1717 — YALE

How Yale became Yale. In some respects, it is surprising that Elihu Yale agreed to serve as benefactor for a college run by Congregationalist ministers in the New World.

Although he was born in Boston and his step-grandfather had helped found New Haven Colony, Elihu Yale was raised in Britain, and was both an ardent member of the Church of England and a loyal supporter of the Crown.

He was, however, an extremely wealthy man, who had amassed his fortune in India while working for the East India Company. Therefore, he was one of the people who was approached by Jeremy Drummer, an agent who was in England representing the Connecticut and Massachusetts colonies. Drummer persuaded Elihu Yale to donate 32 books to the Collegiate School (as it was then known) in 1713.

Just a few years later, dissatisfied with the school's site in Saybrook, Connecticut, the trustees of the Collegiate School began searching for a new home for the institution, preferably one with a central facility. In a bidding war with Hartford, the citizens of New Haven pledged 2,000 English pounds to the Collegiate School if it would relocate there.

In order to raise additional funds for this building, in 1718 the school's trustees asked Cotton Mather, a Harvard alumnus who was unhappy at having been passed over for the presidency of his alma mater, to approach Elihu Yale on behalf of the so-called "Academy of Dissenters" in New Haven.

In his letter, Mather suggested to the childless Elihu Yale that "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."

Elihu Yale responded by sending a gift of three bales of goods, 417 books, a portrait of King George I ("to remind them of their duties to the king," noted Schiff) and a set of royal arms, which was later destroyed during the American Revolution.

The bales of goods included 25 pieces of garlic (a kind of cloth), 18 pieces of calico, 17 pieces of worsted goods, 12 pieces of Spanish poplin, 5 pieces of plain muslin, and 2 pieces of black and white silk crepe.

"The black crepe was to make the tutors' robes," said Lorimer at the April 5 ceremony.

The sale of the textiles raised 562 English pounds for construction of the Collegiate School building, which was promptly renamed Yale College. "Although it may not seem like much today, Elihu Yale's gift was the largest received by Yale College for the next 100 years," said Lorimer.

The donated books were not sold, however, but kept for use by the college, noted Franklin in his remarks. "From the beginning, this institution has been an institution of books," he said. "It is interesting to note that the people who received these books, desperate though they were for money, never gave a thought to selling them."

— Judith Schiff

An Historical and Architectural Summary

The decision to move the Collegiate School to New Haven was made by a meeting of the General Assembly in the town in 1717, and was very likely influenced by the fact that a group of New Haven ministers already had construction of a college building underway, at the southwest corner of the present college and Chapel Streets. The long frame building with a single central cupola, containing dining hall/chapel, library and dormitories was torn down in stages in 1775 and 1782. Its appearance is known only through its representation on early maps, a schematic mid-18th century rear view and a rather distorted image of it in a circa 1745 print by James Greenwood, all in the Yale University Library. Upon completion of the building in 1718 the "Collegiate School" was renamed "Yale College".

By 1721 a college Rector's house was constructed by Henry Caner, builder of the college hall, on the south side of Chapel Street near the college (demolished in the 19th century).

By the middle of the 18th century the college had established itself, grown considerably in enrollment, and even attracted aid in the form of a gift of property from the Anglican philosopher Bishop George Berkeley. Under the strong leadership of Yale President [Reverend] Thomas Clap (1740–1766), The college obtained a modern charter, corporate status and two new buildings, Connecticut Hall (1750–1753) and a college chapel (1761–1763, demolished in 1893), which formed an incipient row behind the old hall, facing the Green. The buildings, in the Georgian style were among [the] first brick buildings in New Haven, even predating the brick meeting house on the Green, and provided an impressive new image for the college. In addition, the college chapel signified a major break from the city's church and church-run community.

The remains of the old college hall were taken down in 1782 when a new dining hall was built the same year, behind the brick buildings. Thus, by the end of the period, the college had a complex of buildings and the beginnings of a true campus.

Jeremiah Dummer

c.1680–1739, was colonial agent for Massachusetts and Connecticut, born in Boston; son of Jeremiah Dummer (1645–1718). He saw little opportunity for business in Boston and settled in England, where he became a prosperous lawyer. He became the agent in England of Massachusetts (1710) and of Connecticut (1712). Dummer helped persuade Elihu Yale, a wealthy English merchant, to donate books and valuable goods to the Collegiate School of Connecticut—which was renamed (1718) Yale College. Dummer himself collected nearly 1,000 books, which were sent to this institution. His most important service for the colonies was his well-reasoned Defence of the New England Charters (1721), written to answer the attacks in Parliament. Because Dummer recommended and supported the appointment of the unpopular Samuel Shute as governor of Massachusetts, he was dismissed as colonial agent in 1721 by the Massachusetts General Court and in 1730 by Connecticut.

1717 Bibliography