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 Kidsí Corner: Johnny Appleseed - a Pioneer

One day early in the spring of 1801 as Isaac Stedden worked in the clearing near his cabin in Licking County, Ohio, he saw a strange-looking traveler approaching on horseback. Travelers were rare in those days, and, notwithstanding the odd appearance and manners of this man, Mr. Stedden offered him the scant courtesies of his cabin. He remained only a few days and had little to say for himself or his destination, but while he tarried as a guest he talked chiefly of planting apple trees so that the settlers might have food other than the wild meat and fish found in the forests and streams. He took from his saddlebags a quantity of apple seeds and planted them about the cabin and then departed.

Five years later another settler, who had cleared away the forest and built a cabin on the banks of the Ohio River, a little above what is now Steubenville, saw a queer craft coming down the river. It consisted of two canoes lashed together. A lone man was the "crew." He was oddly and scantily dressed, barefoot, and he wore for a head covering, or hat, a tin pan. This, it was found afterwards, served the dual purpose of hat and stew pan in which he cooked his food--cornmeal mush and coffee.

He informed the settler that his name was John Chapman and that the cargo in his canoes consisted of bags of apple seed, which he had gathered about the cider presses in New York and Pennsylvania, and that he intended to plant them and grow apple trees for the settlers. He set about his work at once. Following the streams and their tributaries he stopped and planted apple seeds wherever he found suitable ground for a nursery. He enclosed these spot with fences made of brush. Each year he returned to care for the growing trees and to plant new nurseries. When settlers came he urged them to plant trees and advised them as to what varieties to plant. It is said that his favorite apple was the Rambo. A substantial proof of this is disclosed by the fact that this particular apple was afterwards found on nearly every farm in the region traversed by this pioneer nurseryman.

He kept ahead of the settlements and each year planted apple seeds farther west. In this way he covered most of Ohio and came far into Indiana. For more than forty years he kept steadily at his work, and doubtless, there is no other region in the United States where the early settlers planted so many fruit trees as were grown in Johnny Appleseed's territory. There still remain many orchards bearing fruit on trees taken from the Appleseed nurseries. "The good that men do lives after them."

Probably the most nearly authentic account of John Chapman and his work is found in the Historic Annals of Ohio, published by the Ohio Historical Society in 1861. It is there stated that he was born in Massachusetts in 1775. Little is known of his early life except that he loved nature and that he was markedly unselfish. His half-sister, who survived him, related many beautiful stories of his boyhood days. He loved the undisturbed forest. The sight of flowers on the open prairie was a feast to him. He looked upon all nature as his friends. He was never known to injure or to kill any living thing except one rattlesnake, and that, he always regretted.

After he came to Ohio his mission in life seemed to be to plant apple trees and teach Swedenborgian religion. His frequent visits to the settlements were looked forward to with delight and no cabin door was ever closed to him. To the men and women he was news carrier and oracle. To the children he was friend and playfellow. He taught the boys to make sleds and wagons. To the little girls he brought bits of ribbon and bright calico. He carried always a leather bag filled with apple seed and was constantly planting them in open places in the forest, along the roadways, and by the streams. He soon was known as the "apple seed man", and later his real name, John Chapman, seemed to disappear altogether and the name "Johnny Appleseed" was the only name by which he was known.

Johnny Appleseed is described as a man of medium height, blue eyes, long, light-brown hair, slender figure, wiry and alert. He wore but little clothing and that, for the most part, was obtained by trading apple trees to the settlers for cast-off garments. Usually, while traveling through the forests his only garment was a coffee sack with holes cut for his head and arms. He went barefoot most of the time, even in winter. He was a strict vegetarian, eating no meat or fish. He believed it was wrong to take life in order to procure food. This, no doubt, added to his zeal in urging people to plant and grow fruit.

He rarely sought shelter in a house, and when he did so would always sleep on the floor before the fireplace with his kit for a pillow. Except in very bad weather he preferred to sleep in the open forest.

The latter part of his life he lived with a relative near what is now Mansfield, Ohio. It was while he lived there that the war of 1812 was fought, and many of the active scenes of this war occurred near his home. One incident of this was is related that illustrates well his self-sacrifice and his devotion to friends. Late one evening, word came to the few settlers who had taken their families to the Block House for refuge, that the Indians were advancing upon them, that Wallace Reed and Levi Jones, nearby settlers, had been killed. Excitement ran high. The settlers in the Block House were unarmed and the nearest body of troops was at Camp Douglas, thirty miles away. A consultation was held and it was decided to send a messenger to this camp to ask for assistance; but who would go? Volunteers were asked for. A meek, bare-headed, barefoot man, unarmed, but with a countenance full of determination and void of fear, stepped forward and said, "I will go." It was Johnny Appleseed.

The road he had to travel was a new-cut path through the woods, rough and dark. He ran through the forest, stopping at the few cabins on the way, warning the settlers to flee to the Block House. At break of day, he returned with a detachment of troops to guard the settlement, having made the long journey in one night.

For more than forty years Johnny Appleseed traversed the forests and prairies of Ohio and Indiana caring for his trees, teaching farmers apple culture and assisting them in planting and caring for orchards. And, today, it is a rare thing to find a farm in the country he traversed that does not have its orchard.

He had several nurseries in northern Indiana. One day he heard that cattle had broken down the fences about one of them near Fort Wayne. He started there on foot to put it in repair. The weather was cold and disagreeable--snow was falling. At night he stopped at the home of Mr. Worth for shelter. It was readily granted him. He declined a bed and prepared to read and pray. He read the Psalm beginning "Blessed are the pure in heart," then prayed for blessing upon all men and nations, and for comfort for all who were crippled and distressed. He prayed for universal happiness and peace, then lay down to sleep. In the morning, pneumonia had developed and a few days later he died as he had lived, at peace with all the world.

Mr. Worth and neighbors buried his body in the David Archer graveyard, two and one-half miles north of Fort Wayne. His grave is unmarked.

The story of Johnny Appleseed is retold to keep alive the memory of this pioneer and his work in developing fruit growing in parts of the Middle West.

It is a simple story, but it seems fitting to tell it once more, because Johnny Appleseed did something -- did something worthwhile.

He made the "two blades of grass to grow where there had been but one," and a century of progress and improvement has not entirely effaced his work. The farms and orchards of Ohio and Indiana bear testimony of his worth and intelligence.

It does no harm, once in a while, to look into the dim past and try to see the beginning of the fields, cities, homes, roadways, and other conveniences we now enjoy.

It awakens a sense of gratitude towards those who wrought it for us.

Johnny Appleseed brought us the apple tree and taught our forefathers how to grow and develop it. The retelling of the story of his work is a simple tribute to his memory, the placing of a flower on his grave, as it were, by those who are now trying to extend the work he began a hundred years ago.

From the National Apple Week Association, Inc.

 

 

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This site is brought to you by the Virginia State Apple Board -- an official commodity board
of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services -- promoting research, education
and marketing efforts for the state's apple industry through assistance to the
Virginia Apple Growers Association.

900 Natural Resource Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903
434.984.0573, Fax: 434.220.9127