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Who Was Johnny Appleseed?

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Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed

(Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio/public domain) 109_Johnny-Appleseed-Museum.jpg

Johnny Appleseed Museum

(Office of Tourism Ohio)

One of Ohio's most colorful--and beloved--legends is that of Johnny Appleseed, the kindly and eccentric farmer who spawned the apple industry in Northern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, and throughout Indiana.

Johnny Appleseed was a real man, named John Chapman, and his real story is only slightly less sensational than the legend.

Early Life:

John Chapman was born in 1774, in Leominster Massachusetts, the son of a farmer and Revolutionary soldier, Nathaniel Chapman. His mother died during the war of tuberculosis. When he was a young man, Chapman's farmer apprenticed him to a local orchard, which is where he learned all about apples. When he was 18, he left Massachusetts for Western Pennsylvania.

Johnny and the Apples:

Although the popular legend has Johnny Appleseed spreading seeds throughout the Ohio Valley as a random act of generosity, the truth is that Chapman grew his apple trees for profit, albeit a slender one. His aim was to anticipate the arrival of large communities of settlers to what was, in the early 19th century, the western frontier of the United States. He'd establish a stand of one to two-year-old apple trees and sell them to the settlers for six cents a tree.

Chapman established a few bases for his operation, in Western Pennsylvania and later in Richland County Ohio. He'd travel back and forth across the Ohio Valley, planting and tending to his orchards.

Johnny Appleseed in Ohio:

Johnny Appleseed and his apple trees touched much of northern Ohio. His early efforts were based in eastern Ohio, along the Ohio River, but during his lifetime he spent much time in Columbiana, Richland, and Ashland Counties as well as Defiance County in Northwestern Ohio.

Johnny and Religion:

John Chapman ascribed to the pacifist religion of the Church of New Jerusalem. This Christian sect, based on the writings of Edward Swedenborg, promoted simple living and individualism. In keeping with these tenets, Chapman is said to have dressed in clothes made of sacks and used a cooking pot as a hat, living off of the land as he traveled. He was also one of the country's earliest vegetarians.

Death and Burial:

John Chapman died suddenly of pneumonia on March 18, 1845 at the home of a friend. He is buried just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Johnny Appleseed Today:

The life and work of Johnny Appleseed are still celebrated throughout the Midwest. During the summer months, the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center in Ashland produces an outdoor drama about the legend of Johnny Appleseed. (this production has been suspended temporarily; the center hopes to reintroduce it in the future.)

In addition, several cities host Johnny Appleseed festivals each September. The largest of these is the festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana, near the arborist's grave. Near Cleveland, Lisbon Ohio, in Columbiana County hosts an annual festival.

Sources:

"Johnny Appleseed: a Pioneer Hero", Harpers Magazine, November, 1871
"What's the Story with Johnny Appleseed," The Straight Dope, January 20, 1994
Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center Web site, October 15, 2007


(updated 10-4-13)

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