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Joseph Earl Sheffield


The death of Joseph E. Sheffield, yesterday morning at his home, in Hillhouse avenue, New Haven, was not unexpected, he having been ill for more than a month, and his age, over 90 years, being against recovery. The extent of his fortune is unknown, but persons in the most favorable position for knowledge estimate it at about $10,000,000. Mr. Sheffield had a wide reputation, owing to his benefactions to Yale College, it being owing to his magnificent gifts to that institution that the Sheffield Scientific School is now placed in its present high position among the educational foundations in the country. He was born in Southport, Conn. in 1793. His mother, Isabel Thorp, was the daughter of Walter Thorp, of Southport, in the West India trade. In 1808 Mr. Sheffield was employed, at the age of about 15 years, in his store in Newbern, N.C. He afterward was engaged in business with Henry Kneeland, an old and respected merchant of New York, and was engaged in buying and shipping cotton. His various enterprises in the South in connection with the business interests of Mobile for successful in results, and 1830 he refused the Presidency of the Mobile branch of United States Bank. In 1822 he married Miss Maria St. John of Delaware County, N. Y. and 1835 came to New Haven, devoting much of his energy to the building of the Northampton Road, which would probably never have been built except for his persistence and courage. He was one of the chief projectors of the railroad between New Haven and New York, and in 1850 in company with Henry Farnam, built and equipped the railroad between Chicago and Rock Island at cost of over $5,000,000 within two and a half years after signing the contracts. He was a Director of the company which constructed the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad until 1856, when he declined a re-election.

Mr. Sheffield gifts to Yale College really commenced in 1846, and they were made from time to time, until 1870 they had amounted to a large sum. He gave the building at which the Sheffield School was started, twice refitted or enlarged it, gave a fund of $130,000 for Professorships, a library fund of $10,000, afterward increased to $12,000, and paid for the Hillhouse Mathematical Library $41,000. He also gave $2,700 to the Collier Cabinet, besides contributing to the current expenses of the Sheffield School. These gifts amounted to no less than $230,000. Mr. Sheffield, in 1870, gave the ground for a large new building and paid for the erection of a building thereon in Prospect Street known as North Sheffield Hall. He is given large sums it different times to the Berkeley Divinity School, in Middletown; to Trinity College, Hartford, and the Theological Seminary of the North-west, in Chicago. He has also built in New Haven a Parish Home in connection with Trinity Church, a beautiful and costly building, paying about $75,000, and has been a contributor to the Orphan Asylum, and various institutions here and elsewhere. By his bedside at the time of his death were his six children -- Mrs. Van Buren, Mrs. W. Walter Phelps, Mrs. W. J. Boardman, Mrs. John A. Porter, widow of Prof. Porter, of Yale; George St. John Sheffield, and Charles J. Sheffield and wife. The funeral will be Saturday afternoon, and it is expected that Bishop Williams will then be present and take part. Mr. Sheffield was a devout Christian, and his death in the public calamity for New Haven.

The New York Times, New York, NY, Feb. 17, 1882, page 5


The Benefactor of Yale Buried In The Family Tomb At New Haven.

NEW HAVEN, Feb. 18 -- The funeral of the late Joseph E. Sheffield took place at 8 o'clock this afternoon, Bishop Williams and the Rev. Dr. Beardsley conducting the services. The pall-bearers were President Noah Porter, of Yale College; Prof George J. Brush, Chairman and executive officer of the Governing Board of the Sheffield Scientific School; ex-Gov. Charles R. Ingersoll, Dr. Levi Ives, John S. Beach of the New Haven Bar; President Yeamens, of the Northampton Railroad Company; Mayor John B. Robertson, and Henry Farnam. Six porters dressed in black and wearing black gloves were the bearers. Joseph E. Jackson, E. C. Dolevan, and Mason young, a committee of the New York Alumni of Yale College, were present. Profs. Brush and Brewer, of the Scientific School were in charge of the house during the funeral. A number of gentlemen from other cities attended, among them being Tredwell Ketchum, Whitelaw Reid, William E. Dodge, D. A. Stewart, Donald G. Mitchell, George William Curtis, and Profs. Gardner and Binney. The latter two were of the Berkeley Divinity School to which Mr. Sheffield had most liberally contributed during his life. They assisted in the religious exercises. Paul Sheffield, of Southport, a brother of the deceased and a very aged man, walked feebly to the casket and bowed his head, overcome with sorrow.

The Sheffield School building was draped in black. There were floral offerings of great beauty from the Fellows of the Scientific School and others. Among the residents of New Haven present were ex-Gov. James E. English, the Hon. Collin M. Ingersoll, Arthur D. Osborne, Wilbur F. Day, Matthew G. Elliot, Joseph Parker, Ezekiel Trowbridge, Thomas T. Trowbridge, Profs. Fisher, Day, Dexter, Sildiman, J. D. Dana, E. S. Dana, and Norton, and other members of Yale's Faculty. The remains were buried in the family tomb in Grove street Cemetery.

New York Times, New York, NY, Feb. 19, 1882, page 1


Value of the Estate -- One-Seventh Left To The Scientific School

NEW HAVEN, Feb. 20 -- The will of the late Joseph E. Sheffield, admitted to probate this morning, contains important bequests of a public character. It is dated April 20, 1875. William Boordman [sic] of Cleveland, Ohio; George St. John Sheffield, son of the decedent, and William Walter Phelps are named his executors. Mr. Phelps, the Minister to Austria, is son-in-law of the late Mr. Sheffield, as is Mr. Boordman. The son, Mr. Sheffield, is a broker in New York. The will gives to the Berkeley Divinity School at Middletown Conn. $100,000 in the stock of the Northampton Railroad Company. The homestead on Hillhouse avenue and property adjoining are given to the Sheffield Scientific School, subject of the life interest of the widow and one son, the lady being now 83 years of age. After deducting these bequests, one-seventh of the estate is left to the Sheffield School. The homestead property is very valuable intrinsically, but has a special and peculiar value by reason of its contiguity to the two large buildings and ground already belonging to the school. It fronts in Hillhouse avenue, the most beautiful street in the city. On the lawn in front of the house stands a magnificent fountain made in Europe, and brought to this place at great expense. On the opposite side of the avenue stands the large stone building, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary's parish. On the same avenue resides Profs. Sildiman and Dana and President Porter, of Yale College. At the upper end of the avenue, on an eminence, surrounded by a magnificent grove, is the homestead of the late James Hillhouse, the author of the school fund of this State, and in his day a poet of reputation.

It is impossible to estimate the value of the property left by Mr. Sheffield, as much of it is in Western lands and in railroad securities, but it is believed that the Sheffield School will realize on the bequest certainly not less than $500,000 -- probably more. The late Mr. Sheffield had six children, and it is conjectured from the wording of the will that he treated the Sheffield School as though it were a seventh child. In addition to the provisions mentioned there are a few private bequests.

New York Times, New York NY, Feb. 21, 1882, page 8


New Haven, Conn., Feb. 28 -- the will of the late Joseph E. Sheffield was admitted to probate today. The estate is appraised at only $3,100,000, a much smaller valuation than was anticipated. William J. Boardman and George St. John Sheffield have qualified his executors under the will. The Sheffield Scientific School will receive little at present.

New York Times, New York, NY, March 1, 1882, page 1

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