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