Birthday: September 26, 1774
Died At Age: 70
Sun Sign: Libra
Also Known As: John Chapman, Jonathan Chapman
Born in: Leominster, Massachusetts
Famous as: Missionary
father: Nathaniel Chapman
mother: Elizabeth Simonds
siblings: Abner Chapman, Davis Chapman, Elizabeth Chapman, Jonathan Cooley, Lucy Chapman, Mary Chapman, Nathaniel Chapman, Patty Chapman, Persis Chapman, Pierly Chapman, Sally Chapman
Died on: March 18, 1845
place of death: Fort Wayne, Indiana
U.S. State: Massachusetts
Who was Johnny Appleseed?
Johnny Appleseed was a legendary American nurseryman who is credited with the introduction of apple trees in large parts of the US. Born John Chapman in Massachusetts, US, he is now a part of many folk tales. He was born when the country was torn apart by the American Revolutionary War. His father was a part of the war. Johnny learned the first lessons of farming trade from his father. By the 1800s, he was working alone. He traveled through the American Midwest, planting seeds, and by the time he died, he had become the owner of more than 1200 acres of land according to the erstwhile American laws. He became a beloved figure in American folklore due to the symbolic importance he attached to his apple trees. With time, he turned into a cultural legend. He was the inspiration behind the ‘Johnny Appleseed Museum’ in Ohio. Although the exact date of his demise is still debated upon, a large chunk of historians believe that he died in 1845.
Childhood & Early Life
Johnny Appleseed was born John Chapman on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. He was the second-born child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman. The street where he was born still exists and is known as the ‘Johnny Appleseed Lane,’ while his exact birthplace has been marked with a granite marker.
Johnny was born during the peak of the American Revolutionary War. Nathaniel, his father, was serving in the military when his wife died, a few weeks after the birth of Johnny, their second son. Following this, Nathaniel moved back to Massachusetts and remarried. He had 10 more children with his second wife.
Johnny had no interest in warfare and loved farming instead. He persuaded his younger brother Nathaniel to accompany him to the West. Most of the information about his early life is blurred, and it is believed that he learned the tricks of farming while on his trips across Ohio. In 1805, Johnny moved back in with his family. It is also believed that on noticing Johnny’s interest in farming, his father supported him to take it up seriously.
It is also widely believed that his father arranged an apprenticeship for him with a renowned orchardist, which laid the foundation for Johnny’s growing interest in the area.
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Johnny Appleseed traveled extensively across mid-western America and planted apple seeds wherever he went. Besides trees, he planted several small nurseries too and left them in the care of his neighbors, giving them a small share of his earnings. He built fences around the nurseries to protect them from livestock and returned every year or two to look after the nurseries.
His first nursery was said to be planted at Brokenstraw Creek, in Pennsylvania, and after that, he went along the banks of the French Creek. Many of his nurseries were in the north-central region of Ohio, in the towns of Lisbon, Lucas, and Loudonville. He made a fortune by selling the orchards, years after planting them.
The apples that Johnny planted were not considered to be edible but were commonly known as “spitters,” suggesting what one would do after taking the first bite. His small and tart apples were used to made hard cider and applejack. In those days, cider was more popular than beer, whisky, or any other alcoholic drink, owing to the fact that it was cheaper than any other drink.
The nurseries he planted also helped him stake a claim to them, and as a result, he died rich, with close to 1200 acres of land to his name. He ended up covering large parts of places such as Ohio, Illinois, Ontario, and Pennsylvania. At one time, these areas could be seen covered in apple trees.
Johnny was also an ardent Christian and had immense faith in the teachings of ‘The New Church.’ Wherever he went, he preached religion, especially to children. He also came across many Native American colonies. The natives thought of him as a spiritual entity and on his insistence, converted to Christianity.
Appleseed was also the subject of many folk tales. Some tales suggested that he loved insects and animals. Some said that he had a pet wolf that followed Johnny wherever he went and protected him from hostile elements. He never married, as he believed that if he remained chaste all his life, he would reach heaven after death. Adhering to his religious beliefs, he also remained a virgin until the day he died.
Death & Legacy
There have been various speculations regarding Johnny Appleseed’s death. A few reports claim that he died in 1847, while more reliable sources believe he died in March 1845. The location of his grave has also been a source of controversy for many years. The builders of the ‘Canterbury Green’ apartment complex and golf course in Indiana claim that Johnny’s grave is located there, marked by a rock.
However, Steven Fortriede, who authored the book ‘Johnny Appleseed’ in 1978, claims that Johnny’s grave lies at the ‘Johnny Appleseed Park’ in Fort Wayne. Over the years, the park has been universally accepted as his actual gravesite.
It is said that Johnny paid several visits to his sister whenever he could spare time and that after his death, she inherited every inch of his property. The nurseries that he tended to all his life were spread across 1200 acres of land. Johnny also owned several plots apart from his beloved nurseries.
However, the financial crisis of 1837 brought a halt to his business operations, as his trees sold for less than 2 or 3 cents. Most of his land was later used for taxing and litigation purposes.
He left a grand legacy behind him. The ‘Johnny Appleseed Park’ witnesses the celebration of the ‘Johnny Appleseed Festival’ during the third weekend of September, every year, since 1975. Moreover, March 11 and September 26 are both celebrated as ‘Johnny Appleseed Day’ in some parts of the country.
The ‘Urbana University’ in Ohio houses one of the two museums in the world dedicated to Johnny Appleseed. The museum reportedly showcases several artifacts related to Johnny, including a tree that he had planted. The ‘Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center’ in Ohio too preserves his legacy. Several statues too have been built to honor him. The state of Massachusetts, where Johnny was born, honors him as their official folk hero.
Despite that fact that Johnny was a historical figure, the real-life persona of Johnny Chapman seems to have been markedly different from the depictions of Appleseed in folklore. John Chapman sold his apple trees to be made into alcoholic beverages, while Johnny Appleseed is portrayed as a saint in most of the folklores related to him. Appleseed was said to have planted the trees for symbolic purposes and never to benefit from them.
Over the years, Johnny Appleseed has been a subject of many books, novels, TV shows, and movies. The most noteworthy novels that featured Appleseed were ‘The Red Garden,’ ‘Appleseed,’ and ‘Farmer in the Sky.’ Two successful films that featured Johnny were ‘The Legend of Johnny Appleseed’ and ‘Melody Time.’