There is a skeleton on display in the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, Connecticut. It has been in the town for over 200 years. Over time, the bones became the subject of stories and speculation in Waterbury. In 1996 a group of community-based volunteers, working in collaboration with the museum staff, discovered that the bones were those of a slave named Fortune who had been owned by a local doctor. After Fortune’s death, the doctor dissected the body, rendered the bones, and assembled the skeleton. A great deal is still not known about Fortune, but it is known that he was baptized, was married, and had four children. He died at about the age of 60, sometime after 1797.Marilyn Nelson was commissioned by the Mattatuck Museum and received a grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts to write a poem in commemoration of Fortune’s life. The Manumission Requiem is that poem. Detailed notes and archival materials provide contextual information to enhance the reader’s appreciation of the poem.
Ysaye Maria Barnwell was commissioned to set for the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra, chorus and 7 soloists. The REQUIEM premiered in Waterbury, CT on May 9, 2009 with one performance only. The role of Fortune was sung by baritone Stephen Salters and the role of Dinah, Fortune’s wife, was sung by contralto Shannon Finney.