Yale: A Short History

The Beginnings

Reverend John Davenport,
co-founder and Pastor
of the Colony of New Haven

Reverend James Pierpont,
Pastor of First Church,
New Haven, 1685-1714

It was the Reverend John Davenport, one of the founders of the Colony, who in the 1640s first imagined a college for New Haven. But bad luck and a legacy that went awry prevented. In 1701 the Reverend James Pierpont, with certain other Congregational ministers from the towns along the Connecticut shore, revived Davenport's vision, and persuaded the General Court of Connecticut to vote an "Act for Liberty to erect a Collegiate School" wherein youth might be instructed in the arts and sciences "and fitted for Publick employment both in Church & Civil State," Then -if early memories and the surviving records can be so reconciled-the Minister Trustees met in Saybrook, pooled some (forty?) volumes from their meager libraries for the founding and endowing of their institution, and drew up the course of study.
Having been given authority to appoint a Rector or Master as well as to select their own successors, they chose one of their own number, the Reverend Abraham Pierson (Harvard 1668), as first Rector (1701-07), but his congregation would not let him go to the chosen site at Saybrook. In March 1702 the first student, Jacob Heminway, appeared at his parish door in Killingworth (today Clinton), and "solus was all the College the first half-year." In the fall after the first Commencement a Tutor was appointed to help teach a handful of young hopefuls from along shore and river; and by 1707 eighteen students had been graduated B.A. Today Davenport and Pierson Colleges commemorate these wilderness prophets.

The infant College. on the corner of College and Chapel Streets with Presidenr Clap's house across the way. View taken from a copy of a map of New Haven made by James Wadsworth, B.A. 1748, in his Senior year  

On Pierson's death the Seniors were sent to the Reverend Samuel Andrew of Milford, the rest under a Tutor to the small settlement on the windy marshes at Saybrook. Yet sickness and dissension so plagued the school at its bleak outpost that in 1716 the Trustees voted to remove to more hospitable New Haven. Angry citizens of Saybrook tried to prevent the carting away of the School's books, unhitched the oxen, broke down some bridges. Meanwhile two Hartford Trustees struggled to have the school established up-river at Wethersfield, instead, but friends in New Haven and in the General Court (Assembly) outbid them and in 1717-18 the first Collegiate building was erected off the south-west corner of the New Haven Green -about where Bingham Hall now stands. The monies from the Assembly and New Haven proving insufficient, on news of Elihu Yale's munificent gift (nine bales of goods worth 562 12s, with 417 books, a portrait and arms of King George I), the hopeful Trustees named the building (and so also the Collegiate School) Yale College. In 1745 the General Court authorized the enlargement of the charter to the "President and Fellows of Yale College in New Haven," but not until 1887 would the men of Yale add to the old unpretending name the alternative legal title of Yale University.

Back to Resources on Yale History

Contents | The Beginnings | Church and State | The Government of the Faculty | Teaching and Great Teachers | Course of Study
The College System | The Breed of Students | Residential Colleges-and Coeducation | The Making of the University | Recent Developments
Yale's Graduates and the Nation | Rectors and Presidents | Books about Yale | Factual and Statistical Data