The Legendary Johnny Appleseed
John Chapman was born in 1774 in Massachusetts. His father fought in the Revolutionary War as both a Minuteman and with George Washington. Chapman's mother died when he was very young and his father remarried. Besides an older sister, he had 10 half-siblings.
When John was 18 he took his younger brother who was 11 and they roamed the lands around the Great Lakes and Ohio River. Eventually the rest of his family relocated to Ohio. His brother stopped travelling in order to help their father farm his land.
John's father wanted him learn a trade. As was the custom in those times, he arranged for John to be an apprentice to an orchardist who specialized in apple orchards.
John Chapman saw the value of apple trees. The fruit was a valuable source of nourishment at a low cost. The apples supplied food right from the tree as well as in cooking. They were the base for apple cider, a refreshing drink that could be allowed to ferment to become an alcoholic drink. They stored well and could be dried for even longer storage.
Stories differ about his beginnings as a nurseryman on his own. Some accounts say he started his apple orchards near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and others say they were around Wilkes-Barre. Government records show that he lived in the Allegheny Mountains and cleared land near the water and planted apple trees.
It is said that John started to collect seeds from the presses at Potomac cider mills. He was totally against grafting of branches onto existing trees. He felt that was unnecessarily causing pain to the tree. So he planted all his trees from seeds.
John planted apple orchards in many places. Ohio and Kentucky were home to some of his apple nurseries. He would plant the trees and nurture them until they were sturdy enough to leave in the care of trusted people. Then he would move on.
John Chapman was also a minister of Swedenborgianism or the Church of New Jerusalem. He was devoutly conscious of all living things and never knowingly harmed any living thing. He was a strict vegetarian. He would eat and drink dairy products because they caused no harm to the animals. He even thought it was cruel to ride a horse.
When John Chapman began moving ever west, he was doing it to plant more apple nurseries. Contrary to what most people believe, he was very careful of where he planted the seeds. He chose places where the soil was good and there would be enough water to support them. As before he would make sure the trees were growing well and then leave them in the care of someone else. Then he would move on to the next place to plant some more.
What many people don't know is that he periodically went back to check on all of these orchards. If they needed to be protected from animals he would plant thick shrubs around the orchard to keep them out. He took care of them all.
People were always happy to see him. His was a gentle soul. He was kind to everybody. Children loved to sit and listen to him tell stories. Parents were happy to have him help with chores in order to get a meal or a place to sleep. And he would never sit down to eat until he was sure that the children had enough to eat.
Truthfully he preferred to sleep outdoors. Summer and winter, no matter what the weather, he would sleep on the ground. He cooked his meals in the tin pot that he otherwise wore on his head. He liked the simple life.
Often children would see him coming and yell to their parents that the appleseed man was coming. Eventually he came to be called Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny Appleseed was a friend to the Indians too. They thought of him as a great medicine man who was "touched by God". He converted a large number of them to Christianity.
Because of the way he dressed and lived, most folks thought him to be poor. But Johnny Appleseed was in fact a successful businessman. He had money but he preferred to live off the land.
The apple trees he planted were intended to be sold. The fruit was to be sold. But often the people who were buying had little money. Johnny Appleseed would tell them to pay him when they were able. Most never did pay him. He was happy to be able to help them.
When the Homestead Act allowed people to settle on property and maintain it with the promise of ownership, the trees of Johnny Appleseed were in high demand. Any homesteader who planted ten acres of apple trees on his homestead was eligible to claim another 160 acres of land. Many of his trees traveled west with these folks.
There are many stories of his kindness to all creatures. It is said that one night he had a campfire to keep his site warm as he slept. He saw that mosquitoes were flying into the smoke for warmth and being killed. Johnny Appleseed promptly put out the fire, disregarding his own comfort to make sure the little bugs were safe.
Johnny Appleseed made his camp on a cold winter night. He either crawled into a hollowed log or lit the log on fire to help him fend off the cold. Then he discovered a mother bear and two cubs were sleeping in it. He quietly crawled out of the log or put out the fire. Either way he slept in the snow.
If Johnny Appleseed saw an animal that was being neglected or mistreated by its owners, he would buy it. Once he had nursed it to good health he would give it to someone after getting a promise that the animal would be well cared for.
One time a rattlesnake tried to bite him. Johnny Appleseed's feet were so calloused from not wearing shoes that the fangs couldn't penetrate his skin. Even so he killed the rattlesnake. He regretted the killing for the rest of his life.
Johnny Appleseed never married and had children. When asked why, his answer was that there would be two female spirits to be his wives when he reached his after-life. However, there is some evidence that he found a young girl and tried to have her raised and educated to be the kind of woman he could marry. As she reached marrying age he went to visit her and found her to be enamored with another young man. He was furious and swore from ever marrying.
Johnny Appleseed died in the 1840's. The date is not certain. He was visiting friends in Indiana and suddenly became ill for the first time in his life. He died days later.
An estate of more than 1200 acres was left to his sister. More than 15000 apple tress were in Indiana as well as four plots of land. Other land that belonged to him was sold for back taxes. Even more land was lost because he didn't keep his paperwork in order. Many promissory notes were found from people who had purchased trees and never paid for them.
There are monuments all over the Midwest honoring Johnny Appleseed. Schools and plaques appear in cities on the east coat of the United States named in his memory. Many places have Johnny Appleseed festivals. All of these to remember the gentle man who helped to build a country.
Most importantly, the beloved trees of Johnny Appleseed still grow in a lot of places. A true tribute to the man who saw the importance of the trees to a growing nation.