Sep 9, 2013
06:21 AM
Connecticut Today

Abused in Death, Waterbury Slave To Have Funeral

Abused in Death, Waterbury Slave To Have Funeral

Courtesy of the Mattatuck Museum

A painting of Fortune.

Abused in life, mistreated in death. For the African-American man known as Mr. Fortune, slavery was only the beginning of the indignity his body endured.

On Thursday, Fortune will be given a proper funeral and burial, and the man who was owned as a slave, whose bones were studied by doctors and finally X-rayed and CT-scanned, will be laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery alongside the most prominent and wealthy of Waterbury families.

If he had been buried when he died in 1798, “He would have had to be buried in the Negro Burying Ground,” said the Rev. Amy Welin, priest in charge of St. John’s Episcopal Church, 16 Church St., where the funeral will be held. Instead, he’ll be laid to rest “among the glitterati. I’m finding it ironic.”

But Fortune wasn’t buried. Instead, the slave’s body was dissected and boiled to the bones, used to teach medical students and put on display in a museum until the 1970s.

“We felt now is the time to honor the human, the life of Mr. Fortune and to put those bones to rest,” said Bob Burns, director of the Mattatuck Museum, which has had custody of his bones since the 1940s.

Welin said, “It’s an Episcopal service, but we are going to have participation from members of the historically black churches in Waterbury” as well as the Union of Black Episcopalians and the African-American History Project, whose members “worked very very hard to make sure the man was treated with respect as a human being.” They will sit in the family section.

Before his 4 p.m. funeral, Fortune will lie in state in the State Capitol between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., according to Steven Mullins, president of the Southern Connecticut Association of the UBE and a member of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in West Haven.

“I thought it was very important and meaningful for Mr. Fortune to lie in state,” Mullins said. “He was treated horribly in life and treated horribly in death.”

Mullins said he hopes schoolchildren will attend the Capitol ceremony. “We have the opportunity to have a teachable moment and might as well take advantage of it,” he said.

Fortune’s funeral represents the Christian view that “no matter what happens to the body ... our souls go to God, no matter how we’re treated by humans,” Welin said. Jesus Christ and St. Paul talked about all people being part of one body, she said. “How do our relationships reflect that? and if they do not, why not?”

From a personal point of view, “I’m grateful that I’m being given the opportunity to bury my parishioner and I’m sad that it’s 215 years too late,” she said.

For the full story, visit New Haven Register online.

 

Abused in Death, Waterbury Slave To Have Funeral

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