William Metcalfe
Born(1788-03-11)March 11, 1788
DiedOctober 16, 1862(1862-10-16) (aged 74)
Occupation(s)Minister, doctor, activist
Years active1811–1862
Susanna Wright
(m. 1810; died 1854)

William Metcalfe (March 11, 1788 –  October 16, 1862) was a British-American minister in the Bible Christian Church, homeopathic physician, and activist for vegetarianism, pacifism, temperance and abolitionism. He was a prominent figure in the American vegetarian movement.

Born in 1788, he was converted by William Cowherd in 1809, becoming a Bible Christian Church minister in 1811. He embarked on a journey to the United States in 1817, establishing the Philadelphia Bible Christian Church with Reverend James Clark. Metcalfe and his wife faced challenges due to the beliefs they promoted. Despite the church's financial struggles, Metcalfe actively engaged in preaching, education, and publications addressing societal issues. He played a pivotal role in founding the American Vegetarian Society in 1850 and succeeded William Alcott as its president in 1859. Metcalfe's influence extended through his friendship with leading advocates like Alcott and Sylvester Graham. Metcalfe died in 1872, at the age of 74.


William Metcalfe was born in Orton, Westmoreland, on March 11, 1788, the son of Jonathan and Elizabeth Metcalfe. At the age of 19, he found employment as a clerk in Keighly, Yorkshire. In the village there was a congregation of Swedenborgians, led by Rev. Joseph Wright, who Metcalfe became attached to. Wright persuaded Metcalfe to study theology, which led him to an academy in Salford, presided over by William Cowherd, the founder of the Bible Christian Church; he ordained Metcalfe as a minster in 1811. In 1810, Metcalfe married Susanna, a fellow vegetarian and abstainer, who was the daughter of Rev. Joseph Wright;[1]: 23  their son, Joseph, was born in the same year.[1]: 58 

In 1817, Metcalfe, and the Reverend James Clark, along with around 40 members of the Bible Christian Church,[note 1] embarked on a journey to the United States under the guidance of Cowherd.[3] There they formed the formed the Philadelphia Bible Christian Church; it was not only the United States' first vegetarian church but also the inaugural assembly of a substantial community embracing vegetarianism.[4] Among the group, a portion maintained their vegetarian lifestyle, becoming a foundational force in the emergence of the American vegetarian movement.[3]

After establishing themselves in the United States, Metcalfe and his wife, endeavored to impart lessons on pacifism, temperance, abolitionism, and vegetarianism to their neighbors—core principles of their faith. Although their church did not achieve widespread popularity, its smaller size was compensated by a dedicated and loyal following.[5] The community Metcalfe led were vegetarians who not only refrained from consuming meat but also held the conviction that Jesus himself was vegetarian. Despite his amiable and well-regarded nature, Metcalfe faced challenges in expanding his congregation due to his promotion of this belief. Occasionally, he encountered resistance and criticism for his stance on vegetarianism, with newspapers questioning his preaching and character, even labeling him as an "Infidel."[5]

Metcalfe consistently faced the challenge of maintaining the church's financial stability. Beyond his preaching duties, he devoted his time to instructing in the church's modest school and authored and published two newspapers addressing topics like slavery, temperance, and presumably, vegetarianism.[5] He also treated patients with homeopathy.[6]

Metcalfe was the first outspoken advocate of vegetarianism to gain recognition throughout the Northeastern United States. He later befriended the prominent vegetarianism advocate William Alcott. He also invited guest speakers to Philadelphia, with Sylvester Graham being one of the notable figures.[4] In 1850 Metcalfe, Graham, Alcott and Russell Trall, established the American Vegetarian Society (AVS) in New York City, drawing inspiration from the Vegetarian Society,[7] a British organization formed in 1847.[8]

In 1854, Metcalfe's wife died. In 1859, following the death of AVS president William Alcott, he was elected as his successor.[9] Metcalfe himself died on October 16, 1862, at the age of 74, from a pulmonary hemorrhage.[1]: 51 In 1872, his son published his father's discourses under the title, Out of the Clouds into the Light.[10]



  1. ^ Among the group was Metcalfe's wife,[2] and his son.[1]: 58 


  1. ^ a b c d The Maintenance Committee (1917). History of the Philadelphia Bible-Christian Church: From 1817 to 1917. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott Company.
  2. ^ "Vegetarianism in North America", Sins of the Flesh, University of British Columbia Press, pp. 308–332, 2009-07-01, doi:10.59962/9780774815116-015, ISBN 978-0-7748-1511-6, retrieved 2024-01-10
  3. ^ a b "History of Vegetarianism". Vegetarian Society. 2007-12-30. Archived from the original on 2007-12-30. Retrieved 2024-01-10.
  4. ^ a b Lehmkuhl, Vance. "Vegetarianism and Veganism". Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Retrieved 2024-01-10.
  5. ^ a b c "History of Vegetarianism - Rev. William Metcalfe (1788-1862)". International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved 2024-01-10.
  6. ^ "Cornflake Crusade". The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG). Retrieved 2024-01-10.
  7. ^ "American Vegetarian Society". International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved 2024-01-10.
  8. ^ Avey, Tori (January 28, 2014). "From Pythagorean to Pescatarian – The Evolution of Vegetarianism". PBS Food: The History Kitchen. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  9. ^ Williams, Howard (1883). "William Metcalfe M.D. 1788-1862". The Ethics of Diet – via International Vegetarian Union.
  10. ^ "Metcalfe, William, Md". McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online. Retrieved 2024-01-10.