Metcalfe Surname Genealogy

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.

Resources on

Metcalfe Ancestry

The Metcalfs are said to have originated in Dentdale in the northern
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

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

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

There were over 170 Metcalfs and Metcalfes
in the hearth tax returns of the North Ridings in Yorkshire in
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
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.

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.”

Metcalfe Miscellany

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

Select Metcalfe Names

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.
was Governor of Kentucky in the 1830’s.

Select Metcalfes

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




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