descended on both sides from ancestors of English stock, who dated their migration from the old country nearly back to the memorable voyage of the Mayflower
They were generally farmers, and, like most farmers of those days, in very moderate circumstances.
Eli's father, poor, industrious, and ingenious, had a workshop wherein he devoted the inclement season to the making of wheels and of chairs.
Here the son early developed a remarkable ingenuity and mechanical skill; establishing, when only fifteen years of age, the manufacture by hand of wrought nails, for which there was, in those later years of our Revolutionary struggle, a demand at high prices.
Though he had had no instruction in nail-making, and his few implements were of the rudest description, he pursued the business through two winters with profit to his father, devoting the summers, as before and afterward, to the labors of the farm.
After the close of the war, his nails being no longer in demand, he engaged in the manufacture of the pins then in fashion for fastening ladies' bonnets, and nearly monopolized the market through the excellence of his product.
Walking-canes also were among his winter manufactures, and were esteemed peculiarly well made and handsome.
Meantime, he continued the devotion of his summers to the labors of the farm, attending the common school of his district through its winter session, and being therein noted for devotion to, and eminent skill in, arithmetic.
At fourteen, he was looked upon by his neighbors as a very remarkable, energetic, and intelligent youth.
At nineteen, he resolved to obtain a liberal education; but it was not until he had reached the mature age of twenty-three that he was enabled to enter college.
By turns laboring with his hands and teaching school, he obtained the means of prosecuting his studies in Yale
, which he entered in May, 1789.
lie borrowed some money to aid him in his progress, giving his note therefor, and paying it so soon as he could.
On the decease of his father some years afterward, he took an active part in settling the estate, but relinquished his portion to his co-heirs.
It is scarcely probable that the amount lie thus sacrificed was large, but the generous spirit he evinced is not thereby obscured.
While in college, his natural superiority in mechanism and proclivity to invention were frequently manifested.
On one occasion, a tutor regretted to his pupils that he could not exhibit a desired philosophical experiment, because the apparatus was out of order, and could only be repaired in Europe
thereupon proposed to undertake the repair, and made it to perfect satisfaction.
At another time, he asked permission to use at intervals the tools of a carpenter who worked near his boarding-place; but the careful mechanic declined to trust them in the hands of a student, unless the gentleman with whom Mr.
W. boarded would become responsible for their safe return.
The guarantee was given, and Mr. Whitney
took the tools in hand; when the carpenter, surprised at his dexterity, exclaimed: “There was one good mechanic spoiled when you
went to college.”
graduated in the fall of 1792, and directly engaged with a Mr. B., from Georgia
, to proceed to