Ralph Metcalf
25th Governor of New Hampshire
In office
June 7, 1855 – June 4, 1857
Preceded byNathaniel B. Baker
Succeeded byWilliam Haile
Member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1796-11-21)November 21, 1796
Charlestown, New Hampshire
DiedAugust 26, 1858(1858-08-26) (aged 61)
Claremont, New Hampshire
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Know Nothing
Spouse(s)Lucretia Ann Bingham
Martha Ann Gilmore
ChildrenRalph (1844-1905)
Frances Elizabeth (b. 1845)
Alma materDartmouth College

Ralph Metcalf (November 21, 1796 – August 26, 1858) was an American lawyer and politician from New Hampshire who served as the 25th governor of New Hampshire from 1855 to 1857.

Early life

Ralph Metcalf was born in Charlestown, New Hampshire on November 21, 1796.[1][2] He was educated locally and worked on the farm of his father, a veteran of the American Revolution, until deciding on a career in the law in 1818.[3]

Metcalf graduated from the academy in Chester, Vermont and then attended Dartmouth College, from which he graduated in 1823. He then studied law with Henry Hubbard and attorney Richard Bartlett of Concord, and was admitted to the bar in 1826.[4]


He practiced law in New Hampshire, first with George B. Upham, and later with David Hale. From 1828 to 1830 he practiced in Binghamton, New York, after which he returned to New Hampshire to open an office in Claremont.[5]

In 1831 Metcalf was elected secretary state.[6] He held this post until 1838, when he moved to Washington, D.C. to accept a position in the Department of the Treasury while Levi Woodbury of New Hampshire was serving as Secretary. In 1840 he returned to New Hampshire and practiced law, first in Plymouth, and later in Newport.[7]

In 1845 he was appointed Register of Probate for Sullivan County.[8] In 1848 he was appointed a trustee of the state asylum for the insane, and he served several more non-consecutive terms.[9] He served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1852 to 1853.[10] In 1853 he served on the state commission appointed to codify New Hampshire's statutes.[11]

Governor of New Hampshire

A member of the Democratic Party for most of his career, Metcalf later became recognized as anti-slavery and an opponent of Franklin Pierce's attempts to obtain passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act.[12]

As a result of Metcalf's opposition to slavery, in 1855 he was nominated for Governor by the Know Nothing movement, one of the few parties with an anti-slavery plank in its platform. This effort was promoted by Free Soil Democrats including John P. Hale, who hoped to create a movement that would send New Hampshire anti-slavery activists to the United States Senate and help build the nascent Republican Party.[13] (It worked—Hale was elected to the Senate in 1855, eventually moving to the Republican Party because of his views on slavery. James Bell, an abolitionist identified with the Opposition Party also won a Senate seat in 1855, and later became a Republican.)[14]

Metcalf won the 1855 race for Governor, defeating incumbent Nathaniel B. Baker, James Bell and Asa Fowler.[15] In 1856 he defeated John S. Wells and Ichabod Goodwin, but his margin over Wells was narrow, and the selection moved to the New Hampshire General Court, which chose Metcalf.[16] Metcalf became identified with the Republican Party when it was founded as the major anti-slavery party in the mid 1850s.[17] In addition to his abolitionist views, Metcalf's governorship was noteworthy for his support of a prohibition law, which passed in 1855, and remained in force until 1889.[18][19]

He retired after the completion of his second term, and resided in Claremont. He died in Claremont on August 26, 1858.


In 1835 he married Lucretia Ann Bingham. She died a few weeks after giving birth in 1836, and the baby died soon afterwards. He married Martha Ann Gilmore in 1843, and they had two children: son Ralph (1844-1905); and daughter Frances Elizabeth (born 1845).[20][21]


  1. ^ New Hampshire Birth Records, 1659-1900, entry for Ralph Metcalf, retrieved April 29, 2014
  2. ^ Charles Henry Bell, The Bench and Bar of New Hampshire, 1893, page 513
  3. ^ Edmund Wheeler, The History of Newport, New Hampshire: From 1766 to 1878, 1893, page 177
  4. ^ Wheeler, History of Newport
  5. ^ Bell, Bench and Bar of New Hampshire
  6. ^ James T. White & Company, The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume XI, 1901, page 130
  7. ^ Wheeler, History of Newport
  8. ^ Bell, Bench and Bar of New Hampshire
  9. ^ New Hampshire General Court, Journals of the Senate and House, 1862, page 663
  10. ^ Wheeler, History of Newport, page 206
  11. ^ James B. Clarke, printer, New Hampshire Statutes, 1867, page ii
  12. ^ Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party, 1999, page 920
  13. ^ Duane E. Shaffer, Men of Granite: New Hampshire's Soldiers in the Civil War, 2008, page 10
  14. ^ Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party,
  15. ^ New Hampshire General Court, Journal of the Senate of New Hampshire, 1855, page 19
  16. ^ New Hampshire General Court, Journal of the Senate of New Hampshire, 1856, pages 11, 14
  17. ^ Spencer C. Tucker, American Civil War: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection, 2013, page 176
  18. ^ Vincent W. Grubbs, Practical Prohibition, 1887, pages 370-371
  19. ^ National Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association, Anti-Prohibition Manual: A Summary of Facts and Figures Dealing with Prohibition, 1917, page 4
  20. ^ Wheeler, History of Newport, page 178
  21. ^ William Arba Ellis, Norwich University, 1819-1911: Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, Volume 2, 1911, page 697
Party political offices First Know Nothing nominee for Governor of New Hampshire 1855, 1856 Succeeded byNone Political offices Preceded byNathaniel B. Baker Governor of New Hampshire 1855–1857 Succeeded byWilliam Haile