Did Johnny Appleseed really exist? He sure did. John Chapman (September 26, 1774 – March 18, 1845), his true name, was born in Massachusetts in 1774. Johnny Appleseed was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. With the idea of the western frontier planted in his head, John Chapman set out, taking only an axe, a hoe, a Bible, and a bag full of apple seeds.
Whenever he found a choice clearing of land, he planted his apple seeds, envisioning the wondrous orchards that would spring from each one. He became an American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples. Settlers welcomed him wherever he went because of the entertaining stories he told and the apple seeds he always gave away if they promised to plant them. People soon forgot his last name and started calling him Johnny Appleseed. Mr. Appleseed traveled the frontier for 40 years, often retracing his steps to care for the apple trees he’d planted many years before.
He was also a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian)and the inspiration for many museums and historical sites such as the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio, and the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center in Ashland County, Ohio. The Fort Wayne Tin Caps, a minor league baseball team in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Chapman spent his final years, is named in his honor.
According to some accounts, an 18-year-old John persuaded his 11-year-old brother Nathaniel to go west with him in 1792. The duo apparently lived a nomadic life until their father brought his large family west in 1805 and met up with them in Ohio. The younger Nathaniel decided to stay and help their father farm the land. Shortly after the brothers parted ways, John began his apprenticeship as an orchardist under a Mr. Crawford, who had apple orchards, thus inspiring his life’s journey of planting apple trees.
In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. His first nursery was planted on the bank of Broken straw Creek, south of Warren, Pennsylvania. Next, he seems to have moved to Venango County along the shore of French Creek, but many of these nurseries were in the Mohican area of north-central Ohio. This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lisbon, Lucas, Perrysville, and Loudonville.
The site of his grave is also disputed. Developers of the Canterbury Green apartment complex and golf course in Fort Wayne, Indiana, claim that his grave is there, marked by a rock. That is where the Worth cabin sat in which he died.
Steven Fortriede, director of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and author of the 1978 Johnny Appleseed, believes that another grave site is the correct site, in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, Johnny Appleseed Park is a city park that adjoins Archer Park, an Allen County park. According to an 1858 interview with Richard Worth Jr., Chapman was buried “respectably” in the Archer cemetery, and Fortriede believes that use of the term “respectably” indicates that Chapman was buried in the hallowed ground of Archer cemetery instead of near the cabin where he died.
The Johnny Appleseed Commission Council of the City of Fort Wayne reported, “[A]s 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 Johnny Appleseed. 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 Archer burying ground.”
NoFx – Johnny Appleseed
Many books and films have been based on the life of Johnny Appleseed. One notable account is from the first chapter of The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. Now Pollan states that since Johnny Appleseed was against Grafting, his apples were not of an edible variety and could be used only for cider: “Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was The American Dionysus.”
One of the more successful films was Melody Time, the animated 1948 film from Walt Disney Studios featuring Dennis Day. The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, a 19-minute segment, tells the story of an apple farmer who sees others going west, wistfully wishing he was not tied down by his orchard, until an angel appears, singing an apple song, setting Johnny on a mission. When he treats a skunk kindly, all animals everywhere thereafter trust him. The cartoon featured lively tunes, and a childlike simplicity of message. This animated short was included in Disney’s American Legends, a compilation of four animated shorts.
Supposedly, the only surviving tree planted by Johnny Appleseed is on the farm of Richard and Phyllis Algeo of Nova, Ohio. Some marketers claim it is a Rambo, more than a century before John Chapman was born. Some even make the claim that the Rambo was “Johnny Appleseed’s favorite variety”, ignoring that he had religious objections to grafting and preferred wild apples to all named varieties. It appears most nurseries are calling the tree the “Johnny Appleseed” variety, rather than a Rambo. Unlike the mid-summer Rambo, the Johnny Appleseed variety ripens in September and is a baking-applesauce variety similar to an Albemarle Pippin. Orchardists do not appear to be marketing the fruit of this tree.
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