Fortune as he may have looked in life. Painted
by William Westwood, a medical illustrator, based on Fortune's skeleton.
Eloquence in the Bones: Recent Research
In the 1990s, the Mattatuck Museum and the museums
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 Fortunes 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 Fortunes 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 Fortunes life. Chemical analysis
of the dental and bone materials may help us trace the
location of the early years of Fortunes life. That
work is being conducted by Dr. Alan Goodman at Hampshire
College. DNA analysis is also underway, to help us understand
Fortunes 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.
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life than we could have known from historical documents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
Fortunes 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 Fortunes
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 Fortunes
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
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.