Categories: Clinton, Education, Killingworth, New Haven, Old Saybrook

When Old Saybrook Was a College Town

Yale charter, October 9, 1701
Yale charter, October 9, 1701 – Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Yale University traces its origins back to the Connecticut Colony’s passing of “An Act for the Liberty to Erect a Collegiate School” in 1701. Through this act, the General Court of the colony hoped to create an institution “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences who [through] the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for [public] employment both in Church & Civil State.” In short, Yale’s founders envisioned the school providing the training necessary to develop the Connecticut Colony’s next generation of religious and political leaders.

Originally known as the “Collegiate School,” Yale technically got its start with one student trained in the home of Rector Abraham Pierson of Killingworth (now Clinton). Shortly after, it moved to its first official site in Saybrook. Nathaniel Lynde deeded a building and 10 acres of land in Saybrook to the Collegiate School in 1707.

Although the deed to the Collegiate School required the institution to remain in Saybrook, in 1716 the trustees voted to move the school. A number of local communities bid for the rights to host it, but New Haven outbid them all, and despite Saybrook’s residents taking to the streets in protest, the Collegiate School moved to New Haven.

Two years later, the school received a generous donation of books and goods from Elihu Yale. Yale was a representative of the British East India Company, a post that allowed him to accumulate a substantial fortune. In return for his generosity, and in hopes of obtaining future gifts, members of the Collegiate School voted to rename their institution Yale College.

Today, Yale is the City of New Haven’s largest employer and one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It has graduated 5 US Presidents, 45 Cabinet members, and over 500 members of Congress. The land where it once stood, in what is now Old Saybrook, eventually became the Cypress Cemetery. In the cemetery is a large stone that reads, “The First Site of Yale College, Founded 1701, Removed 1716.”



“Yale’s History.” Yale University, 2012. Link.


Oviatt, Edwin, and Theodore Diedricksen. The Beginnings of Yale. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1916. Link.
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