Sarah Yates Deere

John Deere's Mother

The first woman in John Deere's life was his mother, Sarah Yates Deere. Also known as Sally, Sarah is believed to have been born to Captain James Yates, a Revolutionary War soldier. Yates came to America, it is thought, as a captain of the British Army.

After the end of the Revolutionary War, he renounced allegiance to his homeland, became a loyal citizen of colonial American and married a local girl. His daughter, Sarah, was born in Connecticut about 1780.

Very little is know about Sarah's parents or her childhood, but it is known she married John Deere's father, William Rinold Deere, who operated a tailor's shop in Middlebury, Vermont, and Sarah was his seamstress. Sarah and William lived modestly above the tailor shop.

By all accounts, William was busy with his trade, but not a good money manager, and he amassed debts he could not pay. In 1808, he learned of a possible family inheritance and set sail for England in hopes of claiming his share. Sadly, he was never heard from again, apparently lost at sea, along with any inheritance that might aid his family in America.

Not even 30 years old, Sally Deere found herself the head of a household of five children, including 4-year-old John. She took over William's tailoring business, and eked out a meager living for her family.

Due to his family's humble lifestyle, John probably received no more than the simplest of education, attending the "common" schools. In an effort to help his mother, and without her knowledge, he took a job in his early teens with a tanner, where he ground bark and earned enough money for a pair of shoes and a suit of clothes. Sarah surely appreciated the assistance.

In 1821, when John was 17, he and his mother made a momentous decision. John became an apprentice to one of Middlebury's most prosperous blacksmiths, Captain Benjamin Lawrence. John received room and board, probably his clothes, and possibly some instruction in writing, reading and arithmetic.

For the four-year apprenticeship, John was paid a $30 stipend the first year, and an additional $5 for each of the remaining three years. That $30 would translate to about $510 dollars by today’s standards, a pittance for sure.

In 1826, five years after John entered the apprenticeship that would change his life, Sarah died at approximately 46 years of age. Sadly, she did not live to see him build the company that would carry his name.

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