Harper S. Fortune

Agent profile contributed by Nicholas Ritter.

Harper S. Fortune was born to Joseph Fortune and Isabella Toombs in August 1873 in Richmond, Virginia. As a teen, Fortune worked as a broom merchant where, even at his young age, he was noted to be a trustworthy employee. That trustworthiness led to him eventually overseeing the business’s cash. Following this position, he worked as a clerk for several different laundries. During his time working at the laundries, he began an interest in music, taking up several professional courses in musical composition and violin. He would continue to take musical courses as he began to work as an assistant to a lawyer. Once he completed his musical education, Harper went on to work as a musical teacher and piano tuner, a career path he would maintain.

While born in Richmond, Fortune saw himself moving from place to place for most of his adult life. He moved from Richmond, to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was a roommate of the Colored American Magazine managing editor and Colored Co-operative Publishing Company president, Walter W. Wallace. From Boston, he then moved to Baltimore, Maryland for a few years, and then back to Boston once again. His second stint in Boston lasted only five years before he moved back to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Fortune finally was able to settle down in 1913 when he purchased a home at 1643 10th St. NW in Washington, DC.  

Fortune was the inaugural Treasurer of the Colored Co-Operative Company, a credit to the experience he had gained handling money in his previous jobs. However, he only maintained this position for a short number of months before transitioning to a role as an agent and head of a branch office of the company once he moved to Baltimore.  

Fortune was a versatile musician playing the guitar, mandolin, piano, violin, and several other instruments. For over four years he was the President and clarinetist of the First Battalion Band of Richmond, Virginia, and led several Guitar and Mandolin Clubs in Boston and Richmond. On September 10, 1903, in Boston, Massachusetts, Harper married Essie L Teague. She was born in Newbury, South Carolina in 1881. Together they had one child, Harper R. Fortune, who was born November 11, 1911. Mr. Fortune unfortunately passed away only a few years after the birth of his son, sometime between 1915 and 1917. He legacy lived on through his son whom he left his house to. Harper R. would go on to earn a college degree, marry, and work as a research economist for the Social Security Board. Fortune is representative of a generation of African Americans who, in spite of the racial climate of Jim Crow America, were able to establish steady success that would provide a solid foundation for their children. It would not be a stretch to imagine a musician like Fortune thriving in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s had he not passed right before. He was a man of ambition and hard ethics, and certainly had much more to contribute to the world before he passed. 


Works Cited 

1900 United States Federal Census. Ancestry, 2004, 

1910 United States Federal Census. Ancestry, 2006, 

1920 United States Federal Census. Ancestry, 2010, 

1940 United States Federal Census. Ancestry, 2012, 

Baltimore, Maryland, City Directory, 1902. Ancestry. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. 2011, 

Boston, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1902. Ancestry. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, 2011, 

Elliot, R. S. “The Story of Our Magazine.” The Colored American Magazine, May 1901, pp 43-77. 

Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915. Ancestry, 2013, 

“Officers of the Colored Co-Operative Publishing Company.” The Colored American Magazine, May 1901, pp 49. 

Washington, District of Columbia, City Directory, 1913. Ancestry. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, 2011, 

Washington, District of Columbia, City Directory, 1915. Ancestry. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, 2011, 

Harper S. Fortune as pictured in the Colored American Magazine in 1901.