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Frontier Christian;Facts about Johnny Appleseed praised in story and song
A true folk hero
Johnnie Appleseed Song
Johnnie Appleseed plantin’ apples on the land
The Lord led him out west just to give the folks a hand
We still remember though he's long long gone
The first Ohio Orchard man, Appleseed John
Song written by Marji Hazen.
I found two songs, apparently contemporary on the Internet. The other is just titled Johnny Appleseed by Ron Brown
His real name was John Chapman. Unlike so many folk heroes I’ve written about Johnny is a real hero, as well as a legend.
I think my first awareness of Johnnie Appleseed was a Disney cartoon feature that, as best I recall, portrayed a very young man with bag of apple seeds walking over the land casually spreading seeds as he went.
He first showed up in Pennsylvania in 1707 at the age of 23. He is remembered most because he helped establish apple orchards in what was considered the frontier at the time, such as Ohio and Indiana. Although he did do that, he was really a preacher. His real goal was to be a follower of a complex Christian theology of Swedenborganism .This is the same theology taught by the father of Philosopher- Psychologist William James, who tried to integrate science and religion in his own life’s work.
Johnny had little regard for style, or clothes at all. Although he was wearing the frontier buckskin when he first arrived and became known. As he went on he started wearing others castoffs or anything he came across. Eventually he was wearing a coffee sack with holes cut out for his arms and had. At on time he wore a tin pan as a hat. H also used it for cooking as well. He sometimes wore homemade boots and moccasins or castoff footwear. In nothing was handy, he went barefoot. A neighbor once gave him some shoes but he gave them away to someone he felt needed them more than he did.
He was many things. In addition to being a preacher/missionary he had a high respect for animals, comparable to St. Francis. Indians considered him a medicine man, and sort of a Paul Revere who sounded the alarm to warn folks in his area,. Indians considered him a medicine man, possibly because of his odd behavior.
In the War of 1812 many Indians joined with the British for revenge against the settlers. Johnny was able to move freely because he was respected in the region and he became a one-man warning system who alerted the isolated settlements. He could move freely among both whites and Indians. Once he spotted people under siege by Indians and traveled 30 miles warning families of danger by blowing a warning on a homemade horn.
Apples are what he is best remembered for. Did he plant trees or simply give and barter seeds with the settlers? I’m inclined to think he did both. He traveled many places and left apple orchards behind. Like so many legendary heroes it is hard to know what is fact and what is only legend. Accounts vary. He is said to have carried seeds in leather bags, on his shoulders maybe on horseback. Others say they saw him with two canoes tied together filled with sacks of seed. Sometimes he planted trees and then distributed the trees for transplanting. He seldom took money but did take bartered food and supplies.
The reason Indians considered him a medicine man is he seemed to have powers of healing. He distributed herbs and plants for healing. Time would tell that some of these were not really effective, such as dog fennel for malaria. Science later discovered it had no effect on malaria but it became popular on the frontier.
As preacher he led a simple life and preached “news fresh from Heaven.” Once he ran across a smartly dressed preacher who had elaborate rhetoric. “Where now is there a man, who like the primitive Christians, is traveling to Heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?” Johnny thought him hypocritical and came forward. With a bare foot on the stump serving as a pulpit he said, “here is your primitive Christian.” The preacher left.
What part is history and what part is legend, I don’t know. But I think our folklore is richer for the existence of Johnny Appleseed.