John Deere was born February
7, 1804, in Rutland, Vermont. He was the fifth child of William and Sarah Deere. They had moved to Rutland in the
1790s. In 1806 they moved to Middlebury, Vermont, where they worked as a merchant tailor and seamstress.
In 1808 William Deere sailed to England in hope of inheriting some assets badly
needed for his new business. He sent a letter to his son on June 26. He was never heard from again. Family legend
has it that he arrived safely but was lost at sea on the return trip.
Sarah Deere continued the family business and did her best to raise her five children.
Since the family had little money the children left home as soon as they were able to work or be appreciated to
learn a special skill. so it was in 1821 at age 17, John became apprenticed to Captain Benjamin Lawrence, the local
blacksmith. When his apprenticeship ended in 1825 he hired himself out as a journeyman to two blacksmiths, David
Wells and Ira Allen.
Sarah Deere died in 1826. A year later John married Demarius Lamb from the nearby
town of Hancock. They moved to Vergennes where John worked with the established blacksmith. By 1828 they had moved
again, this time to Salisbury, Vermont. Here their first son, Francis Albert, was born. John was probably employed
at the Briggs Shovel Factory in Salsibury, because his specialty was making tools. By 1829 John Deere had established
his own business in Leicester, but two fires quickly put him into debt. A daughter, Jeannette, was born in 1830.
This forced another move, this time to Royalton, Vermont.
In Royalton John Deere worked for Amos Bosworth, an "ironer" of stagecoaches.
John probably helped him make the fancy ironwork found on stagecoaches at that time. In 1832 another daughter,
Ellen Sarah, was born.
There had been a lot of migration out of Royalton since 1800, and John Deere would
have heard many tales of fortune from both farmers and mechanics who were heading for the vast West. He would also
have heard many tales of woe from homesick settlers: tales of ague, debts, extreme cold and heat, as well as the
difficulties of tilling the pairie sod.
In Royalton John accumulated enough cash to move to Hancock, his wife's hometown.
There he made another effort at common blacksmithing. He earned the reputation of being a painstaking and meticulous
Throughout the 1830s economic conditions in Vermont were poor. The economic downturn
that became known as the Panic of 1837 was caused primarily by the fact that Vermont was almost totally dependent
upon the sheep raising industry. The market was saturated, and there was no room for growth-type industries.
The economic problems of the East were only one cause of the migration westward.
Transportation had improved. The Erie Canal had opened in 1825. Steamboat prices dropped as the railroad began
to offer competition. The Indian Wars ended in 1832 when Blackhawk surrendered. All of these things helped promote
migration to the newly opened West.
In 1835 Leonard Andrus, a friend of John Deere, became the first settler in Grand
Detour, Illinois. Andrus and two cousins quickly established a sawmill and gristmill. Amos Bosworth, John's employer
in Royalton, visited Grand Detour in 1836 and returned to Vermont to convince others to move west.
In November, 1836, John Deere joined his friends in Illinois. He left his wife
and four children in Vermont. He was 32 years old and was starting over again. He took $73.73 and the tools from
his Hancock blacksmith shop with him.
During his first year in Grand Detour John Deere built a unique blacksmith shop
that utilized a horse driven treadmill to operate the bellows for his forge. He produced excellent equipment, and
his reputation grew. He also dramatized his products to merchants across the prairies. He sold his products to
them for resale rather than directly to individual customers. The idea of stocking an inventory was a new notion
in American business. Previously items were made on an individual order basis.