Fortuna, Ignatius (unknown-1789)

Contributor: Heike Raphael-Hernandez
Contributor Heike Raphael-Hernandez
(First published in Encyclopedia of Blacks in European history and culture (2008) Ed. Eric Marlone, ABC-CLIO Inc. Re-published here with permission of ABC-CLIO Inc.)

Ignatius Fortuna was a black servant in Germany to Franziska Christina von Pfalz-Sulzbach, the lady abbess of a convent in Essen that was home to unmarried noble women. While it was a widespread practice in eighteenth-century noble homes to have a black servant for representational reasons, Ignatius Fortuna differed from other black servants of his time. During his life, he gained social status and wealth and was buried in the orphanage’s church of the city of Steele.

It is unknown where and when Fortuna was born, yet when he was given as a present to the abbess in 1735, it was assumed that he was about five to seven years old. Franz Adam Schiffer, a businessman of the city of Essen, had brought him back from a trip to South America. On October 12, 1737, Fortuna was baptized Ignatius Christianus Fredericus.

During his first years in service, his duties seemed to have been comparable to that of other black servants such as carrying the trail of noble robes and serving tea to guests. In later years, he seemed to have been responsible also for musical entertainment because his estate listed several instruments.

Already during her life, the abbess granted him unusual privileges. She gave him a heated and furnished room of his own on her private floor. Only a few other people – her personal confessor, her personal secretary, and her two chamber maids – enjoyed the same residential privilege. All other servants shared unheated quarters far away from the abbess’s private rooms. In her last will, she gave him the lifelong privilege of free room and board in the orphanage of Steele, which she had founded several years before. In addition, he received a golden watch, a fur coat, a substantial amount of cash and the guarantee that all his medical bills would be paid by the orphanage.  After the death of the abbess in 1776, Fortuna became the servant of her successor, the Polish princess Maria Kunigunde von Sachsen.

When he died on November 24, 1789, he was a well-respected citizen of the city of Steele, known as “Herr Ignaz” (Mr. Ignaz). He left a fortune that was substantial enough to cause a battle over his estate. Several children of Schiffer argued that since their father had brought Fortuna to Germany, they should be considered half-siblings to Fortuna; the orphanage, however, claimed that because of Fortuna’s free room, board, and medical bills, the orphanage would be the only legal heir.

Even the site of his grave serves as a sign of his privileged position in life. Originally, the abbess had stated in her last will that he should be buried next to her in the orphanage’s church’s crypt. Since this was a place reserved for the clergy, the abbess’s wish was only partly observed by burying him in the bell tower of the church.

One can see Fortuna in a painting of 1772 where he is holding the trail of the abbess’s robe (see this website).

Frauenstift Essen

Küppers-Braun, Ute. “Kammermohren: Ignatius Fortuna am Essener Hof und andere farbige        Hofdiener.” Das Münster am Hellweg 54 (2001) 17 – 50.