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Rev. William Metcalfe, MD – Timeline


1788:  William was born in 1788, the first son of Jonathan and Elizabeth Metcalfe, in Orton, Westmoreland, England, on March 11. His parents, though of modest means, ensured he received a quality classical education at Mr. Roberts’ renowned academy, where he was mentored by the celebrated philologist and English dictionary author.

1807: At the age of 19, he found employment as a clerk in Keighley, Yorkshire. In the village, there was a congregation of Swedenborgians led by Rev. Joseph Wright. They were influenced by the writings of theologian, scientist, and philosopher Emmanuel Swedenborg, who believed the spirit of God was present in all things. Rev. John. Wright, head of the Bible Christian church at Keighley, persuaded Metcalfe to study theology, which led him to the academy in Salford, presided over by Rev. William Cowherd, the founder of the Bible Christian Church.

1807: In Salford, the Reverend William Cowherd established his Bible Christian Church, In 1807, Cowherd began to focus on the principles of entire abstinence from stimulating food and drink – flesh and alcohol. Metcalfe became a vegetarian, abstained from alcohol, took on the role of a curate, and assisted the Rev. John Wright.

1809:  Metcalfe was converted by the Rev. William Cowherd in 1809 as a Bible Christian. Rev. Cowherd preached and extolled the benefits of what he called ‘the vegetable diet’ and insisted his congregation abstain from eating flesh, although the diet did include dairy and eggs: what we now call the ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. Friends and family assured Metcalfe that he would rapidly become consumptive on a vegetarian diet. Some predicted his death within months or that he would have mental illness unless he ate animal flesh. All their efforts were in vain. Rather than leading to his premature death, they brought him to the altar, where he married Susanna.

1810: On January 14, Metcalfe married Susanna Wright, a fellow church member, vegetarian, and abstainer, who was the daughter of Rev. John Wright, head of the Bible Christian church at Keighley. His wife was just as committed to the reformed lifestyle as he was. Like many others who have changed their diet, they faced a lot of opposition from their family and friends. They were ridiculed and discouraged by others who cited medical authorities. Despite this, they remained steadfast in their beliefs and were not swayed from their goals. Susanna was an excellent cook; they ate well and never ate meat or consumed alcohol.

1810: Susanna quickly became pregnant, and she was advised to eat meat to get the nourishment she needed. Despite opinions from friends, family, and physicians, Susanna persisted, and both she and the child did exceedingly well. Their son, Joseph, never consumed meat or alcohol of any kind, and he lived a long life. William and Susanna went on to have 4 more children who never tasted animal flesh or consumed alcohol.

1811: Metcalfe was ordained as a minister on Aug 11, 1811. To the end, he remained a firm believer in the truths of the Bible Christian Church. He took over a small congregation in Yorkshire and opened a school there. In pursuit of his calling to the ministry, Mr. Metcalfe pursued his studies at the academy. Within a year, an opportunity arose when the Rev. Robert Hindmarsh departed from the classical department. Dr. Cowherd, recognizing Mr. Metcalfe’s potential, promptly offered him the position. In 1811, he seized the opportunity and dedicated two fruitful years to the role.

1817: Rev. Metcalfe and the Rev. James Clark, along with around 39 members of the Bible Christian Church, embarked on a journey to the United States under the guidance of Rev. William Cowherd. They traveled by ship from Liverpool to the United States, and the journey lasted 11 weeks. Upon arrival, they established the Philadelphia Bible Christian Church. It was the first vegetarian church, becoming a foundational force in the emergence of the American vegetarian movement.

Rev. Metcalfe gave a Bible testimony and published
The Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals as Food

1818: Metcalfe diligently provided for his family through teaching and leading his church. His prestigious day school, catering to the city’s elite, flourished until the yellow fever outbreak of 1818. This crisis brought immense hardship as the school was his sole livelihood. Many students left, forcing him to close the school for weeks. Tragically, some of his students succumbed to the plague. The fever resurfaced in 1819 and 1820, decimating the church’s congregation. Undeterred, Metcalfe remained steadfast, preaching and championing the spread of Bible Christianity through these challenging times.

1820: Metcalfe penned a compelling tract titled “The Duty of Abstinence from all Intoxicating Drinks.” As the pioneering founder of the Bible-Christian Church in America, Metcalfe boldly championed this social reform, laying the groundwork for change. Beginning in 1809, the Bible-Christian Church fervently advocated and upheld the principle of total abstinence from all intoxicating beverages, blazing a trail as the first temperance society to do so. In a society where the vice of consuming intoxicating liquors was rampant, the Bible-Christian Church fearlessly challenged this prevailing custom, igniting the spark that led to the formation of temperance organizations.

1820-1821: Reverend Metcalf published a series of tracks entitled Letters on Religious Subjects. They explained the doctrines of the Bible-Christian Church.

1821: An essay on Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals was published by Metcalfe and extensively circulated. This is the earliest document written that makes the case for vegetarianism. His articles were published in the Saturday Evening Post, the Philadelphia Gazette, the American Sentinel, the United States Gazette, and other papers to promote vegetarianism.

1823: The Church began to increase in membership. On May 21st, land was purchased to hold services. It was located on N. 3rd St. above Girard Avenue in Philadelphia. A frame building was purchased and rejuvenated with paint and other alterations for the church services. The Reverend William Metcalf publicly opened and dedicated it on Sunday, December 21, 1823.

The new Church building was begun in 1845 to replace the original frame structure on the same site. It was dedicated in 1847.

1830: Metcalfe’s legacy of vegetarianism doesn’t end at the church gate, for he was a force that brought together two other determined and courageous vegetarians. Those two individuals were Rev. Sylvester Graham and Dr. William Alcott. Together, Metcalfe and the two renowned vegetarian advocates formed the first national vegetarian organization in America. In his role as a temperance lecturer for the members of the Bible Christian Church, Reverend Sylvester Graham passionately advocated for the vegetarian lifestyle. He integrated teachings on human physiology and health into his public lectures. Introduced to the vegetarian lifestyle by the church members, Rev. Sylvester Graham conducted thorough research and embraced its teachings. It sparked his interest in the scientific basis for veganism, becoming a steadfast champion of the cause. Reverend Metcalf also connected in 1830 via letter to Dr. William Alcott, who also publicly declared his conviction that a vegetarian diet was the most proper for humanity.

1832: Philadelphia was in the middle of a severe cholera epidemic. The death rate was high. Contrary to what was happening throughout the city, not a single member of the Bible-Christian Church died from cholera. This fact made a deep and lasting impression on Rev. Sylvester Graham, and his crusade began promoting a vegetarian diet.

1832: Rev. Metcalfe published The Independent Democrat, he was editor and pressman. It was political in its character, but a large portion of its space was devoted to moral and literary articles.

1833: The Graham Journal started its publication monthly in Boston, Massachusetts, edited by David Campbell. It focused on the work of Rev. Sylvester Graham. In 1847, it was renamed The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity. It advocated vegetarianism, whole-grain bread, and a simple, sober lifestyle and scientific societies were organized in many of the New England towns.

Rev. Metcalfe’s son, Joseph, published seventeen of his father’s discourses under the title, Out of the Clouds into the Light.

1835: The Moral Reformer was started as a monthly periodical, which afterward appeared under the title of The Library of Health.

1838: The Morning Star was printed and published at Metcalfe’s office to secure the nomination and election of General Harrison to the presidency of the United States. Despite promised support from political allies, Metcalfe suffered significant financial losses due to insufficient patronage. Unfortunately, one month after General Harrison’s inauguration, he passed away, making it challenging to collect any money for the newspaper. The Temperance Advocate, also issued from his office, faced similar difficulties and did not achieve better success.

1840: Rev. Metcalfe gave a Bible testimony and published The Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals as Food in an address delivered in the Bible-Christian Church on the eighth of June 1840 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He focused on scriptural support and documentation of the vegetarian diet. This is said to be the first book on vegetarianism published in the United States and the earliest English-language document seen that uses the term “animal flesh” to refer to meat.

1842: Rev. Metcalfe gave a lecture on the first step in physical and moral reform for the Kensington Physiological Society on April 14, 1842.

1845: The new Church building was begun to replace the original frame structure on the same site. It was dedicated in 1847.

1847: The Vegetarian Society of Great Britain was founded, of which Mr. James Simpson had been elected the first president.

1849: A letter by Rev. William Metcalfe in Philadelphia proposes the formation of an American vegetarian society in the Water-Cure Journal. He suggests the formation of America’s first vegetarian society to be modeled after the vegetarian society in England. After discussing his own experience as a vegetarian for 40 years and the activities of the Society of Bible-Christians in England and Philadelphia, Rev. Metcalfe states: “You are probably aware that in England, the advocates of dietetic reform, some time ago, instituted an association, (somewhat after the manner of our American Temperance Societies) under the appellation of ‘The Vegetarian Society,’ which is creating quite an excitement throughout the country. Last summer, its members held their first anniversary in Manchester and had a banquet prepared in accordance with their dietetic principles, of which nearly 300 persons were partakers. More recently, a number of these Vegetarians residing in London have had a social Vegetarian Supper in the large room of the Crown and Anchor, of which about 160 ladies and gentlemen partook. After supper, the evening was devoted to addresses in favor of the excellency of this primitive mode of sustaining human life.” This is the earliest English-language document seen that contains the word “vegetarianism” in the title. It is also the earliest document seen that mentions the “American Vegetarian Society.” However, it was not formally established until 1850.

History of the Philadelphia Bible-Christian Church for the first century
of its existence, from 1817 to 1917

1850: Rev. William Metcalfe, Dr. William Alcott, Dr. Russell Thacker Trall, and Rev. Sylvester Graham united to create the American Vegetarian Society (AVS). Following a founding convention in New York City, the society’s first official meeting took place in Philadelphia’s Bible-Christian Church on September 4, 1850. The first meeting would also elect Dr. William Alcott as the AVS president, a title held until his death in 1859. Metcalfe and Graham were elected vice presidents, and Trall was the recording secretary. The society promoted vegetarian precepts (intertwined with women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery) across the nation. By the time of the Civil War, the group’s membership and influence waned, partially because the fight for abolition had turned to military violence. 

This historic meeting united advocates of the cause, many of whom were previously unknown to each other but connected through long-standing correspondence and reputation. Rev. William Metcalfe was elected as the President of the Convention. Notable addresses were delivered by Rev. Metcalfe, Rev. Graham, and Dr. William Alcott. The decision to establish the Vegetarian Society was wholeheartedly embraced, complete with the adoption of its constitution, by-laws, and a declaration of abstinence from animal-derived food. The Society was officially formed with Dr. William Alcott as President, Rev. William Metcalfe as Corresponding Secretary, and Dr. R. T. Trall as Recording Secretary. Furthermore, the ambitious endeavor of launching a dedicated Vegetarian magazine, serving as the official voice of the Society was enthusiastically discussed. Mr. Metcalfe was appointed as the editor, with Dr. William Alcott’s and others’ support. The inaugural issue, under the title “American Vegetarian and Health Journal,” was released in November 1850, paving the way for its regular monthly publication from 1851 onwards.

1851: After successfully spearheading the Vegetarian reform, Rev. Metcalfe embarked on a journey to England. Once news of his decision surfaced, he received official appointments as a delegate from the American Vegetarian Society to the annual gathering of the Vegetarian Society of Great Britain, as well as a delegate from the Pennsylvania Peace Society to the World’s Peace Convention and a delegate from the Pennsylvania Temperance Society to the Temperance Demonstration in London. Departing from the port of New York aboard the steamer Arctic on Saturday, July 5th, 1851, he arrived in time to contribute to these pivotal events.

The highlight of his visit was the warm reception he received from the members of Christ Church, Salford, where he had been ordained forty years prior. The congregation organized a “tea party” to express their respect for the Rev. Dr. Metcalfe. The event was presided over by Joseph Brotherston, Esq., a Parliament member who expressed difficulty in putting his feelings towards Mr. Metcalfe into words. He emphasized that it was not wealth or eloquence that made Mr. Metcalfe’s visit so important but the fact that he embodied great principles and actively promoted their practices. After this heartfelt event, Mr. Metcalfe returned just in time to take part in the second annual meeting of the American Vegetarian Society in Philadelphia.

Rev. Metcalfe’s son, Joseph, published seventeen of his father’s discourses
under the title, Out of the Clouds into the Light

1852: Rev. Metcalfe studied privately, entered college, and graduated as a medical doctor. He studied homeopathy, though medical practice never seems to have become a major part of his life’s work.

1854: At the fourth meeting of the society, Horace Greeley (the famous journalist and politician) presided as one of the chairmen. There were 350 persons in attendance, including Dr. James Caleb Jackson, Dr. Russell T. Trall, Mrs. Amelia Bloomer (a leader in dress reform), and Mrs. Susan B. Anthony (a leading suffragette). The society was active and healthy until the death of Rev. Metcalfe in 1862. It was reorganized in Philadelphia on 24 June 1886.

1854: The last volume appeared of the American Vegetarian. Rev. William Metcalfe supplied by far the larger part of the written content, as well as the expenses of publication, of the American Vegetarian. But “being inadequately supported by the rest of the community, they were forced to abandon its further publication.

1854: Susanna Metcalfe died at the age of 74. Her loss was mourned by the entire Vegetarian community.

1855: The Reverend J. B. Strettles, who was the officiating minister of Christ Church in Salford, Manchester, passed away. In response to his passing, Reverend Metcalfe received an invitation to visit Christ Church for a short period until a suitable replacement could be found for the pulpit left vacant by the late minister. Reverend Metcalfe presented this invitation to a meeting of the members of his own church and requested a leave of absence to fulfill the request from the bereaved church. He proposed that his brother-in-law, Reverend Joseph Wright, who had been ordained by the Reverend Dr. Cowherd and was a resident of Philadelphia, take on the pastoral duties of Christ Church. The church granted Reverend Metcalfe’s request, and Reverend Joseph Wright consented to assume the ministry’s responsibilities. Reverend Metcalfe had recently married Miss Mary Cakiss, a lady who had been brought up in the principles and discipline of the Bible-Christian Church and was a faithful member. In late July, he and his wife sailed from Philadelphia to Liverpool. Upon their safe arrival, members of the church warmly welcomed them. The Reverend Dr. Metcalfe immediately embraced his pastoral responsibilities, fostering a warm and open connection with all members of the church. He was well received by his old friend Joseph Brotherton, M.P., who continued to be a guiding influence for the Salford church. James Simpson, Esq., President of the Vegetarian Society, also extended a warm welcome and quickly engaged him in the Vegetarian cause as a lecturer. In this capacity, he visited numerous towns in England and, in partnership with Mr. Simpson, addressed gatherings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and various smaller Scottish towns. He was particularly heartened by the enthusiastic response of Scotland’s knowledgeable and composed people to the principles of Vegetarianism and Temperance. In essence, it appears that his efforts were consistently met with positive reception and support.

1857: Rev. Metcalfe and his wife meticulously planned their departure from England, bidding a heartfelt farewell to their beloved friends. Upon their arrival in New York on August 24th, they were warmly greeted by a church committee. Rev. Metcalfe wasted no time in resuming his ministerial duties, delivering a compelling sermon to a large congregation on Sunday, September 7th. His former patients eagerly sought his medical expertise once again, and his passionate advocacy for Temperance and Vegetarianism was seamlessly reintegrated into his work.

1859: The Vegetarian Society faced a great loss with the passing of President Dr. William Alcott. However, the society found a worthy successor in Rev. William Metcalfe – a dedicated individual who spent thirty-one years tirelessly promoting and practicing Vegetarianism. Dr. Metcalfe delivered a compelling tribute to Dr. Alcott in his inaugural address, recognizing his remarkable contributions to the cause.

1862: Metcalfe died in 1862 at the age of 74 from a pulmonary hemorrhage. His remains are interred in the burial ground attached to the church, which had been built under his auspices. With his death, the American Vegetarian Society dissipated.

1872: Rev. Metcalfe’s son, Joseph, published seventeen of his father’s discourses under the title, Out of the Clouds into the Light. This book was put together by Rev. Joseph Metcalfe of his father’s work.  It begins with a memoir of Rev. William Metcalfe and his journey.  It also includes seventeen discourses on the Reading Doctrines of the Day, in the Light of Bible Christianity. (on the being, and unity of God, on the Lord Jesus Christ, on the Trinity, the Bible, a divine revelation, on creation, on the original state of man, on the popular doctrine of original sin, on the garden of Eden and its trees, on the forbidden fruit and the tempter, Bible testimony on abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, on the sacrifices of the Jews, on the 10 Commandments, on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the divine nature of his resurrection, on the passion of the cross, on faith, the sermon delivered on the 50th anniversary of ordination, and a historical sketch of the Bible Christian church).

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