statesmen was bestowed upon an African-American slave owned by a physician in Waterbury.
“What happened to Mr. Fortune should not happen to any human being in the world,” Steven Mullins, president of the Southern Connecticut Union of Black Episcopalians, said. “Mr. Fortune was treated very much like an animal.”
He said the burial Thursday was a “teachable” moment for Connecticut residents, who sometimes forget slavery also existed in northern states.
“He is now being afforded what had been denied him — a proper Christian burial,” Mullins said.
Fortune’s bones were laid in a closed casket draped in purple. He will be given a police escort to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Waterbury this afternoon for a funeral and burial.
Mullins noted that he will be buried at Riverside Cemetery next to aristocrats from the 18th Century. “He is now good enough to rest in the same dirt as they’re in.”
Maxine Watts, who works as a volunteer with the African American History Project, said that she had been searching for answers to what happened to Mr. Fortune since 1966. Scientists speculate that he died when he broke his neck. Early historians wrote that he fell into the Naugatuck River and drowned.
After his death, his bones, which had been preserved by the doctor who enslaved him, were donated to the Mattatuck Museum. The skeleton became a popular exhibit, but was taken down more than 20 years ago after encouragement from the Waterbury NAACP.