And if they inquire whence came such trees,
Where not a bough once swayed in the breeze,
The reply still comes as they travel on,
“Those trees were planted by Appleseed John.”
– Old Children’s Rhyme
Johnny Appleseed should be considered the St.Francis of North America. This kind and gentle soul appeared on the earth on September 26, 1774. Born John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed spent 49 years of his life in the American wilderness planting apple seeds, and creating apple orchards in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Ohio. After 200 years, some of those trees still bear apples. It is said that the first thing he saw when he was born were apple blossoms, and when he was dying he asked to have his bed put under an apple tree where he lay down to leave his body — his life mission accomplished.
Johnny was a small, wiry man who wore his long, black hair parted down the middle tied back behind his ears. His clothing was old and shabby. It is even said that he dressed himself in a coffee, or potato, sack in which holes were cut for his arms and legs. It is fabled Johnny Appleseed began his nomadic life after a dream, in which he had a vision of a world filled with apple trees in bloom, then set out to make that dream come true.
Johnny Appleseed was one of the kindest men who ever lived. He believed that all men were his brothers and all animals his friends. His love for God spilled over into all areas of his life, to his neighbors, friends, and to the wilderness he traveled in. The longer he lived and the farther he traveled, the deeper became his faith in God and his love for all living things. He was also responsible for planting many important medicinal herbs, like pennyroyal, ginseng and catnip. For frontiers people without many doctors, these herbs proved to be as invaluable as the apples were in times of sickness and distress. Clearly Johnny Appleseed’s faith was cemented by practical service to others, and his joy and happiness were rooted in this service.
Johnny Appleseed loved all forms of life. Stories of his kindness abound. On one occasion he put out his campfire that the smoke might not destroy the myriads of mosquitoes that hovered near it. Another time he found that a bear and her cubs were asleep in a hollow log against which he had built his fire, so, not wishing to disturb them, he quenched the flame and slept that night in the snow. A rattlesnake once bit him, and he killed the venomous creature, an action he always after regretted. “Poor fellow,” said Johnny, “He only touched me, while I, in an ungodly passion, put the heel of my scythe in him and went home.” Perhaps the paintings of him and his tin dipper hat should have been replaced with a halo over his head.
Johnny Appleseed’s dream was for a land where blossoming apple trees were everywhere and no one was hungry. A gentle and kind man, he slept outdoors and walked barefoot around the country planting apple seeds everywhere he went. It is even told that he made his drinking water from snow by melting it with his feet.
Johnny was a friend to everyone he met. Native Americans and settlers — even the animals – respected and appreciated Johnny Appleseed. His favorite book was the Bible. John’s gentleness and courage were legendary even in his own time. He walked alone in the wilderness, without gun or knife. He chopped down no trees, and killed no animals.
Known for his frugality and simple living, he obtained his apple seeds every fall. At first, he went back to the cider presses in western Pennsylvania where he selected good seeds from the discarded apple pressings. He washed the seeds carefully and packed them in bags for planting the following spring. In later years, as cider presses were located in the new territory, he gathered his seeds closer to home.
Yet after his death, it was discovered that John was not poor at all. He owned (and leased) considerable areas of land — on which he planted apple trees, of course.
John converted to Swedenborgian religious views, and from then on mailed regular reports of his activities to astonished church authorities in Sweden. This is unique in itself, since Swedenborgians were exceedingly rare in America (roughly 400 in the whole continent).
John’s apple trees are a testament to the power of goodness. While laws, wars, political parties, and changing social ways have come and gone, John’s apple trees have endured and multiplied. The longevity of his trees and their ability to spread makes John Chapman’s contribution perhaps the most lasting in American history, changing the face and food of a continent. All from a gentle man, possessed by a strange and wonderful dream.
John Chapman died of pneumonia on 18 March 1845 at the age of 70, in the home of his old Richland County friend, William Worth. He was buried a few miles north of Ft. Wayne at a 12-acre grave site, which was designated “The Johnny Appleseed Memorial Park” through a gift by Mr. and Mrs. William T. McKay. The inscription on the gravestone reads, “Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) He lived for others. 1774-1845”
Johnny Appleseed loved to travel up and down the frontier singing, “The Lord is good to me…And so I thank the Lord for giving me…The sun and the rain and the apple tree, and some day there’ll be apples there, for everyone in the world to share…The Lord is good to me.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all share in this kind of simple dream – to live humble, simple lives, plant trees, sing praises, protect animals, and feed friend and foe alike. Thank you Johnny Appleseed, for having such an amazing vision and setting such an excellent example for all to follow should they choose.
Johnny was a friend to everyone he met. Native Americans and settlers — even the animals – respected and appreciated Johnny Appleseed.