Fortune was an African American man enslaved by Waterbury
physician Dr. Preserved Porter in the late 18th century.
Fortune was probably born in the 1740s, but we do not
We do know that Fortune and his wife Dinah were living in
Waterbury by the 1780s; their son Jacob was born here
in 1786. Fortune and Dinah also had two daughters: Mira,
born in 1789, and Roxa, born in 1791. The dates of their
births were recorded in the town records by Dr. Porter,
as was required by state law. Connecticut had established
an act in 1784 declaring that the children of enslaved
African Americans born after March 1, 1784 were to be
granted freedom upon reaching the age of 25. In 1788,
the state passed another act requiring slave owners to
record the births of those children with their town clerk,
to help ensure their gradual emancipation.
Fortune had an older son, named Africa, who was born
in September of 1772 and therefore was not eligible for
emancipation under the terms of the 1784 law. The location
of Africaís birth is not yet known; his mother may have
been someone other than Dinah, as he is so much older
than Fortune's other children. Fortune and his entire
family were the legal property of Dr. Porter. The 1790
federal census listed them as a group of 5 slaves in Porterís
Fortune and his family lived on a farm owned by Dr. Porter
east of the town center. Fortune owned his own house a
quarter of a mile from the Porter homestead. He probably
worked on Dr. Porterís 75 acre farm, perhaps operating
the farm while Porter tended to his medical practice.
The farm produced rye, Indian corn, onions, potatoes,
apples, beef, hogs, cider, hay, oats and buckwheat. Dinah
might have worked in the Porter home, cleaning and cooking.
Fortune, Dinah and their children may also have been hired
out to work for other Waterbury residents on occasion.
Africa was given the responsibility of ringing the townís
morning school bell for three months in 1790, when he
was 18. It is unlikely that he was ever allowed the opportunity
to study in that school.
Fortune was baptized in the Episcopal church in December of
1797; he died in 1798. There is no month or day given
for Fortuneís death. He may have died two weeks after
his baptism, or a year after.
His wife and children remained the property of the Porter
family, but by 1800 only Dinah and a young man, possibly
Jacob, were still in the Porter household. The Porters
may have sold Africa, Mira and Roxa shortly after Fortuneís
death; they do not appear to have still been living in
Waterbury in 1800. According to state laws, it was illegal
to sell them outside of Connecticut. If they were sold,
they would almost certainly have still been in Connecticut.
In 1800, Africa was 28, Jacob was 14, Mira was 11 and
Roxa was 9.
When Dr. Porter died in 1803, Dinah, then about 45 years
old, was the only member of Fortune's family still enslaved
in the Porter household. A young man named Luke was the
only other person enslaved by the Porters at that time.
He was bequeathed until "of age" to Porter's
daughter Hannah Bronson, whose husband owned a farm on
the edge of town. Porter's estate inventory and distribution
make no mention of any of Fortune's children.
In 1804, Dinah was taken by Porterís son Isaac to Derby,
where there was a concentration of free and enslaved African
Americans. Isaac billed Porter's estate for the trip to
Derby "to sel Dinah" in April of 1804; in May
he charged the estate again for a trip to New Haven "after
Dinah." When Dr. Porter's estate was distributed
amongst his heirs, Dinah was given to his widow.
The state tax records of 1808 show 3 slaves living in
the Porter household, which may indicate that Dinah and
her two daughters were once again living with Porterís
widow. By 1810, neither Dinah nor any of her children
were living with the Porters or the Bronsons.
Fortune as he may have looked in life. Painting by medical
illustrator William Westwood based on a photograph of
the skeleton. Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.
Fortune as he may have looked in life. Relief sculpture by forensic
artist Frank Bender based on Fortune's skull. Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.
Fortune's Baptism Record - 1797
Fortune was baptized in St. John's Episcopal Church on
December 20th. Collection of the Mattatuck Museum.
Preserved Porter's Estate Distribution,
The fourth page of the estate distribution. Dinah is included
in the list of items given to Porter's widow. Collection
of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives.
Preserved Porter's Estate Expenses,
A list of expenses charged to Porter's Estate. At the
bottom of the page is a list of expenses incurred by Isaac
Porter, including a day of travel to Derby "to sel
Dinah" and a day to New Haven "after Dinah."
Collection of the Connecticut State Library, State Archives.