demarius_deereJohn Deere’s First Wife
1805-1865

Courtship and marriage: 1821-1827

During John Deere’s apprenticeship as a blacksmith, while attending a large neighborhood get together in Middlebury, Vermont, he became fascinated with a young woman named Demarius Lamb. Demarius apparently was the center of attention, not only because of her charm and beauty, but because of her refinement, as well.

Demarius’ family was somewhat well to do, and it was common practice for parents to send their children to boarding schools, where they could receive a better education than at the district schools. She most likely attended Mrs. Emma Willard’s School for Young Ladies in Middlebury as a boarder.

John Deere began courting Demarius while an apprentice and during subsequent work as a journeyman with two Middlebury blacksmiths. He waited until he had launched out on his own, working as a blacksmith in Colchester Falls, Vermont, before he proposed to her.

John and Demarius were married January 28, 1827 at her parent’s home in Granville.

A young family: 1827-1836

In 1828, John and Demarius Deere welcomed Francis Albert, the first of nine children. The next year, John purchased a piece of property and started his first blacksmith shop in the town of Leicester, located at a crossroads for main stagecoach lines that connected Vermont with Boston.

Coaches in need of repair, after running over the gable-like dirt roads, provided plenty of work for John. But, good fortune was not to be had. Shortly after John erected his shop, it was destroyed by fire, sadly a common hazard of the trade. He rebuilt, but fire soon struck again and the talented, young blacksmith was forced to sell the property he had just acquired.

The fires left the family deeply in debt, and that family was growing. Demarius and John’s second child, Jeannette, was born in 1830. John’s dream of proprietorship was temporarily put aside, and during the next four years the family moved four times in search of employment that would pay John regular wages.

The family first landed in Royalton, Vermont, where John found work as an ironer; or one that forges ironwork for stagecoaches, wagons and carriages. It is probable that John’s boss loaned John and Demarius a home in which to live. A third child, Ellen Sarah, was born there in 1832.

But the lure of individual proprietorship soon motivated John to move Demarius and the children again, this time to Hancock. Even though the debts from Leicester were not yet paid off, he was able to buy a piece of land in Hancock in 1833, but was later forced to mortgage the property back to the original owner.

Another daughter, Frances Alma, had arrived in 1834 and Demarius was pregnant with her fifth child. Despite John’s obvious skills in blacksmithing, the family was destitute.

Times were difficult throughout Vermont. Demarius and John faced likely the most difficult decision of their married life. John could stay in Vermont, and risk losing his land, or worse, be imprisoned for not repaying his debts; or make a fresh start in the West. Perhaps through friends or newspaper stories John learned of promising prospects for blacksmiths in Grand Detour, Illinois, a village on the Rock River.

On November 7, 1836, leaving his debts behind and with $73 in his pocket, John Deere bid farewell to Demarius and his four children to seek a living on the great prairie. Son Francis was just eight, and daughters Jeannette, Ellen and Frances Alma were six, four and two. Demarius was six months pregnant with son Charles.

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