Back to Yale index


Meanwhile, in Wales, Elihu's brother Thomas died. He had inherited part of the Yale estate near Wrexham and in his will, published shortly before Elihu left India, he left it to 'the heir male, lawfully begotten of my brother Elihu Yale.' This excluded both Elihu himself and Charles Yale, Yale's son by Hieronima de Paiva (Charles was to die in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1712). Yale's nearest legitimate male heir was David Yale, son of his cousin, John Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut. In 1710, Yale was in contact with Jeremy Dummer, agent for the Massachussets Bay Colony in London, to help him find David Yale and in May 1711, Dummer wrote to Pierpont saying:

"Here is Mr. Yale, formerly Governor of Fort 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 kinsman comes over, you will write him a proper letter on that subject, I will take care to press it home."

Yale sent two packets of books to the college, in 1712 and 1713. In 1716 the decision was made to move the college from Saybrook to New Haven. Building work began in September 1717 and in January 1718, Cotton Mather wrote to Yale suggesting that he might like to make a substantial contribution and that, if he did, the college could be named after him. In the light of the history we have just been reading the letter is a masterpiece of obfuscation.

The Mathers were supporting the Connecticut College in opposition to Harvard because, as they saw it, Harvard had been taken over by a faction who were advocating loose terms of communion and encouraging their students to read outside the framework of what they interpreted as Calvinist orthodoxy. E. Brooks Holifield, in his Theology in America, says:

"By expanding the reading lists, the Harvard faculty - John Leverett, William Brattle and Ebenezer Pemberton - had encouraged Harvard students to read the Cambridge Platonists, English latitudinarians, and natural philosophers. Increase Mather warned of 'Pelagian and Arminian' principles, and Cotton Mather complained that their students were reading 'rank poison', but after Leverett's appointment as tutor in 1685, the 'catholick' ideal reigned at Harvard." (p.80).

But Mather, wanting to extract money from a man he would have known was an episcopalian, presents the Connecticut venture as a model of non-sectarianism and touches lightly on the theological differences there might be between himself and Yale as matters of little importance:

"On one of the meetinghouses of another country, the walls have these words engraven on them; 'Not for a faction or a party, but for promoting faith and repentance in communion with all that love our Lord Jesus Christ.'

"New England is now so far improved as to have the best part of two hundred meetinghouses on the walls whereof these agreeable words might be very justly engraved. And a people so disposed cannot but be recommended above any in the world unto the charity, the affection, the esteem of all Christians, who understand the catholic and generous principles of Christianity, and have got beyond the narrow span of a party ...

"The people for whom we bespeak your favors are such sound, generous Christians and Protestants, that their not observing some disputable right (which no act of Parliament has imposed on these plantations), ought by no means to exclude them from the respects of all that are indeed such, and from the good will which we all owe to the rest of the reformed churches, all of which have their little varieties."

He continues:

"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 a 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."

(Mather could hardly have known that Yale's three-year-old son, David, was buried under a pyramid shaped monument in Madras ...)

In a letter to the governor of Connecticut, Gurdon Saltonstall, Mather makes it clear that naming the college after Yale was his own idea:

"I confess, that it was a great and inexcusable presumption in me, to make myself so far the godfather of the beloved infant as to propose a name for it. But I assured myself, that if a succession of solid and lasting benefits might be entailed upon it your Honor and the Honorable Trustees, would pardon me, and the proposal would be complied withal."


Since Yale did respond generously the trustees were left with little choice in the matter but, as Hiram Bingham points out, Yale may have been motivated by something other than mere personal vanity: "Little as he (Mather) suspected it, this may have given Elihu a vision of restoring all the New England churches to the Anglican persuasion."

Only a few months previous to receiving Mather's letter, Yale had been proposed as a member of the very exclusive 'Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.' Despite its neutral sounding name this society was mainly devoted to supporting the episcopalian interest in areas of North America where 'the Gospel', in its militant congregationalist form, was already well established. The Subscription Rolls of the Society's projects for Bishops in America and establishing a building of its own in London, were in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London 'and Elihu Yale, Esq.'

On 11th June 1718, Yale sent two trunks of textiles to be sold for the college, a collection of 417 books and a portrait of George I. The total sum came to £1162.00, the biggest donation made to the college in its first 120 years. In February 1721, he sent another gift of goods that raised £562.00. In 1722, the rector of Yale College, the well-respected Rev Timothy Cutler, together with one of the tutors, Daniel Brown, and Samuel Johnson, a minister at West Haven who had been a distinguished student at the college and only recently a tutor, announced that they no longer considered their non-episcopal orders to be valid. After a public debate on the matter, the three resigned their positions and went to England to be ordained as Anglican priests. Brown died shortly afterwards but Cutler and Johnson returned. Johnson was responsible for the first episcopal church to be built in Connecticut, Stratford, ready for service on Christmas Day, 1723. Johnson has some claim to be regarded as the first American philosopher. He became a friend and correspondent of the idealist philosopher Bishop George Berkeley and, as it happened, persuaded him to give an important donation (a farm and a large collection of books) to Yale College. David Hoeveler's Creating the American Mind comments:

"When Berkely did so, he remarked that Yale had been producing an outstanding ministry, as noted by the fact that so many recent Yale graduates had 'left the Presbyterian [sic] Church and come over to ours.' Johnson in turn, even intimated to Berkeley that Yale had received Berkeley's immaterialist philosophy and 'would soon become Episcopal.'"

It may be fanciful to think Yale really 'had a vision of restoring all the New England churches to the Anglican persuasion' by supporting a college that had been set up by supporters of the more extreme wing of New England puritanism, but Cutler, Brown and Johnson had been influenced by the preaching of Rev George Pigot, who had been sent to Stratford as a missionary by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and also, according to Bingham, by the substantial Anglican library that was interwoven together with the books on historical, geographical, medical, commercial and legal matters in the packets sent by Yale. Hoeveler confirms the influence of this material on Johnson and adds that after the Berkeley bequest:

"Yale had now made itself the repository not only of extensive collections in Anglican religious thought, but in English belles lettres too. The accumulation represented a contribution not only to intellect but to taste. In provincial Connecticut, growing in commerce and trade and making transatlantic connections, English ways, from religion to culture and fashion, gained in appeal among a certain group in the colony ... In Connecticut new Anglican churches appeared. Samuel Johnson, upon his return from England in 1723, had become the colony's only Anglican minister. Twenty years later Connecticut had twenty Anglican ministers and the Church of England could claim over two thousand communicants. And all of its ministers had graduated from Yale!" (p.63)

Perhaps it would be possible to write an account of the early history of Yale University under the title Mrs Eaton's Revenge.

We may assume that Yale would have been happy with the defection of Cutler and his friends had he known about it but he died the previous year, in 1721. On returning to England he divided his time between London and Wrexham, in Wales. He had a special gallery constructed for himself and his family across the arc of the chancel in the church at Wrexham, behind the pulpit, facing the congregation. His daughter Catherine married Sir Dudley North, of the same family as the Lord North who was Prime Minister at the time when Britain lost the American colonies. In 1710/11, he bought a house in London, in Queen Square, near Ormond Street, whence his nickname, 'The Nabob of Queen Square.' He was surrounded by his immense wealth, including several thousand paintings. After his death, it took forty days and six sales to dispose of it. Although it is sometimes said that he was a 'Governor' of the East India Company, he had no official connection with it after his return - his title 'Governor' refers only to the period of his governing Fort Saint George. He is buried in the churchyard at St Giles Church, Wrexham.

Yale University continued to honour its benefactor. The 'Harkness Tower', a pseudo-Gothic tower in the grounds of the University, is partly modelled on the tower of the church at Wrexham and includes a sculpture of Yale as one of eight 'Yale worthies', together with the preacher Jonathan Edwards, the novelist James Fennimore Cooper and the arms manufacturer, Eli Whitney. But in 2007 a portrait of him was removed from public view because it showed him attended by a black slave wearing a neck iron.

Portrait by James Worsdale (ca. 1692–1767)