Connecticut to bury slave's bones displayed for decades in museum

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 12, 2013 2:10 PM

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - The remains of a slave who died more than 200 years ago will be buried in Connecticut on Thursday as part of an effort to honor the man whose skeleton was displayed at a museum for decades.

The slave, known as Mr. Fortune, was owned by a prominent Waterbury physician and bone surgeon, Preserved Porter, and died in 1798, the Mattatuck Museum, one of the event's organizers, said in a statement.

After Fortune's death, Porter used his remains as a teaching prop at his school of anatomy in Waterbury, about 25 miles southwest of Hartford, before the bones were donated to the museum, which went on to display them from the 1940s to the 1970s.

"We've been grappling with what to do with Mr. Fortune's bones," said Stephanie Harris, a museum spokeswoman. After decades of consideration, she said, "it was finally decided we would put Fortune's bones to rest."

The burial is intended "to honor the sacrifice he made not only in life, of being a slave, but after he died, with everything he went through in terms of continuing to be family property," she said.

On Thursday, Fortune was lying in state in Hartford, where Governor Dannel Malloy and local clergy members were expected to make remarks, Harris said.

He then will be escorted by state police to Waterbury for a funeral at St. John's Episcopal Church, where he was baptized in 1797, and interred in a cemetery for prominent residents, she said.

The museum said Fortune was likely born in the 1740s and had lived with his wife, Dinah, and their four children in a house on the Porter property, where he most likely worked on the family's 75-acre farm.

The date and location of Fortune's death remain unknown, though the museum cited a book on Waterbury's history that said he drowned after falling into a river. The circumstances of his death are still being debated, the museum said.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Douglas Royalty)