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November 10, 1817 - September 1, 1907

At an early age John's mother died, and he was cared for by an aunt. His father married Phoebe Foster, an educated woman from New York, and together they had seven children.  The new Mrs. DeMotte possessed a natural gift for teaching and took great pride in looking after John’s education. He never knew any other teacher until he entered Asbury University. 


The brothers and sisters who joined his home acquainted him with family cares at an early age, and through his inventive genius he made mechanical devices that would rock the cradle, churn the butter, and lighten almost every task. He was a rival of "Tom Sawyer" in enlisting the help of the other boys.

John was a great hand to entertain the children with story telling, and the older he grew the more exciting the tales became. One evening he was left at home to care for two little sisters. As they were the sole occupants of the house he decided to give a performance. The little girls remained in the big front room while he improvised a curtain over the doorway and disappeared. After what seemed a great while to the spectators the curtain fell, and amidst great clatter and hullabaloo Mephistopheles, in wonderful attire, illumined by a brilliant calcium light, performed to the great satisfaction of the audience. 


In 1863 the stories of our country’s need for brave men to defend our homes thrilled his whole being, and after several attempts, he was finally enrolled as a private of Company E, in the 118th Indiana Volunteers, August 19, 1863. He was fifteen, tall and exceedingly slender; too young and too frail, it would seem, to endure the hardships of war.

But he wore the man’s uniform, too big almost by half, and carried the heavy gun, a burden even for a strong man, until his regiment was mustered out March 1, 1864. He never missed a march and the only wound he received was the one inflicted by a fellow comrade. The regiment was on a long march, the gun heavy, the boy tired and exhausted, and occasionally his gun would strike the weary soldier, and he retaliated with a thrust of the bayonet, and the scars ever remained as a reminder of that hard march. 


He was detailed to cook for the captain a short time, and learned to toss the "flapjack" and catch it with great dexterity. When DeMotte returned from the war he opened a telegraph office, and the first dispatch he received was the announcement of the assassination of President Lincoln. He did not follow this business long, but came to Asbury University for one year. He taught a country school, and he served as clerk in a fine jewelry store. In 1870 he was elected principal of the Jenks School in Lafayette. His success made him a favorite, but he wanted to complete his education. He resigned, returned to Greencastle and entered Indiana Asbury University. 


DeMotte at once was a leader among the students. He made his expenses by tutoring, corresponding for the Indianapolis Journal and clerking in a store on Saturdays. The Platonian Literary Society gave him an excellent opportunity for concentration of mind, or it would have been impossible for him to carry the college work with his other duties. One June he decided to change his college course, and during the three months´ vacation he mastered two years of Greek. He graduated from Indiana Asbury University in 1874. 


For two years he had been tutoring preparatory students, and his ability as a teacher was recognized.  He was elected to take charge of Asbury’s preparatory classes, and in 1874 he organized the preparatory department and called a Psi Phi Deke pledge brother, Dr. Philip S. Baker, and Dr. T.J. Bassett to assist in the work. He was elected to deliver the master’s oration, when he received the Master of Arts degree pro merito. For ten years he was principal of the preparatory school; he was made adjunct professor of mathematics, and in 1882 Professor DeMotte was elected chair of physics in the university.

DeMotte was a member of the commission that made the arrangements for the great electrical exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1884. This display was a great inspiration to study, and he entered upon his work with renewed energy and zeal, and was justly proud of the apparatus that he brought home with him. Dr. Demotte’s work was along experimental lines. It was so easy for him to make the truths of nature simple and easy to understand by his experiments and illustrations. His classes were large and enthusiastic. Across the wall of his recitation room were the words: "The Laws of Nature are the Laws of God." 


In 1887 Professor DeMotte received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from DePauw, and a few years later Doctor of Medicine from the Iowa Central College of Physicians and Surgeons. He was a life member of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, and greatly interested in its research work.

In Laboratories, hospitals, medical schools, state institutions for the deaf and dumb and blind, the feeble-minded and the insane he pursued his study, and at various times he went abroad to engage in original research in leading laboratories. 

He resigned from DePauw in 1891 and joined the Slayton Lyceum Bureau where he gave over 3,000 lecture engagements in the United States and Europe over the next 25 years, speaking on such topics as "Electricity, its nature and possibilities" and "The Princes of the Realm of Tone."


The later years of his life were given to the study of psycho-physics, and it grew to be almost a passion with him, he was so eager to push the known laws further into the realm of the unknown. He was one of the first to successfully photograph sound waves. For years he carried in his suitcase some recent publication along this line of study. Thompson’s Brain and Personality was his last study. A German book and a history of music, or biography of some of the great musicians, and "Elements of Psychology" by Thorndyke, were taken from his case on his last return.

Dr. DeMotte composed and arranged the music for Shelley’s matchless poem, "The Cloud." It was presented at one of the many concerts given under his direction by a chorus of fifty boys and fifty girls, accompanied by the faithful Mozart Club of forty instruments. The "antiphonal" by the children "We bring fresh flowers," was especially enjoyed by the large audience present.

Dr. DeMotte was a man of many abilities, horticulture being one of his strengths, and he took many prizes on his fruit at the Indiana State Fair. He was correspondent for years to the Country Gentleman magazine, also several agricultural papers. He was an enthusiastic lover of livestock, and was an authority on some of the fine strains, but his favorite was a herd of Scotch Shorthorns.

For many years of his life he was a teacher. For twenty years he was a professor of mathematics and physics at Asbury and DePauw Universities. He had the benefit of post-graduate work in European schools. He won many degrees and honors. His teaching life made him all the stronger for his later work of the lyceum.  He died in Greencastle, Indiana September 1, 1907.



Delta Pi of ΔKE ~ Illinois    ~    Delta Psi of ΔKE ~ Indiana   ~    Psi Phi of ΔKE ~ DePauw


Post Office Box 813     Greencastle,  Indiana  46135