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Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Story of Elihu Yale: Yale University’s Benefactor

The benefactor of Yale University, Elihu Yale, after whom the university was named, made his fortune as an employee of the East India Company. Born in Boston in 1649, Yale moved with his family to England when he was three years old. After completing his school education, he joined the East India Company and was posted at Fort St. George, the company's headquarter in Madras, India. 

Yale began as a low level clerk, and rising through the ranks he became the governor of Madras. But he misused his powers as governor to enrich himself. He purchased land by using company funds. He committed acts of brutality—he was accused of selling people into slavery and hanging a stable boy for a petty misconduct. Charges of corruption and cruelty were brought against him. He was sacked in 1692. In 1699, when he returned to England, he had with him five tons of spices, and a massive amount of diamonds and other precious objects—all this was beyond his legal sources of income, but the British government allowed him to keep this fortune. 

Towards the end of his life, he remembered America, the country of his birth, and donated a good sum to the Collegiate School of Connecticut, which recognized his gift by renaming itself after him, and became Yale College. Yale died in 1721 and was buried at the churchyard of the parish church of St Giles’ Church, Wales.. He himself wrote the epitaph inscribed on his tomb:

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 the silent dust. 

This line in the epitaph, “Much good, some ill, he did; so hope all's even,” could be taken as Yale’s subtle admission that the accusations of corruption and cruelty against him were correct. Yale University celebrated the 350th anniversary of Yale's birthday on 5 April 1999.

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