February 8, 2007

Yale

And the man behind the brand is...
Elihu Yale

Elihu Yale was born in Boston in 1649 but shortly returned to London with his father. As a young man Yale set to sea for adventure. He went to Madras with the East India Company as an agent and wound up as Governor of the English trading post, Fort St. Georges.

In 1699 Yale returned to London with a considerable, if somewhat shady, fortune in tow. By 1710 Yale was looking forward to the end of his life and a settling of his affairs. Childless, Yale sought a legal heir to his great estate. He summoned a cousin's son from America, 15-year old David Yale from North Haven, Connecticut.

At the same time the ten-year old Collegiate School was barely surviving when word came to the trustees that a local boy was sailing to England to inherit a fortune. What would it hurt to send along a letter of introduction with the boy to take to the great Governor?

Nothing worked out for any of the parties. Young Yale must have had a falling out with his wealthy relative because he returned to Boston on the next sailing to live out his life humbly on his North Haven farm. But the Collegiate School officials did not forget Elihu Yale.

By this time a permanent site for the school had been selected and books were being solicited. Another letter to Yale yielded 30-40 books although it was noted by a trustee at the time, "that it was very little considering his Estate." The Collegiate School renewed their attack on the coffers of Governor Yale.

Meanwhile educator Cotton Mather suffered a falling out with Harvard College and wrote to Yale on behalf of the "little Collegiate School at New Haven", with which he had no official connection. Mather suggested, "What is forming at New Haven might wear the name of Yale College. It would be better than a name of sons and daughters." Mather had no authority to approach Yale in any capacity, let alone concocting a name for the Connecticut school from Boston.

But Governor Yale's resistance was weakening. The Collegiate School's London agent convinced him to send a shipment of goods worth 800 pounds to the new school in 1718. When the three bales arrived in America the trustees sold them for 562 pounds. It remained the largest private donation to the school for over 100 years.

Yale sent another 100 pounds before he died in 1721 at the age of 72. Representatives of Yale College tried to interest his three daughters in the school but nothing more came from the vast Yale estate. In 1724 David Yale was awarded an honorary degree for his part in the entire strange business.

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