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Elihu Yale

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Elihu Yale

Elihu Yale
President of Fort St George (Madras)
In office
8 August 1684 – 26 January 1685
Preceded by William Langhorne, William Gyfford
Succeeded by William Gyfford, Nathaniel Higginson
In office
25 July 1687 – 3 October 1692
Personal details
Born (1649-04-05)5 April 1649
Boston, Colony of Massachusetts
Died 8 July 1721(1721-07-08) (aged 72)
London, England

Elihu Yale (5 April 1649 – 8 July 1721) was a Welsh Madras and a benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut, which in 1718 was renamed Yale College in his honor.[1]


Born to David Yale (1613–1690) and Ursula, he was the grandson of Ann Lloyd (1591–1659), who after the death of her first husband, Thomas Yale (1587–1619) in Chester, Cheshire, England, married Governor Theophilus Eaton (1590–1658) of New Haven Colony.

Yale's ancestry can be traced back to the family estate at Plas yn Iâl near the village of Llandegla, Denbighshire, Wales.[2] The name Yale is the English spelling of the Welsh place name, Iâl.

For 20 years, Yale served the [3]

Yale amassed a fortune while working for the company, largely through secret contracts with Madras merchants, against the East India Company's directive. By 1692, Elihu Yale's repeated flouting of East India Company regulations and growing embarrassment at his illegal profiteering resulted in his being relieved of the post of governor.[4]

Plas Grono, Yale family mansion near Wrexham, Wales

Yale returned to London in 1699, and resided at Plas Grono, near Wrexham, a mansion bought by his father. Yale then spent liberally the considerable wealth he had accumulated.[2]


Yale married Catherine Hynmers, a widow, in 1680. The wedding took place at [5]

Tenure as President of Madras

As soon as Elihu Yale took over the administration of St Thome on lease. To this effect, Chinna Venkatadri was sent to negotiate with the local Governor on 4 August 1687. The mission was successful and Chinna Venkatadri assumed sovereignty over St Thome for a period of three years. Notwithstanding the vehement protests of the Portuguese inhabitants of St Thome, the English gained absolute control over all lands up to St Thomas Mount for a period of three years.

In September 1688, the Marathas. It was around this time that Yale's three-year old son David Yale died and was interred in the Madras cemetery.

The records of this period mention a flourishing slave trade in Madras. When the demand began to increase rapidly, the English merchants began to kidnap young children and deport them to distant parts of the world, very much against their will. Under pressure from the Mughal government, the administration of Fort St George eventually stepped in and introduced laws to curb the menace. On 2 February 1688, Elihu Yale, with the support of a majority of factors, decreed that henceforth, slaves should be examined by the judges of the choultry before being transported. Transportation of young children, in particular, was made unlawful.[6]

During Yale's Presidency, a plan for setting up a corporation in Madras was conceived by Josiah Child, the President of the Board of Directors of the East India Company, in a letter addressed to the factors at Madras on 28 September 1687. Three months later, Josiah Child and his deputy had an audience with James II, and as per the ensuing discussions, a Charter was issued by the king on 30 December 1687 which established the Corporation of Madras. The charter came into effect on 29 September 1688, and a Corporation was established comprising a Mayor, 12 Aldermen, 60-100 Burgesses and sergeants. Nathaniel Higginson, who was then the second member of the Council of Fort St George took office as the Mayor of Madras.

In August 1689, a French fleet appeared near the coast of Ceylon compelling the Governor of Pulicat Lawrence Pitt who was on high seas to seek protection within the bastions of Fort St George. Throughout the year 1690, French naval ships from Pondicherry ravaged the coast in order to drive the English and the Dutch out of the East Indies but were unsuccessful. They eventually withdrew from their enterprise when faced with heavy losses. It was also during this time that the English purchased the town of Tegnapatnam from the Marathas.

Accusations of Corruption and Removal

As governor of Fort St. George, Yale purchased territory for private purposes with East India Company funds, including a fort at Tevnapatam (now Cuddalore). Yale imposed high taxes for the maintenance of the colonial garrison and town, resulting in an unpopular regime and several revolts by Indians, brutally quelled by garrison soldiers. Yale was also notorious for arresting and trying Indians on his own private authority, including the hanging of a stable boy who had absconded with a Company horse.[4]

Charges of corruption were brought against Elihu Yale in the last years of his Presidency. He was eventually removed in 1692 and replaced with Nathaniel Higginson as the President of Madras.


Yale's grave on the grounds of St. Giles' Church in Wrexham

Yale died on 8 July 1721 in London, England, but was buried in the churchyard of the parish church of St. Giles in Wrexham, Wales.[7] His tomb is inscribed with these lines:

Born in America, in Europe bred
In Africa travell'd and in Asia wed
Where long he liv'd and thriv'd; In London dead
Much good, some ill, he did; so hope all's even
And that his soul thro' mercy's gone to Heaven
You that survive and read this tale, take care
For this most certain exit to prepare
Where blest in peace, the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in silent dust.

In Boston, Massachusetts, a tablet to Yale was erected in 1927 at Scollay Square, near the site of Yale's birth. Yale president Arthur Twining Hadley penned the inscription, which reads: "On Pemberton Hill, 255 Feet North of This Spot, Was Born on April Fifth 1649 Elihu Yale, Governor of Madras, Whose Permanent Memorial in His Native Land is the College That Bears His Name."[8]

Elihu Yale and Yale University

In 1718, Cotton Mather contacted Yale and asked for his help. Mather represented a small institution of learning that had been founded in 1701 in New Haven, Connecticut, as the Collegiate School of Connecticut, which needed money for a new building. Yale sent Mather a carton of goods that the school subsequently sold, earning them £800 pounds sterling, a substantial sum in the early 18th century. In gratitude, officials named the new building Yale; eventually the entire institution became Yale College.[1]

Yale was also a vestryman and treasurer of St. Mary's Church at Fort St. George. On 6 October 1968, the 250th anniversary of the naming of Yale College for Elihu Yale, the classmates of Chester Bowles, then the American ambassador to India and a graduate of Yale (1924), donated money for lasting improvements to the church and erected a plaque to commemorate the occasion.

On 5 April 1999, Yale University recognized the 350th anniversary of Yale's birthday.[1] An article that year in American Heritage magazine rated Elihu Yale the "most overrated philanthropist" in American history, arguing that the college that became Yale University was successful largely because of the generosity of a man named Jeremiah Dummer, but that the trustees of the school did not want it known by the name "Dummer College".

In her article for Atlantic Monthly about Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale University, Alexandra Robbins alleges that Yale's gravestone was stolen years ago from its proper setting in Wrexham. She further alleges that the tombstone is now displayed in a glass case in a room with purple walls, which belongs to a building belonging to the society and called the Tomb.

Cultural references


  1. ^ a b c "Elihu Yale (English merchant and philanthropist)".  
  2. ^ a b Henry Davidson Love Indian Records Series Vestiges of Old Chennai 1640-1800 Mittal Publications
  3. ^ Madras Medical College History
  4. ^ a b "'"Yale, India, and the failure of the 'global university. The Hindu. 4 May 2005. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  5. ^ , paragraph 10The Hindu
  6. ^
  7. ^ "A Complete History of Connecticut" Page 35, 1818
  8. ^ "Boston Erects Tablet in Honor of Elihu Yale".  

External links

Preceded by
William Gyfford
President of Madras
8 August 1684 – 26 January 1685
Succeeded by
William Gyfford
Preceded by
William Gyfford
President of Madras
25 July 1687 – 3 October 1692
Succeeded by
Nathaniel Higginson
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