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Johnny Appleseed - Reality or Myth? Researchers Try To Decide

Updated on January 10, 2015

Hard Cider Only

Just when we are celebrating the 45th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, most of us finally satisfied that the event was real, we hear on the evening news that Johnny Appleseed is not what he seemed. In the 21st century, it is a proverb that heroes are attacked until they crumble into dust.

In Ohio, Johnny Appleseed is a folk hero to every 4th grader who has studied that year's Ohio History. Some children try to count the number of new apples he developed in his lifetime and how many new varieties have appeared from the founding of America to the 2010s.

However, the 2001 book called The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan snaps our eyes wide open with the statement that the apple seeds Chapman planted and left with settlers were good only for making hard cider. Pollan traveled the water routes fro Pennsylvania through Ohio and into Indiana in order to learn more about John Chapman and wrote a comprehensive chapter on apples and Chapman.

Professor Pollan explains that apples for all other purposes are all hybrids, many made by grafting the branch of one variety of apple tree to the trunk of another variety. At the same time, the seedlings from the last surviving apple tree that John Chapman planted were transplanted into the courtyard of the museum that honors him in Urbana, Ohio today. You can see them and decide for yourself.

Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. That’s why he was so popular. That’s why he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio.

— Michael Pollan, Morning Edition (NPR), June 5, 2001

Johnny Appleseed is Examined

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

The professionally written and very interesting book on plant life was chosen as a major selection in the 2014 World Book Night U.S. giveaway on April 23. "One of the most trusted food experts in America."

 Malus domestica, the cider apple, probably originated in Kazakhstan.
Malus domestica, the cider apple, probably originated in Kazakhstan. | Source

An Exhibit Attempts to Explain it All

In Northwestern Ohio north of Dayton, an anonymous donor gave $30,000 to Urbana University's Johnny Appleseed Educational Center & Museum to spread the down-to-earth truth about John Chapman and produce an interactive exhibit to travel across American states beginning in the late summer and autumn of 2015.

The first stop on the exhibit's tour September 2015 at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery’s branch that is housed at the Upper Valley Mall in Springfield, Ohio. That city has experienced a resurgence since the 1990s, when the downtown area was filled with abandoned properties. The opening of a spectacular new hospital in that area of town increased jobs and the demand for new businesses as well as providing the spark that ignited new highway construction.

Johnny Appleseed: Man & Myth
Johnny Appleseed: Man & Myth

Johnny lived in an old sycamore stump one winter in Defiance, Ohio. He thought riding a horse and chopping down a tree were cruel. He was also a vegetarian.


The Johnny Appleseed Society and Museum

A markerHistoric Bailey Hall Urbana University 579 College Way Urbana, Ohio 43078-2091 -
579 College Way, Urbana University, Urbana, OH 43078, USA
get directions

Urbana University "Firsts"

Urbana University began as the first college in Ohio to provide a nontraditional degree program and the second Ohio postsecondary school in the state to admit women.

The university was founded by Swedenborgian friends of John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) and it is fitting that the museum honoring his life is located here. The museum includes personal items that are found nowhere else in the world.

Another anonymous gift of $70,000 was provided to enhance the Swedenborg Memorial Library. The national traveling exhibit Abraham Lincoln: The Civil War and the Constitution has been displayed here.

During the spring of 2014, the university officially joined Columbus Ohio's Franklin University. Franklin is a well known and popular business university in Central Ohio that has found a niche also in educating working adults to further their employment opportunities. Both universities will continue to offer their current course and degree offerings, with some new ones in the future.

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Upper Valley Mall

A markerUpper Valley Mall Springfield, Ohio -
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Upper Valley Mall, 1465 Upper Valley Pike, Springfield, OH 45504, USA
get directions

The National Apple Museum in Biglerville PA

A markerThe National Apple Museum 154 West Hanover Street - Biglerville, PA 17307-9442 -
National Apple Museum, 154 West Hanover Street, Biglerville, PA 17325, USA
get directions

A Few Appleseed Facts

John Chapman was born in Massachusetts Colony on September 26, 1774 and lived until March 18, 1845, dying in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. He left an estate that included 1,200 acres of expensive real estate.

Bailey Hall, which houses the museum in Urbana, was named after a printer, Francis Bailey. Bailey was an earlier convert to Chapman's faith in America and the official printer of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Bailey convinced Chapman to join the Swedenborgian faith while Johnny was planting an orchard for him. The printer also produced the religious tracts that Johnny distributed as he was passing out apple seedlings as well. Barclay Hall, next to Bailey Hall, is named after a young ward of Francis Bailey.

Johnny saw a lot of settlers move into Native American territories and felt bad about this, since he had a good relationship with Indigenous Peoples. The War of 1812 - 1814 caused him great sorrow. The Urbana museum exhibits tell us that Johnny rode a horse from Mansfield to Mt. Vernon OH to secure help from the state and local militias to save trapped settlers and help them avoid death or imprisonment with 10,000 other Americans in England's dreaded Dartmoor Prison.

Johnny rode a horse from Mansfield to Mt. Vernon OH to secure help from the state and local militias in the War of 1812 - 1814.
Johnny rode a horse from Mansfield to Mt. Vernon OH to secure help from the state and local militias in the War of 1812 - 1814. | Source

Man of Many Careers

Evidence exists in the museum that John Chapman was more than an apple planter and evangelist.

He was also a librarian, an herbalist, and practiced medicine on the frontier. Researchers feel that he did not give many of his seedlings away, but made a good amount of money selling them and selling whole orchards to settlers whose move into the lands of the Northwest Territory he anticipated.

Researchers feel that the orchards were full of cider apples and that settlers made hard cider, as well as apple cider vinegar for preserving meats and vegetables and pickling fruits like peaches.

Another report from investigators says that Chapman only went barefoot when he gave shoes away to people who needed them. He may have done this often, since many portraits of him show him unshod.

Annual Johnny Appleseed Festival - Fort Wayne

Johnny Appleseed Festival - Celebrating the life and times of Johnny Appleseed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, this Apple Fest is an 1800s-era style festival. Civil War re-enacting, Abraham Lincoln, crafts, food, and complete family safe fun. Free Admission.

Wild apples in Great Britain.
Wild apples in Great Britain. | Source

© 2014 Patty Inglish


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    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 3 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Interesting story. Being a Dutchie, I'd never heard about Johnny Appleseed.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      @No body - I enjoy your commencements here very much. They give us important things to consider. I feel that he must have worked himself into the ground, so to speak.


    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 3 years ago from Rochester, New York

      This man was a childhood hero of mine. I think that he was a man "obsessed" with good works. (If one can use the term obsessed in conjunction with doing good works to others). In looking over his new found theology I see it is quite different than traditional Born Again Theology that I had previously thought that he was espousing. He must have been a very good man to know and to be friends with. I believe he would have been one of those kind of guys that your heart ached for because they think that doing good earns you a place in heaven. I think I really would have liked him. Even now my heart feels for the man of legend. Great article Patty! Voted up and interesting. Bob.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Your father will get a laugh out of the cider part!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Well that Johnny! I loved learning this little nugget and will share it with my history and apple loving father.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Maybe so! It was an interesting time in American history, certainly.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      In all cases I vote him a hero. Hard cider probably kept many a folk from far worse ailments than being a bit drunk.