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The Story of Elihu Yale, London Merchant

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Elihu Yale had first arrived in Cardiff in 1692 with the intent of travelling to London and establishing himself as a merchant in that city. He had no expectations for his life beyond those that any man should have: that any effort put into his business should result in corresponding success, that he should persuade a fine woman to be his wife, and that a just life would be rewarded in the hereafter. He took these certainties with him when he crossed the Atlantic and then again as he crossed Great Britain and finally, after almost two months of travel, reached his destination.

Although relocation to London had been an ambitious and risky decision, Elihu Yale worked hard and subsequently prospered in his new home. As the years passed and his business became more firmly established, Elihu Yale grew increasingly content with his new life and began to contemplate the addition of a suitable wife. Such was, he believed, the logical next step, and one that he anticipated immensely.

In 1701, however, less than a year after Elihu Yale had set his mind toward matrimony, an unusual and unsettling event occurred that would subsequently alter the course of his life. It began in such small ways that at first he barely noticed and so went unalarmed; first, a lavish set of candlesticks, accompanied by papers testifying to their manufacture by a renowned craftsman from Elihu Yale's birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts, arrived at Elihu Yale's home unexpectedly. He had made no commission for any such candlesticks and, had he had the desire to do so, would never have sent so far or paid so much for them. He made the natural assumption that some mistake had been made, and so made the arrangements to return them whence they came, and made no more of it.

Not more than a month after the appearance of said candlesticks, another unexpected delivery arrived at the home of Elihu Yale. In this instance it was several chests of spices, some exceedingly rare, which Elihu Yale mistakenly believed were intended for a fine alehouse that was located on the street beyond his, and it was to this alehouse that he directed the young men who had brought them.

It was not until the third such instance that Elihu Yale began to grow suspicious of the unusual gifts that were arriving at his home. Several months after the spices had been dealt with and Elihu Yale had all but forgotten the incident, a man arrived at his home during the dinner hour and announced that a new team of horses had been transferred into Elihu Yale's possession, and would need to be stabled. Astonished by this announcement and outraged by the interruption of his meal, Elihu Yale had demanded proof of the man's task and so received papers of ownership that the man had brought on his person. Forced to accept that the team of horses were in fact his, Elihu Yale then had to abandon his dinner and see to the care of these animals that he neither required nor desired.

The bizarre gifts continued on into the following years and their extravagance and unusual nature persisted. Although some of the gifts proved to be useful, and these Elihu Yale accepted grudgingly, the usefulness of others remained elusive and their presence quickly grew irksome, for there was often little to do with the odd gifts but keep them as Elihu Yale knew no one who would take such strange things from him even in charity.

By 1708 the continual gifts had won Elihu Yale a most distressing reputation as an eccentric collector who did not care for the expense of a thing, but only for the possession of it. Although his business did not suffer for this reputation, for Elihu Yale continued always to work hard and prove himself a savvy and trustworthy merchant, it did no good for his long and fruitless search for a suitable woman to accept his hand in marriage. While potential wives and their families admired Elihu Yale for his successful and prosperous business, they did not trust his way with money, for what kind of man would purchase an exact miniature replica of London Bridge constructed entirely of gold and bronze? As time passed in this manner Elihu Yale began to despair that he would never have the good fortune of finding a wife, and he cursed his unwanted benefactor for disrupting the simple plan that he had had for his life.

As the years continued and the gifts with them, Elihu Yale began to grow resigned to what he now assumed must be his fate. He would approach each gift with the feeble hope that it may be the last, but the certainty that it would not be.

Then, in the early winter of 1717, Elihu Yale was arisen from his nightly slumber by a commotion at his front door. Concerned that the interruption may have some connection to his business, for urgent situations did occasionally arise at any time of the day, Elihu Yale went to the door to find his man in heated conversation with a woman of rugged and unkempt appearance. Not recognizing the woman at all but intrigued by her accent, which he identified as of colonial origin, Elihu Yale stepped forward and demanded that the situation be explained to him.

Elihu Yale was shocked to learn that the woman, who was indeed from the colonies and was in fact from Elihu Yale's own birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts, was the newest gift sent to him from his mysterious benefactor. He was further outraged when the woman freely admitted herself to be a prostitute, hired by a group of men in Boston, Massachusetts, and given passage to London in order to provide him with companionship.

Having little idea on how to proceed, Elihu Yale agreed to allow the woman, who introduced herself and Amelia Polk, to remain in his home for the remainder of the night, for it was cold outside and she had travelled far to get there.

The next morning Elihu Yale invited Amelia Polk to dine with him, for it was rare that he shared any meal with another person, particularly breakfast. As they ate, Elihu Yale asked after their mutual birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts, and Amelia Polk told exciting tales of her life, which had been adventurous. After they had finished and retired to the sitting room, Elihu Yale broached the particular topic of who had hired Amelia Polk and was, therefore, the one responsible for his years of unusual gifts.

Amelia Polk was not opposed to giving Elihu Yale this information and so explained that she had been approached by a group of men who called themselves the "Friends of Elihu Yale", but did not offer their particular names. They had explained that they had wished to pay her passage to London, a city which she had long desired to see, under the condition that she endeavour to spend time with one Elihu Yale, who she now understood to be sitting next to her. They had not explained their motivation for doing so, but even this small bit of knowledge was more than Elihu Yale had hoped to ever receive.

Amelia Polk remained with Elihu Yale in his home as December moved into January and the new year began. Finding that he greatly enjoyed Amelia Polk's company, and that she also appeared happy with the arrangement, Elihu Yale eventually proposed to and then married this woman who had been sent to him by the unusual group of men calling themselves the "Friends of Elihu Yale". Such a development was more than Elihu Yale could ever have anticipated, and it left him with a discombobulating feeling of gratitude towards the men who had so disrupted and complicated his life for over a decade.

When yet more gifts continued to arrive in the year 1718 Elihu and Amelia Yale determined that it was time to take action. Using what knowledge Amelia Yale had of the group of men calling themselves the "Friends of Elihu Yale", Elihu Yale discovered an address that was hopefully their lair or headquarters. He then fashioned a letter entreating these men to focus their efforts on an alternative goal, suggesting the establishment of a school in their local environs, in the hopes that he may never hear from them again.

With a luck that Elihu Yale had long believed was not his to have, the bizarre gifts soon stopped arriving and by January of 1719 no gift from the "Friends of Elihu Yale" had reached him in over three months. The last contact Elihu Yale ever received from the peculiar group was a jewel-encrusted peacock feather, which he presented to his wife as a gift.

The remainder of his life was exceedingly, and blessedly, normal.