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
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.
the National Apple Week Association, Inc.