Elihu Yale – The Great Welsh American

In Africa Travell’d
The only way to India by sea was around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa. The voyage took six months. There must have been frequent sightings of the mysterious continent and no doubt the necessity to land to obtain water and fresh supplies of fruit and vegetables. Cape Town would have been a normal stopping place. Although his acquaintance with Africa was so slight he could not resist the temptation of referring to it when writing his Epitaph.

In Asia wed, where long he liv’d and thriv’d

Elihu Yale arrived in India on 23 June 1672 where he was to remain for almost 27 years, sailing for England on 22 February 1699. In these formative years of the East India Company Elihu’s contribution was of the greatest significance. The Company had received its charter from Elizabeth I in 1600. Its main competitors were Portuguese, Dutch and later French. In 1640 the Company built a trading port on the east coast of Southern India, Fort St. George, the site of the great city of Madras. In 1672 Elihu Yale landed there and found about 300 English with some 3,000 Portuguese living under their protection. Fort St. George was important as an independent base for commerce and diplomacy with the Indian rulers, particularly with a Mogul Emperor. In 1667 Charles II gave the island of Bombay to the Company. By 1689 the Company, with growing confidence, planned its future stating that it ‘must make us a nation in India. Without that we are but a great number of interlopers united by his majesty’s royal charter, fit only to trade where nobody of power thinks it their interest to prevent us’. In the 17th century the Company persistently attempted to trade with Japan, China, Siam and Formosa. By the 1690s its trade with China began to flourish: lead and woollen goods were sold, and tea, spices and silk bought. The years Elihu Yale spent with the Company were a time of expansion, consolidation and the establishment of new markets.

Like many other famous men he found his true character in India. Self discipline and self education developed his talents for business. He devoted himself to the affairs of the Company and won steady promotion. In 1681 the Madras Company sent him to look for a concession of trade in the Mahratta country ‘upon the receipt of which was fired 21 guns, and 11 guns for Mr Elihu Yale for his good services and the success he had in the management of the business he went about’. In 1684 he was appointed Acting Governor and three years later Governor of Fort St. George.

As Governor he ruled over a large population of Hindus, maintained the military and civil affairs of the Fort and communicated with the Company’s headquarters both at home and the subcontinent. His main concerns were the expansion of trade, negotiations of treaties and the maintenance of good relations with the Mogul and foreign ambassadors in the face of their traditional enemies the Dutch and the French. Yale’s official correspondence as Governor preserved in the India Office papers, show that the Company chose wisely but he had enemies in the Council of Fort St. George who complained to the Directors of the Company. Factions in the Council led to Yale’s replacement as Governor in 1692.

Elihu remained in Fort St. George while his brother Thomas returned to London to press Elihu’s case to the attention of the Privy Council. The matter was debated in Parliament and the East India Company’s activities were investigated. Before Elihu departed he found an ally in Thomas Pitt with whom he was to engage for years in a profitable diamond business. News of the death of his brother Thomas in October 1697 in Wrexham, reached Elihu and he decided to quit India. On 22 February 1699 he sailed for London with a rich cargo. ‘He was permitted to take five tons of a most valuable cargo, including spices, precious stones, leather goods and oriental screens’.

Yale was accused of supporting his brother Thomas Yale who was alleged to have committed certain frauds in his trading operations, of arbitrary government, neglect of duty and of using the Company’s funds for private speculation.

Thomas was Elihu’s younger brother who had established himself as a Merchant and traded in India with Elihu’s help.

In Asia Wed

On 4 November 1680, the first entry in the register of the new Church of St. Mary in Fort St. George was the marriage of Elihu Yale to Catherine Hynmer, a widow with four children whose husband had been the ‘second’ member of the Council. Joseph Hynmer left his wife two thirds of his small fortune of 14,000 pagodas.

Joseph Hymer’s legacy financed Elihu’s successful speculation in precious stones and diamonds. The advancement of Elihu dates from his marriage which was blessed with four children, three daughters, Catherine, Anne and Ursula survived. Unfortunately a son David died soon after birth and Catherine decided to take her children home to England in 1689. Elihu’s biographer notes a change in the Governor’s manner from this date. Before ‘he was respected, modest, faithful and trusted’, after the separation ‘he was domineering, opinionated, aggressive and unable to hold the confidence or the respect of other members of the Joseph Hynmer’s legacy financed Elihu’s successful speculation in precious stones and diamonds.

The advancement of Elihu dates from his marriage which was blessed with four children, three daughters, Catherine, Anne and Ursula Council’. Elihu had found consolation in a liaison with Hieronoma, widow of Jaques de Paivia, a wealthy Portuguese diamond merchant.

A son of the union, Charles was buried in Cape town in 1712 aged twenty-one. When Elihu returned to England he and Catherine lived separate lives. She died in February 1728 at the age of seventy-seven.

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