Roger Crab: Hermit, Radical, Vegan

“Perhaps the most famous hermit of English history was not a medieval saint but a seventeenth-century eccentric and vegetarian, Roger Crab (1621-1680). Scholars have called him a “millenarian” and “a radical egalitarian who espoused teetotalism and vegetarianism.” Much that has been written about Crab is of a superficial nature. But the coincidence of ideas, experiences, and personality in Roger Crab sets the tone for a more sympathetic appreciation.
The life of Roger Crab is derived from the four pamphlets he printed in his lifetime, specifically The English Hermite (1655) and Dagons-Downfall (1657). We learn that Crab was born and grew up in Buckinghamshire, and that at the age of twenty, he made a vow of celibacy and a vow to restrict his diet to vegetables and water. His motive was religious and ethical, and unusual in the context of the political and religious foment that was to mark his middle years, though these personal choices do find streams of support among the radical personalities of his day.”
crab 1
“Roger Crab (1621 – September 11, 1680) was an English soldier, haberdasher, herbal doctor and writer who is best known for his ascetic lifestyle which included Christian vegetarianism. Crab fought in the Parliamentary Army in the English Civil War before becoming a haberdasher in Chesham. He later became a hermit and worked as a herbal doctor. He then joined the Philadelphians and began promoting asceticism through his writings.

Crab was born in Buckinghamshire in 1621. At the time of his birth his mother had an annual income of £20. As a young man, he began trying to find a way to live a perfect life. In 1641 he ceased eating meat, dairy and eggs. He also chose to be celibate.
At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, he joined the Parliamentary Army under Oliver Cromwell. During one battle he received a serious head wound from a sword. During his time as a soldier, he was at one point sentenced to death by Cromwell. He was later sentenced to two years in prison by Parliament. Christopher Hill has suggested that Crab was involved with the Levellers in the late 1640s and was imprisoned as a result.
After leaving the military Crab moved to Chesham. There he began working as a haberdasher. He continued this work between 1649 and 1652. In 1652 he moved to Ickenham lived as a hermit. Believing that profit was sinful, he gave away almost all of his possessions before moving. He built up a practice as a herbal doctor, advising his patients avoid meat and alcohol. He was a popular doctor among the village women. However, he was accused of witchcraft by a clergyman, possibly due to prophecies he issued. He attempted to live modestly, wearing homemade sackcloth clothes. He moved to Bethnal Green in 1657. There he joined the Philadelphians, a group founded by John Pordage.

He was an anti-sabbatarian. He did not observe Sunday as a non-working day, and was put in the stocks for it. He was a pacifist, and had radical views on the evils of property, the Church and universities.

Crab ate a vegan diet from 1641 until his death in 1680. He initially included potatoes and carrots in his diet, but later gave them up in favor of a diet of mostly bran and turnips. Later in his life he ate only Rumex and grass, claiming to spend of 3/4 d. per week on food. Late in his life he added parsnips to his diet.”

After his death he was buried at St Dunstan Church, Stepney, London. His grave is no longer seen, but the slab was imbedded in the walkway. Wikipedia has a transcription of his epitaph.

“Tread gently, reader, near the dust
Committed to this tomb-stone’s trust:
For while ’twas flesh, it held a guest
With universal love possest:
A soul that stemmed opinion’s tide,
Did over sects in triumph ride;
Yet separate from the giddy crowd,
And paths tradition had allowed.
Through good and ill reports he past,
Oft censured, yet approved at last.
Wouldst thou his religion know?
In brief ’twas this: to all to do
Just as he would be done unto.
So in kind Nature’s law he stood,
A temple, undefiled with blood,
A friend to everything that ‘s good.
The rest angels alone can fitly tell;
Haste then to them and him; and so farewell!”
crab 3
“Among the many crazy sectaries produced from the yeasty froth of the fermenting caldron of the great civil war, there was not one more oddly crazy than Roger Crab. This man had served for seven years in the Parliamentary army, and though he had his ‘skull cloven’ by a royalist trooper, yet, for some breach of discipline, Cromwell sentenced him to death, a punishment subsequently commuted to two years’ imprisonment.
After his release from jail, Crab set up in business as ‘a haberdasher of hats’ at Chesham, in Buckinghamshire. His wandering mind, probably not improved by the skull-cleaving operation, then imbibed the idea, that it was sinful to eat any kind of animal food, or to drink anything stronger than water. Determined to follow, literally, the injunctions given to the young man in the gospel, he sold off his stock in trade, distributing the proceeds among the poor, and took up his residence in a hut, situated on a rood of ground near Ickenham, where for some time he lived on the small sum of three-farthings a week”
“Chamber’s Book of Days”, September 11:
crab 2
Crab wrote an autobiography: “The English hermite, or, Wonder of this age.: Being a relation of the life of Roger Crab, living neer Uxbridg, taken from his own mouth, shewing his strange reserved and unparallel’d kind of life, who counteth it a sin against his body and soule to eate any sort of flesh, fish, or living creature, or to drinke any wine, ale, or beere. He can live with three farthings a week. His constant food is roots and hearbs, as cabbage, turneps, carrets, dock-leaves, and grasse; also bread and bran, without butter or cheese: his cloathing is sack-cloath. He left the Army, and kept a shop at Chesham, and hath now left off that, and sold a considerable estate to give to the poore, shewing his reasons from the Scripture, Mark. 10. 21. Jer. 35.” (London: Printed, and are to be sold in Popes-head Alley, and at the Exchange 1655)

Crab raises a number of issues which are repeated in the lives of Hermits, ancient and modern: questions of diet (vegetarianism and veganism), pacifism, and plain dressing, for example.

For more on Crab, see:,_Roger_%28DNB00%29

For Christian vegetarianism, see:
Anita Guerrini “A Diet for a Sensitive Soul: Vegetarianism in Eighteenth-Century Britain” ”Eighteenth-Century Life” Volume 23, Number 2, May 1999 pp. 34-42:


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