Select Metcalfe Surname Genealogy

The Metcalfe surname is composed of the Old English mete, meaning "meat," and cealf, a "calf," the thinking being that this was a calf that was to be fattened up over the summer for eating.  The name originated in the north Yorkshire dales.  The Metcalfes themselves have some alternative stories as to the origin of the Metcalfe name.

The Metcalfe name came about early, probably in the late 12th or 13th century.  Adam Medecalf was recorded in the subsidy rolls of Bainbridge in the Yorkshire northern Pennines in 1301.  Metcalfe history, based around a family and a place, resembles that of a Scottish clan.  The Metcalfe Society published the account of their history as Metcalfe - History of the Clan.

Surname spellings today are Metcalf and Metcalfe.

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England.  The Metcalfs are said to have originated in Dentdale in the northern dales.  A group under Adam Medecalf split away and headed east to Wensleydale in the early 14th century.  James Metcalfe fought at Agincourt in 1415.  In return for his services he was awarded land at Nappa in Wensleydale. 

The Metcalfes, a prominent family during medieval and Tudor times, held court at Nappa Hall for the next two hundred years.  The Elizabethan writer William Camden probably saw the Metcalfes in their pomp.  He described Nappa Hall as follows:

A faire house with towers, ye chief seat of ye Mede-calffes, counted at this day as ye most numerous family in all England.

The high-roofed hall stood between two tall strong battlemented and castellated towers.  The capacious stables and outbuildings enclosed a large paved courtyard, access to which was by a deep gated archway.

Sir James Metcalfe was said to have had 300 men of "his known consanguinity" when he died in 1589.

The Nappa line ended with the last of the male heirs, "Worthy Justice" Metcalf, in the late 1600's.  Metcalfs continued at Beare Park and Hoode Grange in Wensleydale and at Metcalf manor in Northallerton.  There were over 170 Metcalfs and Metcalfes recorded in the hearth tax returns of the North Ridings in Yorkshire in 1673.  The best-known Metcalf at this time was John Metcalf, known all over Yorkshire as Blind Jack of Knaresborough.

There were Metcalfe farmers and millers (at the Hipswell mill) and later flax spinners and leadminers in the north Yorkshire dales.  Over time some Metcalfes moved away from the area, either elsewhere in Yorkshire or further afield.  Leonard Metcalf, born in Wensleydale, had renounced the Catholic faith he had grown up with and became the Protestant rector of Tatterford parish in Norfolk in 1574.    Michael Metcalf, his fifth son, was the Metcalf emigrant to America.  A Metcalf family held Inglethorpe Hall in Norfolk and later an estate in Kildare, Ireland.

Other Metcalfes moved further south, to Essex and London and Bedfordshire.  William Metcalfe acquired Roxton manor in Bedfordshire in 1737.  Son Charles Metcalfe built and sponsored the local Congregational chapel.  His daughters Fanny and Annie went on to found a leading school for girls in Hendon. 

Ireland.  Metcalfs crossed the Irish Sea to Ireland.  A Metcalf family settled in Donard, Wicklow after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  Some Metcalfs in this area opposed the Irish uprising in 1798 (John Metcalf of Donard was murdered by insurgents at that time), others supported it.  William Metcalf emigrated to Canada in 1819.  A number of Metcalfs continued to live in Dunlavin, Wicklow.     

  Michael Metcalf, a weaver in Norwich, arrived on the Rose of Yamouth with his family in 1637 and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts.  A large share of the Metcalfs in America are probably descended from him.  Howard Metcalfe's 2002 book Some Descendants of Rev. Leonard Metcalf covered this lineage.

John Metcalfe came from Yorkshire to Virginia in 1716.  His line then went via son John, who fought in the Revolutionary War and migrated to Kentucky in 1785, to his son Thomas Metcalfe, the Governor of Kentucky in the 1830's.  James Metcalfe headed for Natchez, Mississippi where he and his family ran a number of cotton plantations prior to the Civil War.

Meanwhile, Simon Metcalfe left Yorkshire for New York in 1765 and became a fur trader.  By the late 1780's he was in the Pacific Northwest in search of furs.  Both he and his son Thomas died in skirmishes in the Hawaiian islands.

India.  One line of the Nappa Metcalfes went to Ireland and then in 1767, via Thomas Matcalfe who had enlisted in the British army, to India.  He later became a director of the East India Company and amassed great wealth.  Other Metcalfes of his family were British colonial administrators in India during the first half of the 19th century.

South Africa.  Joshua Metcalf, who had grown up in the Leeds cotton-spinning industry, left with his family in 1841-2 to seek a new life for them all in South Africa.  They settled in farms around Caledon in the Western Cape.  The Rev. Joseph Metcalf, a Methodist missionary, started another Metcalfe line in Natal colony.

Canada.  John Metcalfe, a horse-breeder, had emigrated to Canada from north Yorkshire in the 1840's and settled in Kingston, Ontario.  His son James became a prominent Ontario businessman and political figure. James also carried on his father's horse traditions.  During the Kingston races of 1901, the local newspaper described him as "that good horseman and prince of good fellows."

Select Metcalfe Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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James Metcalfe, who fought at Agincourt in 1415, started the Metcalfe line at Nappa in Wensleydale.
Blind Jack Metcalf of Knaresborough was, despite his blindness, a noted early road-builder in the north of England.
Sir Thomas Metcalfe was a director of the British East India Company in the late 18th century.
Thomas Metcalfe was Governor of Kentucky in the 1830's.

Select Metcalfes Today
  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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