In a Waterbury, cemetery there’s a gravestone with a short but peculiar inscription.
“The Man Fortune, Died 1798. Buried September 13, 2013.”
It’s the kind of headstone that leaves every visitor scratching their head.
It’s the talk of a man who was enslaved, and his bones.
“Mr. Fortune the skeleton that we were looking at, was owned by this surgeon in Waterbury. He was probably working on his land…He had a family with him…They were all owned as well by that family,” said Jerry Conlogue, a Diagnostic Imaging professor at Quinnipiac University.
Right in front of anthropologists and students from Quinnipiac, there was an unsettling truth: Slavery did not just happen in the South, but far from it as well.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how prevalent slavery was in the northeast,” said Conlogue.
Studying the bones of Fortune now provides rare insight into what life was like as a New England slave.
“I think this is the only example of a slave in New England that was examined. What was this individual’s life like?” Conlogue asked.
From the data collected, a lot could be gleaned into Fortune’s life.
“This feathering along the edge of the skull, it’s a reaction and it could be due to nutritional deficiencies,” said Conlogue.
Researchers from QU were able to send the information to renowned forensic artist Joe Mullins.
“The anticipation I personally have as the forensic artist and see that face come alive,” said Mullins.
With measurements of the skull, for the first time, we are able to turn back the clock 200 years and reveal the true face of Fortune.
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“The eyelids…The nose, the face, the lips, all those pieces coming together to reveal that face in the end. It’s just just remarkable that we’ve been able to [put] a face to that piece of history that we’ve lost,” Mullins said.
An individual. A human being. Not property.
“His humanity was never seen. This is something that allows us to see him as a person. As a human. As a person who lived here in Connecticut, but someone who was owned by someone else,” said Jaime Ullinger, Ph.D Associate Professor of Anthropology at Quinnipiac.
It seems Fortune as owned and used in life and in death.
“The story goes, after Fortune dies… Dr. Preserved Porter skeletonized him,” said Conlogue.
Fortune’s skeleton was used to study osteology.
Ironically, in New England, the ground is so moist. If the bones remained buried in the ground, there would be little left.
The disrespect of keeping Fortune’s bones on display has now allowed the world to hear his story.
“It is a strange juxtaposition to know the very reason he was used by the bone surgeon is also what ended up giving us evidence of what his life was like,” said Ullinger.
A ceremony was held at Connecticut’s State Capitol and Fortune’s bones were placed into a coffin.
After 200 years, he was given a proper grave.
Through it all, it forced many to look at a disturbing past.
“So that we know what kind of consequences there are to some of these decisions and ways that we treat each other,” said Ullinger.
Hopefully, with help from Fortune, this leads to learning an invaluable lesson.
“Knowing your history…Means that you can change your future,” said Ullinger.