Fortune was purchased, with his wife and three children, by a bone doctor in Waterbury, Connecticut in the 1780s. Like most enslaved people, he lived a life filled with heavy labor and multiple farm injuries. But it wasn’t his life that made medical history – it was his death.
Fortune died during a critical time in medical history. White doctors were no longer performing savage medical procedures like bloodletting – now they were examining bodies. Medical students even resorted to stealing cadavers from graves to study!
The bone doctor did the same thing.
Fortune's skeleton was passed down in the doctor’s family for generations before it was donated to the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury. It remained there as an exhibit named “Larry” until the 1970s, when it was put into storage. How disrespectful!
In 2013, over 200 years after his death, Fortune was finally given a proper burial – after a Black History Committee at the museum learned the truth.
Our ancestors rarely got the respect they deserved – but we can honor our ancestors, like Fortune, by knowing, learning, and advocating for our own history.