JOHN FARMER 1835 -1901

Early Life

John Farmer was alive at a time when wide open opportunities were available for everyone in a recently settled land where a focused, energetic person could be a pioneer in many areas. John was born in Saratoga in upstate New York, he became a teacher n a local school where he taught map drafting and other related subjects (Weil, 2016). The territory of Michigan was in need of teachers and John was teaching a very marketable subject. Although the University of Michigan only operated a primary and secondary school, the board of the university in Detroit offered John a position where he would head the Lancastrian School.

John also began working at home hand copying maps of different townships from the newly-made manuscripts brought in by surveyors, and later sold them to the visitors who came to live or passed by the state. John is also credited for drawing a map that depicted Michigan’s first road for the Treasurer of the United States and he was paid to do this by the federal government. He also helped Orange Risdon when he was drafting a map of the part of Michigan that had already been surveyed. When this project stalled, John ended up producing his own map of Michigan in 1826 (Roberts, 2013). By 1830, he planned and published a new map of the state that contained much more detail. The map had so many details that outsourcing the services of an engraving company to develop copper plates of the map would have been very expensive. John therefore procured engraver’s equipment and undertook the project. The Map of the already surveyed area of Michigan shows in great detail the entire southern half of the state’s lower peninsula. At the time Michigan extended farther to the west and john’s map showed the whole Mackinac area which was a settlement that is now known as Cassville, Wisconsin, as well as the area that is currently Green Bay, Wisconsin.


The daily life of the average person in this era revolved around family and work. John had married a childhood friend and they had three children. The huge increase of the middle class, in both wealth and numbers, created an explosion for goods and services (Ittmann, 2017). John’s job as a school teacher gave him enough money to purchase the best food in the market since the pound was particularly strong. Keen to show off their wealth, and with the ability to use it as they pleased, John’s family had a constant supply of fruits and foodstuff, novelties and clothes from the country’s best factories . The wife had clothes of all colors, the children had new toys and the kitchen had fine cutlery. John’s life was what every Victorian era man dreamed about. Everything that would have been bought by the rich aristocrats in the 18th century was now on display at his home. They had every fruit that was in season including apples, melons, pears and peaches, something not everyone could afford.

John needed servants, and in 1905 he employed two maids to help his wife with other chores. During this period, almost a quarter of all women between the ages of 15 and 20 were employed as maids. In fact, these domestic workers represented the biggest share of workers in the entire country, and most houses were built with their accommodation wings in mind. In terms of entertainment John and his family went to music halls, theatres, museums, libraries, and art galleries that had been built in each of the major towns with moving theatres visiting the minor ones and all of them were founded by philanthropist. During this time, seaside towns and facilities were a preserve of the wealthy but John would constantly visit these establishments including Great Yarmouth and the famous Blackpool which had now become a popular destination for most of the working class.

Leisure Activities

He played numerous new sports, such as croquet and lawn tennis, and also engaged in older ones that had newly defined sets of rules, such as football, cricket and rugby. At the time, games were an important element of the society and were even encouraged in most public schools in order to make the middle class turn into real gentlemen (Bailey, 2014).

Favorite Food

He also ate well even when he was not dining out. His diet contained several foods were extremely popular and expensive which was dependent on how readily available the product was. His meals included, beef, pork, bacon, mutton, cheese, bread, potatoes, eggs rice, milk, oatmeal, the vegetables that were in season, sugar, treacle, flour, tea and jam. These were the foods that would be a stable for his family and formed a basis for most of their meals.


John Farmer passed away on March 24, 1859 in Detroit. His wife Rachel Farmer as well as his sons Arthur, John and Silas carried on his business for a while afterward. All the maps published by the sons after his death, however, did not have the detail that John maintained.


Weil, François. “John Farmer and the Making of American Genealogy.” New England Quarterly 80, no. 3 (2016): 408-434.

Bailey, Peter. Leisure and class in Victorian England: Rational recreation and the contest for control, 1830-1885. Routledge, 2014.

Ittmann, Karl. Work, gender and family in Victorian England. Springer, 2016.

Roberts, Gehan, Alice C. Burnett, Katherine J. Lee, Jeanie Cheong, Stephen J. Wood, Peter J. Anderson, Lex W. Doyle, and Victorian Infant Collaborative Study Group. “Quality of life at age 18 years after extremely preterm birth in the post-surfactant era.” The Journal of pediatrics 163, no. 4 (2013): 1008-1013.

Stauffer, Andrew. “Introduction.” In Virtual Victorians, pp. 1-8. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2015.