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Elihu Yale - The Great Welsh American


Born in America Elihu Yale was born on 5 April 1649 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the second son of David Yale and his wife Ursula. At the time David Yale was a prosperous merchant with a substantial house in the city of Boston. In Europe bred The Yale ancestry reaches back to the princely Welsh families which contained generations of strong colourful characters such as Giraldus Cambrensis, Owen Glyndwr, Ednyfed Fychan and the Tudors. A direct forebear was the beautiful Princess Nest, daughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Deheubarth in South Wales. Nest 'the Helen of Wales' married Gerald of Windsor, Castellan of Pembroke Castle. One of their sons, Maurice Fitzgerald, settled in Ireland and founded the famous family of Fitzgerald.

Maurice's great grandson Osburn Fitzgerald - Osburn Wyddel (the Irishman) - came to Wales in the 13th century and married the heiress of Cors y gedol in Merioneth. In the late 15th century a branch of the family settled at Plâs yn Iâl, Clwyd and later adopted the surname Yale.

Elihu's great grandfather, Dr David Yale (a younger son of the Plâs yn Iâl family) bought the Plas Grono estate near Wrexham in the late 16th century. His son Thomas Yale married Anne the daughter of George Lloyd, Bishop of Chester. They had four children but Thomas died in 1619 and his young widow married a wealthy merchant, Theophilus Eaton, a strict Puritan.

At that time the Puritans in Britain were persecuted by Archbishop William Laud and many left England for a new life in America. Among them where Theophilus and Anne Eaton and Anne's children. They landed at Boston in 1637. Theophilus Eaton and his party purchased land from the Indians by the Quinnipiac river and they called the settlement New Haven. Theophilus Eaton became the first governor of the colony and he instituted a strict Puritan regime. This proved to be too severe for his stepson David who in 1641 (now aged 27) moved to Boston where he became a prosperous merchant and married. Here his children, including Elihu, were born. But David found Boston to be almost as intolerant as New Haven and unable to stomach the discrimination against non-Puritans he decided to leave America with all his family. Anne Eaton, not spared by her position as the wife of the governor of New Haven, was persecuted in spite of suffering a mental breakdown and was excommunicated by the Puritan Congregation. No doubt David was glad to exchange the new world for the old. He left in 1651 for the Welsh estate of Plas Grono which he had inherited from his father. His wife Ursula (then pregnant with their fourth child) followed a year later with the children. Elihu was then three years old. The Yales were unlikely to stay at Plas Grono, in a Puritan Wrexham and near the Yales at Plas Yn Iâl who were royalist supporters. So they soon moved to London. In 1656 David Yale was living at the steelyard owned by the Baltic Trades of the Hanseatic League. His life would be that of a prosperous London Merchant well able to provide his sons with a classical education. Elihu was sent to a private school run by Dr William Dugard a noted educationist and former headmaster of Merchant Taylors. We know that Elihu possessed a knowledge of Latin and was a reader of books on Law, Theology and the Apologetics of the Established church.  As a second son, however, he did not pursue a legal or clerical education at the University but chose instead to prepare himself for adventure and fortune. He gained experience in his father's counting house in that decade of calamities; the Great plague of 1665, 'of that most horrid, malicious, bloody flame' the Great Fire which destroyed the Steelyard in the following year. The Dutch Fleet ravaged the Kings Navy in the Thames and the clamour of the East India Company for war may have decided Elihu to enter the service as a clerk in the new offices at Leadenhall Street. Elihu was chosen by the Directors in October 1671 to be a 'writer' in India, to which he sailed in December of that year.

Reproduced from the booklet 'Elihu Yale the great Welsh American'
ISBN:- 0 9517425 0 7
Copyright © Wrexham Area Civic Society

 

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