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Waterbury's African Americans
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Fortune and His Family

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 know where.

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 household.

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.

Related Biographies

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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.

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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
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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
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Preserved Porter's Estate Distribution, 1804
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
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Preserved Porter's Estate Expenses, 1804
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.

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