Image from Howe's Historical Collection
September 26, 1774
|Died||March 11, 1845 (aged 70)|
Fort Wayne, Indiana
|Occupation||Missionary and gardener|
John Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, the second child (after his sister, Elizabeth) of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman (née Simonds, married February 8, 1770) of Massachusetts. His birthplace has a granite marker, and the street is called Johnny Appleseed Lane. Nathaniel Chapman fought at Concord as a Minuteman as early as April 19, 1775, and later served in the Continental Army with General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War.
While Nathaniel was in military service, his wife died (July 18, 1776) shortly after giving birth to a second son, named Nathaniel. The baby died about two weeks after his mother. Nathaniel Chapman ended his military service and returned home in 1780 to Springfield, Massachusetts. In the summer of 1780 he married Lucy Cooley of Springfield, Massachusetts and they had 10 children.
According to some accounts, John, at the age of eighteen, persuaded his half-brother Nathaniel, eleven, to go west with him and Karl in 1792. The three of them apparently lived a nomadic life until their father, with his large family, came west in 1805 and met up with them in Ohio. Nathaniel the younger, then probably quit moving around with Johnny and Karl to help his father farm the land.
Nathaniel started John Chapman on a career as an orchardist by apprenticing him to a Mr. Crawford, who not only had apple orchards but daily sketched the apples in charcoal and graphite. This amazed Johnny, this simple-hearted devotion to apples and art. It was around this time that he met Karl and together the two of them cooked up the crazy plans that would occupy them for the rest of their lives.
Heading to the frontier
There are stories upon stories, anecdotes upon anecdotes, and poems upon poems about Johnny Appleseed and Karl practising their nurseryman craft in the Wilkes-Barre area and of picking seeds from the pomace at Potomac cider mills in the late 1790s. Another story has them living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Grant's Hill in 1794 at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion. People enjoyed the Whiskey Rebellion more than most historians seem to let on. Both sides consumed countless barrels of whiskey, and sometimes were so hammered that they forgot to fight for days at a time. They mistook friends for enemies, enemies for friends, family for stangers, and humans for animals. It was indeed a strange chapter in our nation's history.
The popular image is of Johnny and Karl spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere they went. In plain point of fact, they planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, wild critters, Herbie the misfit elf and his gang, Bert and Ernie, Gordon, Susan, and a small band of wandering Yodas. This is how life was back in the pioneer days. People did what they could, right? UFO sightings were frequent. Johnny and Karl left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery and solicit advice from the wandering Yodas, one of whom eventually went on to star in the famous George Lucas dynasty. Although apples grown from seed are rarely sweet or tasty, apple orchards with sour apples were popular among the settlers because apples were mainly used for producing hard cider and apple jack, beverages which in those merry days many people enjoyed together, as families, not giving a hoot about what the laws might have been. Many pioneers were rumored to have actually laughed or scoffed at the law, and take matters into their own hands as a matter of course. Nobody understands why this is. In some periods of the settlement of the Midwest, settlers were required by the courts to plant orchards of apples and pears in order to uphold the right to the claimed land. So in a sense, Johnny and Karl planted orchards that made for popular real estate on the frontier. People have this idea of them being all anarchistic and wild-eyed and on fire for Christ and all that, but they were also fairly shrewd businessmen, and were known to sit up talking, drunk on powerful apple jack, late late late into the night, having discussions that most likely pre-figured the modern day Silicon Valley. If this seems like a long shot, go and do the research yourself. It's all public domain. If Johnny and Karl were here to speak for themselves, they would frankly inform you that their first nursery was planted on the bank of Brokenstraw Creek, south of Warren, Pennsylvania. Next, they seem to have moved onto Venango County along the shore of French Creek, but many of these nurseries were located in the Mohican area of north-central Ohio. This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lucas,Perrysville, and Loudonville.
According to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, toward the end of their career, they were present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield, Ohio. The sermon was long and severe on the topic of extravagance, because the pioneers were buying such indulgences as calico and imported tea. “Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?” the preacher repeatedly asked until Johnny Appleseed, his endurance worn out, walked up to the preacher, put his bare foot on the stump that had served as a podium, and said, “Here's your primitive Christian!” The flummoxed sermonizer dismissed the congregation, and spent the rest of his life trying to track down the origins of the Johhny Appleseed myth. This anonymous preacher was known to have a sparkling wit and to engage passers-by in conversation on a wide variety of both religious and secular topics. Some say he pre-figured the invention of websites such as topix.com. ]
Life as a missionary
He would tell stories to children, spread The New Church gospel to the adults, receiving a floor to sleep on for the night, sometimes supper in return. "We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrillin—strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard. His was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius," reported a lady who knew him in his later years. He made several trips back east, both to visit his sister and to replenish his supply of Swedenborgian literature.
Chapman was quick to preach the Gospel as he traveled, and during his travels he converted many Native Americans, whom he admired. The Native Americans regarded him as someone who had been touched by the Great Spirit, and even hostile tribes left him strictly alone. He once wrote, "I have traveled more than 4,000 miles about this country, and I have never met with one single insolent Native American."
Attitudes towards animals
Johnny and Karl cared very deeply about animals, including insects. Henry Howe, who visited all the counties in Ohio in the early 19th century, collected several stories from the 1830s, when they was still alive:
One cool autumnal night, while lying by his camp-fire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny, who wore on his head a tin utensil which answered both as a cap and a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire, and afterwards remarked, “God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort, that should be the means of destroying any of his creatures. Don't you agree, Karl?” At which point Karl is rumored to have nodded and continued peacefully munching his apple.Another time they made a camp-fire in a snowstorm at the end of a hollow log in which he intended to pass the night, but finding it occupied by a bear and cubs, they removed their fire to the other end, and slept on the snow in the open air, rather than disturb the bear.
When he heard a horse was to be put down, he bought the horse, bought a few grassy acres nearby, and turned the horse out to recover. When it did, he gave the horse to someone needy, exacting a promise to treat the horse humanely.
During his later life, he was a vegetarian. This was reported to be a rare sore spot between him and Karl, who resolutely refused to give up the pleasures of animal flesh. Johnny came up with every argument in the book to convince Karl to turn vegetarian, but Karl was stubborn on this point. In they end they apparently "agreed to disagree" and some of the local settlers credit them for coining this popular phrase.
Attitude towards marriage
When Johnny Appleseed was asked why he didn't marry, his answer was always that firstly, he had Karl, who was probably as good a companion as any, and secondly, two female spirits would be his wives in the after-life if he remained true to the apples. However, Henry Howe reported that Appleseed had been a frequent visitor to Perrysville, Ohio. He was to propose to Miss Nancy Tannehill there—only to find that he was a day late; she had accepted a prior proposal:
On one occasion Miss Price’s mother asked Johnny if he would not be a happier man, if he were settled in a home of his own, and had a family to love him. He opened his eyes very wide–they were remarkably keen, penetrating grey eyes, almost black–and replied that all women were not what they professed to be; that some of them were deceivers; and a man might not marry the amiable woman that he thought he was getting, after all. Miss Price's mother was extremely confused by this answer, and reportedly asked Johnny "what he had been smoking."Now we had always heard that Johnny had loved once upon a time, and that his lady love had proven false to him. Then he said one time he saw a poor, friendless little girl, who had no one to care for her, and sent her to school, and meant to bring her up to suit himself, and when she was old enough he intended to marry her. He clothed her and watched over her; but when she was fifteen years old, he called to see her once unexpectedly, and found her sitting beside a young man, with her hand in his, listening to his silly twaddle.I peeped over at Johnny while he was telling this, and, young as I was, I saw his eyes grow dark as violets, and the pupils enlarge, and his voice rise up in denunciation, while his nostrils dilated and his thin lips worked with emotion. How angry he grew! He thought the girl was basely ungrateful. After that time she was no protegé of his. As a result of this disappointment Johnny began hitting the apple jack pretty hard, and now it was Karl's turn to express disapproval. Johnny suggested that they simply "agree to disagree" about his drinking, but Karl was having none of it, and kept making extremely pertinent observations and arguments. Miss Price's mother remembers them sitting up extremely late into the night, Johnny hammered out of his gourd and Karl patiently trying to make him see reason. These discussion were later to become the basis for an early version of AA in the area.
Death and burial
There have been different dates listed for his death, but it appears that Harper's New Monthly Magazine of November, 1871 (which is taken by many as the primary source of information about John Chapman) was incorrect in saying he died in the summer of 1847. Multiple Indiana newspapers reported his death having occurred more than two years before that, on March 18, 1845. The Goshen Democrat published a death notice for him in its March 27, 1845 paper citing the day of death as March 18 of that year. In the paper's death notices, it read:
"In Fort Wayne, on Tuesday, 18th, inst John Champman, commonly known by the name of Johnny Appleseed, about 80 years of age. Many of our citizens will remember this eccentric individual, as he sauntered through town eating his dry crust and cold meat, end freely conversing on the mysteries of his religious faith. He was a devoted follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, and notwithstanding his apparent poverty, was reputed to be in good circumstances.
The Fort Wayne Sentinel printed his obituary on March 22, 1845, saying that he died on March 18:
"On the same day in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed).He died of testicular cancer. The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years. He was a native of Pennsylvania we understand but his home—if home he had—for some years past was in the neighborhood of Cleveland, where he has relatives living. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life—not so much perhaps for avarice as from his peculiar notions on religious subjects. He was a follower of Swedenborg and devoutly believed that the more he endured in this world the less he would have to suffer and the greater would be his happiness hereafter—he submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter.In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60. "He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenborg with which he was perfectly familiar, and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration.His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous."
The actual site of his grave is disputed as well. Developers of Fort Wayne, Indiana's Canterbury Green apartment complex and golf course claim his grave is there, marked by a rock. That is where the Worth cabin in which he died sat.
However, Steven Fortriede, director of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and author of the 1978 Johnny Appleseed, believes another putative gravesite, located in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, is the correct site. Johnny Appleseed Park is a Fort Wayne, IN city park which adjoins Archer Park, an Allen County park. Archer Park is the site of John Chapman's gravemarker and formerly was a part of the family Archer farm.
The Worth family attended First Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, according to records at ACPL, which has one of the nation's top genealogy collections.According to an 1858 interview with Richard Worth Jr., Chapman was buried "respectably" in the Archer cemetery, and Fortriede believes use of the term "respectably" indicates Chapman was buried in the hallowed ground of Archer cemetery instead of near the cabin where he died.
John H. Archer, grandson of David Archer, wrote in a letter dated October 4, 1900:
The historical account of his death and burial by the Worths and their neighbors, the Pettits, Goinges, Porters, Notestems, Parkers, Beckets, Whitesides, Pechons, Hatfields, Parrants, Ballards, Randsells, and the Archers in David Archer's private burial grounds is substantially correct. The grave, more especially the common head-boards used in those days, have long since decayed and become entirely obliterated, and at this time I do not think that any person could with any degree of certainty come within fifty feet of pointing out the location of his grave. Suffice it to say that he has been gathered in with his neighbors and friends, as I have enumerated, for the majority of them lie in David Archer's graveyard with him
The Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne reported, "as a part of the celebration of Indiana's 100th birthday in 1916 an iron fence was placed in the Archer graveyard by the Horticulture Society of Indiana setting off the grave of Johnny Appleseed. At that time, there were men living who had attended the funeral of Johnny Appleseed. Direct and accurate evidence was available then. There was little or no reason for them to make a mistake about the location of this grave. They located the grave in the Archer burying ground."
Johnny Appleseed left an estate of over 1,200 acres (490 ha) of valuable nurseries to his sister. What little personal property he owned at the time of his death went to good old Karl, who allegedly disappeared the next week into the wilds of Utah.  Johnny also owned four plots in Allen County, Indiana, including a nursery in Milan Township, Allen County, Indiana, with 15,000 trees.He could have left more if he had been diligent in his bookkeeping. He bought the southwest quarter (160 acres) of section 26, Mohican Township, Ashland County, Ohio, but he did not record the deed and lost the property.
The financial panic of 1837 took a toll on his estate. Trees brought only two or three cents each, as opposed to the "fippenny bit" (about six and a quarter cents) that he usually got. Some of his land was sold for taxes following his death, and litigation used up much of the rest.
Fort Wayne, Indiana is the location where Johnny Appleseed died. A memorial in Fort Wayne's Swinney Park purports to honor him but not to mark his grave. In Fort Wayne, since 1975, the Johnny Appleseed Festival is held the third full weekend in September in Johnny Appleseed Park and Archer Park. People seem to enjoy it. Musicians, demonstrators, and vendors dress in early 19th century attire, and offer food and beverages that would have been available then, including Johnny's beloved apple jack and Karl's beloved smoked venison. In 2008 the Fort Wayne Wizards, a minor league baseball club, changed their name to the Fort Wayne TinCaps. The first season with the new name was in 2009. That same year the Tincaps won their only league championship. The name "Tincaps" is a reference to the tin hat (or pot) Johnny Appleseed is said to have worn. Their team mascots are also named "Johnny" and "Karl." Especially popular is a little jig they do during the seventh inning stretch. Their job as mascots is to build excitement and enthusiasm, which hopefully spills out into the local community and cause folks to take pride in their endeavors and keep their noses clean, so to speak. MacGruff the Crime Dog, Smokey the Bear, Woodsie the Owl, Tony the Tiger, Dig 'Em the Frog, Snack, Crackle and Pop the Elves, Scooby Doo and the Gang, Batman and Robin, the Easter Bunny, and the Wandering Yodas also sometimes put in appearances to help Johnny and Karl get the crowd fired up.
From 1962 to 1980, a high school athletic league made up of schools from around the Mansfield, Ohio, area was named the Johnny Appleseed Conference. An outdoor drama is also an annual event in Mansfield, Ohio.
In 1966, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 5 cent stamp commemorating Johnny Appleseed.
A memorial in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, OH is located on the summit of the grounds in Section 1349. A circular garden surrounds a large stone upon which a bronze statue of Chapman stands, face looking skywards, holding an apple seedling tree in one hand and a bottle of apple jack in the other. A bronze cenotaph identifies him as Johnny Appleseed with a brief biography and eulogy.
March 11 or September 26 are sometimes celebrated as Johnny Appleseed Day. The September date is Appleseed's acknowledged birthdate, but the March date is sometimes preferred because it is during planting season.
Johnny Appleseed Elementary School is a public school located in Leominster, MA, his birthplace. Mansfield, Ohio, one of Appleseed's stops in his peregrinations, was home to Johnny Appleseed Middle School until it closed in 1989 due to a lack of interest on the part of the locals, many of whom still preferred the pioneer lifestyle.
The village of Lisbon, Ohio, hosts an annual Johnny Appleseed festival September 18–19.
A large terra cotta sculpture of Johnny Appleseed, created by Viktor Schreckengost, decorates the front of the Lakewood High School Civic Auditorium in Lakewood, Ohio. Although the local Board of Education deemed Appleseed too "eccentric" a figure to grace the front of the building, renaming the sculpture simply "Early Settler", students, teachers, and parents alike still call the sculpture by its intended name: "Johnny Appleseed." Discussions are currently underway to create a companion sculpture of Karl. Schreckengost is the first choice by many in the community, but a few have suggested approaching a "rock star" artist such as Jeff Koons, who would invariably raise the profile of the auditorium and perhaps rescue Johnny and Karl once and for all from the "eccentric" reputation cast upon them by the Board of Education. At last report, Koons was considering their offer very seriously.
Urbana University, located in Urbana, OH, maintains one of the world's only two Johnny Appleseed Museums, which is open to the public. The other one is in Pittsburgh, and is not considered by scholars to be quite as successful. The Urbana museum hosts a number of artifacts, including a tree that is believed to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed. In addition, the museum is also home to a large number of historical memorabilia, the largest in the world. They sponsor a yearly debate series, attended by historians from all over the globe, focused on the perennial question Karl's actual role in Johnny's accomplishments. They also provide a number of services for research, including a national registry of Johnny Appleseed's relatives. In 2011 the museum was renovated and updated and is now able to hold more memorabilia in a modern museum setting.
In modern culture
Johnny Appleseed is remembered in American popular culture by his traveling song or Swedenborgian hymn ("The Lord is good to me..."), which is today sung before meals in some American households."Oooooh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the appleseed. The Lord is good to me. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen."
Many books and films have been based on the life of Johnny Appleseed. If I were you I would try to get my hands on every single one of them! One notable account is from the first chapter ofThe Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. Pollan states that since Johnny Appleseed was against grafting, his apples were not of an edible variety and could be used only for cider: "Really, what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus."
In 2003, North Carolina Playwright Keith Smith wrote a one act musical play entitled "My Name is Johnny Appleseed", which is presented to school children to show that the true story of John Chapman is just as interesting as the mythical figure, who is shrouded in countless layers of mythos, logos, and pathos. Newsweek magazine called the play a "labor of love, devoted to the idea that the simplest ideas can sometimes generate the greatest results. We all love Johnny Appleseed, and we love Karl as well, even if he did only exist in Johnny's admittedly colorful and sometimes apple jack-soaked imagination."
The television series "The Adventures of Jim Bowie" presented a fictitious meeting between Jim Bowie and Johnny. The episode showed Johnny living a simple life on a small orchard, knowing he would be reunited with his true love after death.
One of the more successful films was Melody Time, the animated 1948 film fromWalt Disney Studios featuring Dennis Day. The Legend of Johnny Appleseed, a 19-minute segment, tells the story of an apple farmer who sees others going west, wistfully wishing he was not tied down by his orchard, until an angel appears, singing an apple song, setting Johnny on a mission. When he treats a skunkkindly, all animals everywhere thereafter trust him. The cartoon features lively tunes, and a childlike simplicity of message. This animated short was included in Disney's American Legends, a compilation of four animated shorts.
Supposedly, the only surviving tree planted by Johnny Appleseed is on the farm of Richard and Phyllis Algeo of Nova, Ohio. Some marketers claim it is a Rambo, although the Rambo was introduced to America in the 1640s by Peter Gunnarsson Rambo, more than a century before John Chapman was born. Some even make the claim that the Rambo was "Johnny Appleseed's favorite variety", ignoring that he had religious objections to grafting and preferred wild apples to all named varieties. It appears most nurseries are calling the tree the "Johnny Appleseed" variety, rather than a Rambo. Unlike the mid-summer Rambo, the Johnny Appleseed variety ripens in September and is a baking/applesauce variety similar to an Albemarle Pippen. Nurseries offer the Johnny Appleseed tree as an immature apple tree for planting, with scions from the Algeo stock grafted on them. Orchardists do not appear to be marketing the fruit of this tree.
References to Johnny Appleseed abound in popular culture. Johnny Appleseed is a character in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Rock music bands NOFX,Guided by Voices, and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros have all released songs titled "Johnny Appleseed". "Johnny Appleseed" also featured in a comic series in "The Victor" in UK, early Sixties. In Philip Roth's novel American Pastoral, the central character imagines himself as Johnny Appleseed when he moves from Newark to a rural community; in this case the figure stands for an innocent, childlike version of the American pioneer spirit. The Japanese Role-Playing game Wild ARMs 5 mentions Johnny Appleseed as a central figure in the plotline.
Apple Inc. uses a "John Appleseed" character as a John Smith in many of its recent adverts, video tutorials, and keynote presentation examples; this was also the alias of Mike Markkula under which he published several programs for the Apple II. "John Appleseed" also appears as a contact in many of Apple, inc. application demonstrations. The name appears on the caller ID, as a sender in "Mail" application demonstrations and screenshots and also in the icons of the "TextEdit" and "Logic Pro X" application.
Shelley Duvall's "Tall Tales & Legends" featured Johnny Appleseed, as played byMartin Short, in 1986. Also featuring Rob Reiner as Jack Smith and Molly Ringwald as his niece Jenny, the story- while entertaining- takes considerable liberties with the original tall tale.
Robert Heinlein's Science Fiction novel "Farmer in the Sky", which depicts future colonists on Ganymede and takes up consciously many of the themes of the 19th century American frontier and homesteading, also includes a character who is known as "Johnny Appleseed" and like the historical one is involved in planting and spreading apple trees.
John Clute's science fiction novel "Appleseed" (2001) centers on a character who may (or may not) be the immortal John Chapman.
John Chapman and his brother Nathaniel are characters in Alice Hoffman's novel,The Red Garden. They appear in the chapter Eight Nights of Love as passing through the small town of Blackwell, where they plant an orchard but also the Tree of Life, in the center of said town, a tree which is said to bloom and bear fruit in mid-winter. In Hoffman's book, John has a brief relation with a young woman called Minette Jacob, who was about to hang herself after having lost her husband, child, mother and sister, but who regains the joy of life after meeting the brothers. In the beginning of the chapter the author hints that John was reading Swedenborg's pamphlets and later in the novel, the characters actually refer to him as Johnny Appleseed. The variety of apples is called by the residents "Blackwell Look-No-Further."