The Legend of Johnny Appleseed

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Johnny Appleseed’s Early Life

Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, was born in Massachusetts on September 26th, 1774. John’s father, Nathaniel, fought in the American Revolutionary war, under General George Washington. John’s mother Elizabeth died just after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Nathaniel wound up remarrying and having ten children.

Around 1792, John and his half-brother Nathaniel Junior left Massachusetts to head west and roam the countryside. They settled in Ohio in 1805, where they were joined by their father and siblings and the family started their own farm. John soon left the farm, and apparently signed on as an apprentice apple orchard man for an orchardist who was named Crawford. This is where the legend of Johnny Appleseed begins.

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed Takes Root

Shortly after John took up his apprenticeship, reports began to appear of a strange man appearing here and there throughout the Mid-Atlantic States, with many sightings in Pennsylvania. This man was known to be an eccentric but friendly man who helped up-and-coming farmers learn how to start and then maintain their own apple orchards. While the legends depict Johnny Appleseed as wearing a cooking pot on his head while roaming the countryside nearly naked, it is more likely that John was merely an eccentric but skilled professional who roamed the countryside, looking for chances to help people learn how to start their own apple orchards and cider mills.

Johnny Appleseed helped farmers start farmers start their own apple orchards like this one.

It was believed that John would stop at the farm of a client, where he would teach them how to start their own orchard, how to keep deer and livestock away from the apples, and once the apple nursery was thriving, he would move on to the next person. If John had to stay in a place for a period of time, it was said that he would build a teepee-like structure and life his life on the bare dirt. It has been claimed that his only possessions were the clothes he wore, a bowl and a spoon, and a cooking pot (like the one he supposedly wore on his head) used to cook gruel.

It is said that for his services, John charged whatever his clients could afford to pay. If his client was a wealthy landowner, then that landowner might pay cash for young apple trees; poor settlers on the other hand might pay in used clothes or food.

Johnny Appleseed’s Later Life

After some time spent roaming the countryside, John began to preach gospel in addition to teaching people how to plant apple trees. He was known to be a follower of the Swedenborgian faith that had been started by Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). John was a charasmatic and engaging speaker and it is possible that his preaching was another means of making money. However, John was a deeply religious man, and it is possible that he believed that by living off of the land, and going from place to place and preaching his faith, he was paving the way for his own salvation. John passed away on March 11th 1845, and both this day and his birthday are known as Johnny Appleseed Day in the United States.

Johnny Appleseed Fun Facts

  • The Legend of Johnny Appleseed really began to grow after John died in 1845.
  • Prohibition almost killed Johnny Appleseed’s legacy. FBI agents tore down many apple orchards in order to keep people from making illegal homemade hard apple cider.
  • You can still visit one of Johnny Appleseed’s trees. Nova, Ohio is home to a 176 year old apple tree that is the last known tree to be planted by John Chapman himself.

Sources

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