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Fortune as he may have looked in life. Painted by William Westwood, a medical illustrator, based on Fortune's skeleton.
Why Wasn't Fortune Buried?

Eloquence in the Bones: Recent Research

In the 1990s, the Mattatuck Museum and the museum’s African American History Project Committee began to search for reliable evidence of the circumstances of Fortune's life and death.

Science and History

The skeleton was examined by state archaeologist Dr. Nick Bellantoni and anthropologists from Central Connecticut State University, Dr. Warren Perry and Dr. Michael Parks. At their recommendation, the skeleton was taken to the anthropology laboratory at Howard University, where research was being conducted on the remains of the eighteenth-century African Americans from the New York Burial Ground. The analysis of Fortune’s remains was conducted at Howard University by Dr. Mark Mack. Subsequently, the skeleton was examined in the laboratory of Dr. Lesley Rankin-Hill at The University of Oklahoma. These scientists provided information about Fortune’s health and his physical condition and age at his death.

Currently, the museum is continuing to pursue the historical discoveries that scientific methodology can bring to our understanding of Fortune’s life. Chemical analysis of the dental and bone materials may help us trace the location of the early years of Fortune’s life. That work is being conducted by Dr. Alan Goodman at Hampshire College. DNA analysis is also underway, to help us understand Fortune’s genetic make up, and perhaps to help us identify his descendants. Additional research is being pursued in archival documents to try to locate information about where Fortune was before he came to Waterbury.

What Next?

Because the bones have survived over the last two centuries and have remained free of the contamination of burial in the earth, which is a very rare occurrence, we have been able to discover a more accurate picture of Fortune's life than we could have known from historical documents alone. New forensic and scientific techniques recently developed have unlocked history in the bones that tell Fortune’s story, and that of his contemporaries, that could not otherwise be known. The bones can teach us things about his life which otherwise will be lost. Some think the bones should be laid to rest in a burial vault that can be recovered in the future if new scientific methods of investigation are developed or if Fortune’s biological descendants are identified in the future.

Others say that the bones are the remains of human life that has been treated for too long like property. They are concerned about the continuing scientific investigation, which subjects the bones to examination in distant laboratories and analysis that includes removing small sections which are then subject to chemical treatments. Many believe the remains should be given a decent and respectful burial. Representatives of the current African American community in Waterbury have been struggling with these issues as the steering committee for this project at the museum over the last six years. But who should rightfully speak for Fortune’s heirs and descendants? And who should determine what an appropriate burial service would be?

Who speaks for Fortune? How is his legacy best served?

Museums around the country and around the world are struggling with questions like these as scientists, historians and descendants debate the display, analysis, interpretation and disposition of the remains of ancient people discovered in archaeological sites and mummies found in burial sites; the native peoples who have been the subject of anthropological studies; and the human remains collected for purposes of medical study.

For Fortune, the future is not yet known, as historians, scientists and community members continue to discuss the story of his life as told through his remains.

Warren Perry
Dr. Warren Perry Examining Fortune's Skeleton

Nick Bellantoni
Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni Examining Fortune's Skeleton

Fortune at Howard
Fortune's Skeleton at Howard University

Dental Examination
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Dental Examination at Howard University
The process of preparing Fortune's skeleton after his death would have caused the teeth to loosen in the skull. It is believed that most of the missing teeth were lost after his death.

Fortune's Scapula
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Fortune's Scapula
Dr. Leslie Rankin-Hill points out the muscle attachment areas, which indicate extensive use of Fortune's muscles for heavy lifting throughout his life.

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