Monday, October 28, 2013

Fortescue Constable Metcalfe (1877-1929)

From the 1904 New York State Red Book.

   Sporting a regal sounding name like "Fortescue Constable Metcalfe" may seem to indicate a member of British nobility, but this would prove to be an incorrect assumption. This intriguing name actually belonged to a Kings County, New York attorney and two term member of the state assembly in the early 20th century, and during his time in state government Mr. Metcalfe could certainly lay claim to being one of the oddest named men serving as a state legislator! Born in Brooklyn on September 8, 1877, Fortescue C. Metcalfe was one of four children born to Alfred Tristram (1852-1914) and Annie E. Metcalfe. Alfred T. Metcalfe is notable as having played major league baseball for the New York Mutuals during the mid 1870s, being a shortstop, third baseman and right fielder for the team from May-June 1875.
   Young Fortescue Metcalfe was afforded his education in the public schools of Brooklyn, attending both the Brooklyn Public School No. 16 and the Brooklyn Boys School. In the late 1890s he was enrolled at the New York University, graduating from there in 1899 with a bachelor's degree in arts. Metcalfe later studied law at the NYU Law School, and after being admitted to practice in June 1901 established an office in Brooklyn.
  Shortly after beginning his practice Metcalfe became active in Democratic political circles in the borough of Brooklyn, and in 1902 became a candidate for the New York State Assembly from Brooklyn's 5th district. In November of that year the 25-year-old Metcalfe won the election defeating Republican incumbent George Langhorst by a vote of 4, 617 to 4, 236. Taking his seat in January 1903, Metcalfe sat on the house committees on Codes and Claims during his first term and in February 1903 was even given a banquet in his honor, courtesy of the All Souls Universalist Church, of which he was a member. The Brooklyn Standard Union (which reported on the dinner) notes that the assembled party praised Metcalfe's character, "success in politics" and his longtime connection to the church, which extended back to childhood Sunday School classes. As All Souls church pastor L. Ward Brigham stated in the Union's write-up:
"A Church man is the best man to be a representative of the people. Mine is a personal word of introduction of one who grew among those present, known by all for his manliness. He is a strong man, a clear thinker. He is right principled and spirtually cultured. He is a success and All Souls is proud of Fortescue C. Metcalfe."
From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 28, 1903.

  Hoping to retain his assembly seat in the 1903 election year, Metcalfe took on a novel approach to get out the word on his political platform of "Honesty In Public Service", even going as far as to print up and send out numerous folders through his district detailing his record during his first term in the assembly. These folders touted Metcalfe's message of "home rule in government", "exemption of mortgages from taxation", "exemption of deposits in savings banks from taxation" and "reform of criminal procedure to avoid delay of justice". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed a substantial write-up on his reelection strategy in October 1903, and when interviewed by the paper Metcalfe remarked:
"I do not believe in a campaign of false pretenses. Every voter in my district has a right to know for what I stand, and in order that he may know I have briefly set forth my platform. I don't ask any man to vote for me without his knowing just where I stand. The statements in my platform are perfectly clear and if any man votes for me he will do so with the full knowledge that I shall adhere to that platform." 
  In the November 1903 election Metcalfe once again faced George Langhorst and emerged victorious, besting his Republican opponent by a vote of 4,512 to 4,236. During the 1904 legislative term Metcalfe again served on the committees on Codes and Claims and in July of that year gained additional press in New York papers by attempting to save the life of a drowning man off the Narraganset Pier, Rhode Island. As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle related in its July 13th edition, Metcalfe had attended a church related convention at the pier on July 11th and afterwards decided to take a raft out on the water. While he and another man enjoyed the afternoon rafting, they noticed another swimmer throw up his hands and sink underwater. Seeing that the swimmer (identified as 24 year old Albert L. Olms) was not receiving any assistance, Metcalfe jumped into the water and attempted to bring Olms back to the raft. Despite a valiant attempt, Metcalfe was "so much fatigued himself" that he was forced to let Olms go. 


From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 13th 1904.

  Despite this tragic turn of events, Metcalfe returned to his duties as an assemblyman and ran for a third term in November 1904. In that year's contest he faced a young German immigrant named Otto Godfrey Foelker (1875-1943) who was a practicing attorney in Brooklyn. In the November election Foelker eked out a narrow win over Metcalfe, 4,878 to 4,787 and in January 1905 took his seat in the assembly.
  Although he lost by only 91 votes, Fortescue Metcalfe continued to be an active participant in political and civic affairs in Brooklyn, and after leaving the political field returned to practicing law, opening an office in Brooklyn with attorney John Z. Lott. In addition to this, Metcalfe married to Ms. Elsey May King on November 16, 1910 at the All Soul's Universalist Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s Metcalfe continued in the practice of law in Brooklyn and was also viewed as a prominent fixture in New York high society, holding memberships in a number of fraternal organizations, including the Hyatt Club of Free and Accepted Masons, The Universalists Club, the Knickerbocker Field Club and was a past president of the Men's Club of the All Souls Universalist Church in Flatbush.

From "Flatbush of Today", published in 1908.

   Aside from his involvement in political and civic doings in Brooklyn, Fortescue Metcalfe is recorded as having a "wide experience in amateur theatricals", performing as an actor in a number of local plays throughout his native borough. The Brooklyn Standard Union's November 27, 1921 edition gives a write-up of one of these plays, a comedy entitled "Nothing But the Truth" that was performed by members of the All Souls Universalist Church Sunday School, where Metcalfe served as Superintendent. Metcalfe himself is recorded as being the play's producer as well as performing as "Bishop Duran" in the production. Earlier in 1921 Metcalfe had helped to write and produce another play/music revue entitled "A Trip To Cuba", performed by the Knickerbocker Field Club on April 20th of that year. The play was "pronounced as the best ever given by the club" with "capacity attendance being assured" for the show's second performance.
   Metcalfe continued an active schedule until 1928, when (according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle) ill health "forced him to give up his practice". Shortly thereafter he removed to Upper Montclair, New Jersey and on August 22, 1929 died at the Homeopathic County Hospital in East Orange after undergoing an operation. He was a few days short of his 52nd birthday and following his death was interred at the Cypress Hill Cemetery in Brooklyn.

                                             Metcalfe's obituary from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 23, 1929.

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