The Truth About Johnny Appleseed
Many of us remember the animated
Disney movie about . He was the legendary guy who went into the west spreading apple seeds. Johnny Appleseed
But did you know he was a real person and he was also spreading seeds of faith? Yep,
is not just a fictional character from myth and legend; he was a genuine, actual person. His name was Johnny Appleseed , a minister, gardener and pioneer who traveled the territories around the Great Lakes in the states we now know as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. He was born September 26, John Chapman 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts and died March 18, 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the age of 70. His father, Nathaniel, fought at Concord as a Minuteman in April 19, 1775 and later served in the Continental Army under General during the American Revolutionary War. After George Washington Nathaniel’s wife died giving birth to John’s younger brother, he married a woman named after he left the service in 1780. Lucy Cooley
didn’t actually toss out apple seeds everywhere he went, but he did clear plots of wilderness where he planted and fenced orchards. He introduced apple orchards to a large portion of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Johnny Appleseed Indiana, Illinois and what is now West Virginia. Along with his apple trees, he spread the word of God from the Swedenborgian Church. He became a legend while he was still alive because of his kindness, generosity and his leadership in conservation. He also placed great symbolic significance to apples.
Some accounts state that at the age of eighteen, Johnny persuaded her eleven year old half-brother, Nathanial to go west with him in 1792. Apparently, they led a nomadic life until their father moved west with that huge family of ten children in 1805 and joined them. It is supposed that
John’s half-brother most likely stayed with his father to help him farm the land. It was John’s father who taught him gardening and apprenticed him to a , who owned apple trees. That was where Mr. Crawford John learned to become an orchardist. Reportedly, witnesses saw practicing his nurseryman craft around Wilkes-Barre and picking seeds near the Potomac cider mills in the late 1790’s. John Chapman
He also shared the word of God with Native Americans whom he admired as he traveled and they regarded him as a man touched by the Great Spirit. It is said that even hostile tribes left him untouched out of respect.
respected the Native Americans and once wrote, "I have traveled more than John Chapman 4,000 miles about this country, and I have never met with one single insolent Native American.” The Swedenborg religion declares that the more one endures on this Earth, the greater one’s happiness in the Hereafter. It is reported that Johnny endured great privations during his lifetime. He went barefoot even in the worst weather, wore old discarded clothing and often deprived himself of common necessities even though he owned a great deal of property. He did all this with cheerfulness and contentment.
There are stories about
’s love of animals including insects. One of them is how Johnny Appleseed John noticed one night by his campfire; the mosquitoes flew into the fire and burned. He got up, picked up the cooking pot he usually wore on his head (yes, he actually did wear a pot on his head), filled it with water and doused the fire to save the mosquitoes. Let me just say right here that I might not have that much love for those pesky mosquitoes—just sayin’. He later remarked, “God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort that should be the means of destroying any of his creatures.” In another story, he was about to build a campfire at the end of a log in the middle of winter to keep warm for the night. He discovered a mama bear and her cubs hibernating there and, rather than disturb them, he slept at the other end of the log on top of the snow. When he learned that an injured horse was about to be put down, he bought the horse and turned it out to recuperate on a few acres of grassy land that he bought for that purpose. After the horse regained its health, John gave the horse and the land to a person in need asking only a promise that the person would treat the horse humanely as payment. John, by the way, spent his life as a vegetarian.
Now some of you might wonder if
ever married or fell in love. I know I certainly wondered about it. Although, when asked by ladies along the way, Johnny Appleseed John often replied that he would have two female spirits awaiting him in Heaven, it was told that he was smitten by the lovely . He intended to propose to her, but to his misfortune, arrived to pop the question a day too late. She had just accepted a proposal from another the day before. Another story tells that he had a young protégé that he clothed, fed and schooled with the intent to marry her when she came of age. He arrived unexpectedly one day to visit her only to find her holding hands with a young man intently listening to his ridiculous, yammering. A witness to Miss Nancy Tannehill John’s story said that, “I peeped over at Johnny while he was telling this, and, young as I was, I saw his eyes grow dark as violets, and the pupils enlarge, and his voice rise up in denunciation, while his nostrils dilated and his thin lips worked with emotion. How angry he grew! He thought the girl was basely ungrateful. After that time she was no protégé of his.”
Johnny was a native of Pennsylvania, he spent the greater portion of his life around Cleveland where he has relatives living to this day. There is some controversy about where Johnny is buried. Some say he is buried near the Worth cabin where he died in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but Steven Fortriede, director of the Allen County Public Library and author of the 1978 Johnny Appleseed, believes Johnny’s gravesite is in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne. The Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana is adjacent to . It is Archer Park Archer Park where ’s grave marker sits. John Chapman
The Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne reported, "As a part of the celebration of
Indiana's 100th birthday in 1916 an iron fence was placed in the Archer graveyard by the Horticulture Society of Indiana setting off the grave of . At that time, there were men living who had attended the funeral of Johnny Appleseed . Direct and accurate evidence was available then. There was little or no reason for them to make a mistake about the location of this grave. They located the grave in the Johnny Appleseed Archer burying ground."
Many celebrations help us remember the gentle soul of
: Johnny Appleseed
A memorial in Fort Wayne's Swinney Park honors him but does not mark his grave.
Also in Fort Wayne, the Johnny Appleseed Festival is held the third full weekend in September in Johnny Appleseed Park and
. Musicians, demonstrators, and vendors dress in early 19th century attire, with food and beverages from Archer Park Johnny’s time period.
In 2008, the Fort Wayne Wizards, a minor league baseball club, changed their name to the Fort Wayne TinCaps in reference to
’s tin pot he used for a hat. In that same year, the Tincaps won their only league championship. Their team mascot is also named " Johnny Appleseed Johnny".
From 1962 to
1980, a high school athletic league made up of schools from around the Mansfield, Ohio, area was named the Johnny Appleseed Conference. An outdoor drama is also an annual event in Mansfield, Ohio.
A memorial in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, OH is located on the summit of the grounds in Section
1349. A circular garden surrounds a large stone upon which a bronze statue of Chapman stands with his face looking skywards, holding an apple seedling tree in one hand and book in the other. A bronze cenotaph identifies him as with a brief biography and eulogy. Johnny Appleseed
March 11 or September 26 is sometimes celebrated as
. The September date is Johnny Appleseed Day Appleseed's acknowledged birth date, but the March date is sometimes preferred because it is during planting season.
The village of Lisbon, Ohio, hosts an annual
festival September 18–19. Johnny Appleseed
A large terra cotta sculpture of
Johnny Appleseed, created by , decorates the front of the Lakewood High School Civic Auditorium in Lakewood, Ohio. Although the local Board of Education deemed Appleseed too "eccentric" a figure to grace the front of the building, renaming the sculpture simply "Early Settler", students, teachers, and parents alike still call the sculpture by its intended name: "Johnny Appleseed". Viktor Schreckengost
Urbana University, located in Urbana, OH, maintains the world's only Johnny Appleseed Museum, which is open to the public. The museum contains a number of artifacts, including a tree that is believed to have been planted by
. In addition, the museum is also home to a large number of historical memorabilia, the largest in the world. They also provide a number of services for research, including a national registry of Johnny Appleseed 's relatives. In 2011 the museum was renovated and updated and is now able to hold more memorabilia in a modern museum setting. Johnny Appleseed
Disney movie that included the story of , he is remembered in American popular culture by his traveling song or Swedenborgian hymn ("The Lord is good to me..."), which is today sung before meals in some American households. Johnny Appleseed
There are many more memorials, festivals and references to
including a play written in my home state of North Carolina. I am heartened to learn that Johnny Appleseed Johnny Appleseed was a real person and that the real person, , spread love and gifts along the way and that he was a hero of sorts without a gun or shoes. I wonder if such a spirit exists in someone today that might live on into the future. I sure hope so. John Chapman