Elihu Yale, (April 5, 1649 - July 8, 1721), was the first benefactor of Yale University. His ancestry can be traced to a family of North Wales, and the name Yale is the English spelling of the Welsh place name, Iāl. Born in Boston, Yale moved to England, with his family when he was four, and never returned to the United States.
For 20 years, Yale was part of the British East India Company, and he became the 2nd governor of a settlement at Madras (present-day city of Chennai) in 1687, after Streynsham Master. He was suspended from the post, however, in 1692 after arguments with his council and his superiors.
Yale amassed a fortune in his lifetime, and he was generous with the proceeds.
In 1718, Cotton Mather contacted Yale and asked for his help. He represented a small institution of learning. It was founded as the Collegiate School of Connecticut in 1701, and it needed money for a new building in New Haven. Yale sent Mather a carton of goods that the school sold, earning them 560 pounds, which was a substantial sum in the early 1700s. In gratitude, officials named the new building Yale; eventually the entire institution became Yale College.
Yale died on July 8, 1721 and is buried in the churchyard of Wrexham, North Wales. 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."
Elihu is the name of a "senior society" founded in 1903 at Yale.
Alexandra Robbins, in her article for Atlantic Monthly about Skull and Bones, alleges that the gravestone of Elihu Yale was stolen years ago from its proper setting in Wrexham, and is displayed in a glass case, in a room with purple walls, which belongs to a building called the Tombs of the Skull and Bones at Yale University.