Elihu Yale – The Great Welsh American

Yale College

Elihu Yale wrote his epitaph before the end of the protracted dealings with the affairs of Connecticut College, New Haven. The words of the epitaph most suitable to describe this episode are possibly:

‘Where blest in peace, the actions of the just Smell sweet, and blossom in the silent dust’.

The instigator of Elihu Yale’s gift to Connecticut College was Jeremiah Dummer, the London agent for the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a Graduate of Harvard. Dummer set out his strategy in a letter to the Reverend James Pierpont of New Haven, Connecticut. ‘Here is Mr Yale, formerly Governor of Fort St. George in the Indies, who has got a prodigious estate, and now by Mr Dixwell sends for a relation of his from Connecticut to make him his heir, having no son. He told me lately, that he intended to bestow a charity upon some College in Oxford under certain restrictions which he mentioned. But I think he should much rather do it to your college, seeing he is a New England, and I think a Connecticut man. If therefore when his kinsmen come over, you will write him a proper letter on that subject, I will take care to press it home’.

David Yale was the son of Elihu’s own cousin John Yale. After a few years in Britain sharing his time between Plas Grono and Mrs Yale’s residence at Latimer in Buckinghamshire, he entered Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1718 and then almost immediately returned to America. There was no question that Elihu Yale would make his Dissenter cousin his heir.

Meantime in 1713 the assiduous Jeremiah Dummer persuaded men of ‘Learning and Estates’ to send books to the Connecticut Library and Elihu contributed 32 volumes. In September 1717 Connecticut College was commenced in New Haven. The Rev Cotton Mather a sanctimonious Puritan of Boston, connected with the witch craft trials of Salem in the 1690s now began promoting the college and wrote to Elihu Yale on 14 February 1718. ‘The Colony of Connecticut having for some years had a College of Saybrook without a collegious way of living for it, have lately begun to erect a large edifice for it in the town of New Haven. The charge of that expensive building is not yet all paid, nor are there any funds or revenues for salaries to the Professors and Instructors to the Society.

Sir, though you have your felicities in your family, which I pray God continue and multiply, yet certainly, if what is forming at New Haven might wear the name of YALE COLLEGE, it would be better than the name of sons and daughters. And your munificence might easily obtain for you such a commemoration and perpetuation of your valuable name, which would indeed be much better than an Egyptian pyramid’.

On 11 June 1718, Elihu Yale sent two trunks of textiles to be sold on behalf of the college, a collection of 417 books, a portrait and the arms of King George I. The total worth being about £1162, the largest donation made to the college in its first 122 years. His gifts arrived just in time. The Commencement programme, which had already been printed with the old name of the ‘Collegiate School’ on it, was destroyed and a new programme printed with the first official appearance of the name ‘Yale College’. In the Spring of 1721 Elihu Yale sent the College another gift of goods which realised £562. In the rough draft of his Will he left the College £500. Unfortunately the Will was invalid.

Ironically in response to the sychophancy of Cotton Mather the selection of books he sent to Yale College in 1718 helped to restore the rector and others to the Anglican Church in Connecticut. Sweet revenge indeed for the discrimination suffered by his father, David Yale at the hand of the Puritans.

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