The Legend of Johnny Appleseed

Growing up Northwestern Pennsylvania, I couldn't help but notice all apple trees growing wild. . when I asked my mother about it, she told me that one of the apple trees in the back yard was a descendent of one of the apple seeds that Johnny Appleseed planted in the region. Since I have grown up, I decided that I wanted to discover the historical accuracy of the legend of Johnny Appleseed, so I did some research.

The Early Years of John Chapman

Johnny Appleseed's real name was Jonathan Chapman, the son of Nathaniel Chapman of Leominster, Massachusetts. He began his life on September 26, 1774 as the son to this wealthy New England family. As a teenager, he became a convert of Swedenborg and headed west.

He became alarmed at the way Agriculture followed the same wasteful pattern that Americans along the cost were known to do. The farmers would simply plant the same crops in the same fields until the fields wore out and then would move on to new holdings and repeat the process.He thought that there had to be a better way to farm.He knew that eventually virgin land would run out.


Johnny Appleseed's Religious Beliefs

The basic doctrinal teachings of the Swedenborg included the believe that God is a unipersonal, moralistic and pantheistic God. They contend that Jesus or Jehovah (The Father) was a incarnated man not that divine Son of God. They believe that the Trinity is One Divine Person of one's self. Salvation is achieved by a combination of faith and works not by faith only. They teach that the fall was Symbolic and that Man is the "symbol" of God. They believe that Bible contains the Word of the Lord but is authoritative only when interpreted by Swedenborg's writings. When someone dies, they believe that the individual will continue to live in the spirit world How one spends his or her time here on earth as a spirit is dictated by the individuals spiritual condition at death. Swedenborgism teaches that heaven and hell is a temporary state of mind.

Chapman didn't believe as many of his Calvinist ancestors that a man's prosperous appearance was a sign of his righteousness. He believed in simplicity. His eccentricities included threadbare clothes, went barefoot and sometimes wore his stew pot on his head as a hat. He strongly believed in animal rights and denounced cruelty towards any living thing, including insects. He practiced vegetarian in his later years. He also did not believe in marriage and believed he would be rewarded for his abstinence in heaven.


Johnny Appleseed's Mission

For thirty years, sometimes by flatboat, sometimes by pack horse over the National Road, John Chapman came into the Ohio valley from the East. Each spring he loaded his vehicle with apple seeds that he picked from the pulp piles beside the ceder mills at Pittsburgh and Wheeling. While the legend suggests that he planted randomly, he established nurseries. As he went west, in every natural clearing, across the northern counties of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana he stopped to plant apple seeds, water them, and build protective fences of whatever brush and thorn wood he could find. He offered apple seeds and cuttings in exchange for a night's lodgings and carefully pruned and weeded his young orchards when he traveled through that area again. After the nurseries were established, he sold the orchard and the surrounding land to a farm family.

Once, when he learned news about Indian raiders, he ran 30 miles through the woods to get word to Federal troops. He was highly respected by white man and Indian alike. He preached his Swedenborg form of religion "I bring you the latest word from Heaven!" He would shout and then read from his latest Swedenborgian tract. From settler women he learned about medicinal herbs like pennyroyal, catnip, horehound, and rattlesnake weed and spread those medicinal herbs throughout his travels as well.

He planted not so much for the edible fruit, but for the small tart apples that was used to produce hard cider and applejack. By establishing these orchards, he was able to establish legal claim to the lands that he planted. As a result, he owned about 1,200 acres of valuable property when he died.

He died in a mud-chinked farmhouse near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Although some say that the date of his death was March 17, 1847, the exact date of his death is unknown. He was what many considered an American saint who saw a settled agriculture that was as abundant as the Garden of Eden itself.

The Legion of Johnny Appleseed Lives On in Paradise California

The legend of Johnny Appleseed did not end in Fort Wayne, Indiana. First held in 1888, in the town of Paradise California, celebrates Johnny Appleseed Days the oldest harvest festival in the state of California, the town celebrated its quasquicentennial (125 years) of this tradition. The festival has been sponsored by the Paradise Chamber of Commerce since 1937. The 2013 two-day fall festival celebrated Paradise’s apple heritage with one thousand homemade apple pie and ice cream.

© 2013 Donna Brown

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Comments 9 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Very interesting, Donna! I really didn't know anything about the legend, or the specifics of it, or the real man...thanks for some great info this morning.


cygnetbrown profile image

cygnetbrown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri Author

Hi Bill,

I find it ironic, that you live in Washington, the apple state and you do not know the legion of Johnny Appleseed. I feel privileged to be able to share this info with you! Have a wonderful day writing!


Marie Flint profile image

Marie Flint 2 years ago from Jacksonville, FL

Funny, Cygnet, I just watched the wonderful video on Johnny Appleseed at Youtube less than a week ago. I love this soul. I don't think I could ever go barefoot for as long as he, though! He commanded a sense of peace such that the wild animals were not afraid of him. Remarkable, too, was his sense of stewardship. He often revisited orchards he had planted to see how they were doing. In one children's book about him, I'll never forget his phrase as he was about to read the Bible, "News, fresh from Heaven!" What a delightful soul! (Note: I eat a lot of apples, too, between two or six a day--they're my candy.)


cygnetbrown profile image

cygnetbrown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri Author

Thank you for your comment, Marie Flint. I do believe that Johnny Appleseed must have been this country's the first permaculturalist!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

I loved this reminder of the story of Johnny Appleseed. We grew up with the story and the song that went along with it. Do you remember?

"The Lord's been good to me, And so I thank the Lord.

For giving me the things I need, The sun and rain and the appleseed..."

Great topic for a hub. Very enjoyable reading.


cygnetbrown profile image

cygnetbrown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri Author

Hi Peg,

No, I don't remember the song from school, but, of course I remember the story. I hope everything has been going well with you.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I lived in northern Indiana, near Fort Wayne, for years and the highlight of the year was the Johnny Appleseed festival. I remember all the wonderful festivitites and foods that one could enjoy. It was always a great way to spend a day with family. We have him to thank for all the wonderful apple trees he helped plant!


cygnetbrown profile image

cygnetbrown 2 years ago from Alton, Missouri Author

Thanks teaches12345, I love hearing about other's experiences. Do you know if they continue to have the Johnny Appleseed festival there?


Doug Webber profile image

Doug Webber 13 months ago

Wow, where in the world did you get your information on the religious beliefs of Johnny Appleseed? Practically none of what you said is correct, you probably got it second hand.

Pantheistic is incorrect, the universe is God's creation, and Swedenborg spoke out against naturalism in many passages.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Jehovah in human form, not an "incarnated man." The teaching here is that even His human body is Divine, which is the hidden reason why the body and blood is the center of worship in Communion or the Eucharist.

The Trinity, more accurately, is the Divine itself (Father), the Divine Human (Son of God) and Divine proceeding (Holy Spirit), all in one person or being, Jesus Christ. Each person is a trine of soul, body and spirit, and when God became incarnate this became a Holy Trinity embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

The part you got correct is that the New Church teaches there is no faith without works. The Protestants have misinterpreted the writings of Paul, who was talking about the ritualistic works of the Mosaic law, or self-meritorious works. But belief alone goes nowhere.

The fall is not symbolic, but rather portrayed in a symbolic manner.

The Bible is not "authoritative only when interpreted by Swedenborg's writings." It is just as authoritative in the literal sense as it is in its deeper meanings. Without revelation, some of these deeper meanings will be kept hidden from the masses.

When someone dies, they will either go to heaven, to hell, or await judgment in the spiritual world which lies between heaven and hell.

Heaven and hell are not "temporary states of mind." They are worlds in which space and time are non-existent, and one's state of existence will always correspond to one's state of mind. While we live on earth, the influence of heaven and hell correspond to our states of mind. But after death, one is resurrected in a spiritual body, and this to eternity.

So that is a more correct statement on the beliefs of Johnny Appleseed.

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