Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Elihu Yale, Slave Trader and Exporter par excellence - dishonor for Yale University

Slave trader, Gov.Yale of English Setttlement, Madras  Digital Histories @ Yale

Above image: A clip from The Simpsons episode “Caper Chase,” season 28, episode 19. Calhoun College, a residential college at Yale, is named for John C. Calhoun, one of the 19th century’s foremost white supremacists. Yale University's link with slavery and slave traders has become a serious public debate in the US
The forefathers of Elihu Yale, (5 April 1649 – 8 July 1721) a British merchant, slave trader, President of the East India Company settlement in Fort St. George, at Madras,  were Americans from Massachusetts. Yale was a benefactor of the Collegiate School in the Colony of Connecticut which in 1718 was renamed Yale College in his honor. The Yale family left Boston and returned to England when Elihu was three years old and he grew up and later had his education there.

Elihu Yale Memorial, St. Mary's Church, Madras

Yale  found employment  as an 'entry-level writer'on an annual salary of 10 pounds per annum in honorable East India company operating in India and held several positions of responsibility. Being a good administrator it was natural that he got promotions quickly.  He came to Madras in the year 1672 to look after the English company and expanded the settlement and made additional fortification. Many Indians, particularly people from Tamil Nadu, may not be aware that Yale was the founder of the now famous General Hospital in Chennai. During his period it was operating within Ft. St. George (founded in 1644). In 1684 he became the first president of Fort St. George, the company's  main post at Madras. In 1687, he became the Governor of this settlement. Within this fort even today lies the famous oldest English Church - St Mary's where Yale married Catherine Hynmers, a widow, in 1680, being the first registered wedding at the church.She was the daughter of Joseph Hynmers, the then Governor of Madras in the 1670s.

 The benefactor of Yale University, in the past several years has become a controversial figure because of his questionable honesty, integrity, and illegal gratification he received  while serving East India company, Madras. He made the largest private donation (things worth 800 pounds) to the college in those days.
The most damaging part of his personality is his direct involvement in the  slave trade in India. Whatever wealth Yale 
amassed in India, it was not through honest means, but it was through unethical and fraudulent means. So, it was stained, unprincipled and immoral. It was this sack of wealth  earned illegally in India helped Yale college grow into what it is now, a fact that is difficult to digest.  This is one of the reasons why the Historians never fail  to point out that Yale (the University) is deeply condemned for his link with  the institution of slavery'.  The incriminating evidence confirming Yale’s involvement in the slave trade is clear and overwhelming.
Slavery is any system in which principles of property law are applied to people, allowing individuals to own, buy and sell other individuals, as a de jure form of property.  A slave is unable to withdraw unilaterally from such an arrangement and works without remuneration. Slavery existed in many cultures.Coming back to Slavery and Yale, his close  association with slavery can not be either ignored or forgotten for good. While with the English company. Madras,  Yale realized  the scope of slave trade  in SE Asia as Indian Ocean trade  was  linked with Middle East and the islands of Indonesia and Africa. The added advantage was on the Indian subcontinent, the tradition of enslavement and subjugation had been there for pretty long time, but it was done through a government agency. However,  the practice of stealing children for export was illegal. The tradition of enslavement in India  encouraged Yale to preside over the  the Indian Ocean slave trade. In the late 1680s Yale got a chance to get into slave trade in India in the wake of  a bad famine that resulted in surplus labor. Yale wanted to take advantage of this glut in worker force. So, he and other unscrupulous company  officials bought hundreds of slaves and shipped  them to the English colony on Saint Helena. Yet another interesting, but disgusting fact emerges about Yale and his  modus operandi  with respect to slave trade. To avoid company's action and resentment, he never owned the slaves, rather they were bought by East India company. This ingenious method got him profits from both ends through sale and commission from sales  agents.  He had close association with  groups that had sent  a minimum of ten slaves on every European - bound ship from India.  Being the Governor and President of British  settlement, he made it mandatory and enforced  the ten-slaves-per-vessel rule. 


In 1883, there was total prohibition for export of slaves of any age, but in 1687 - during Yale's  first year as Governor, the scenario had changed. The trade was sanctioned under regulation, a duty of ''one pagoda was to be paid  for each slave sent from Madras by sea''.  In one month alone in September 1687  the English company under Yale  exported  at least 665 individuals to be employed as domestic or farm hands, etc in far-off lands. They were all at the mercy of slave masters.  It is reported that on two different occasions, Yale  sentenced “black Criminals” by way of accusing them of burglary to suffer whipping. Besides, he would brand them as they do it to cattle and mark them for foreign enslavement. 

Elihu Yale's biography is full of pitfalls that show that he had scant respect for other humans. Nor had he understood the pains and humiliations of those  chained natives who  might have stoically suffered for no fault of theirs in their own motherland. If Yale were alive what sort of reparation he would have paid for their families and the mental agony they suffered.  Money from the unethical slave trade in India kept coming in all direction and it filled Yale's coffers to the brim.

Some reports including Wikipedia show Yale in limelight - as an heroic abolitionist, making all-out efforts  to end the slave trade in Madras. That he was singularly responsible removing slave trade in Madras is not true. On the contrary Yale was the one who gave impetus to the slave trade in Madras and the trade was regulated under him. Because of compulsion from Indian rulers- in particular Moguls,  Yale put in serious efforts to curb  the stealing of children and others for the purpose of export. But, EIC Records  point out this  act was one of self-denial and not an humanitarian one and  was done with a view to saving his face. Yale in May 1688 through a decree banned  the transport of slaves from Madras as  the trade had become  difficult to run it profitably. 

Having found a sustaining lucrative market in slave trade elsewhere, with Madras having become slave-trade free, Yale now turned his attention to West African coast. He sent a ship to Madagascar in October 1689 and procured hundreds of slave for the English colony in the East Indies - Sumatra where they did all kinds of odd jobs for the colonists. The Indian Ocean slave  trade was a complicated and tangled medley mix and Yale churned it as much as he could, thus becoming filthy rich from its spoils. This ill-gotten wealth, in the form of diamonds, textiles, and other luxury goods,  prompted the founders of Yale College to go after Yale  for donations and to name their school in his honor. 
Because of benefactor Yale's direct link with slavery in Madras, students and some organizations protested and wanted the university to change its name -YALE, the man who never earned a pound honestly in India.
For further reading:   "Elihu Yale was a Slave Trader" by Joseph Yannielli   (November 1, 2014).