Johnny Appleseed, born John Chapman (September 26, 1774 – February 18, 1845), was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apples to large parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, mainly Ohio. He became an American legend while still alive, largely because of his kind and generous ways, his great leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance of apples.
A third child, Nathaniel Jr., was born on June 26, 1776, while Nathaniel was an officer leading a company of carpenters attached to General George Washington in New York City. Elizabeth, however, was ill (probably with tuberculosis) and both mother and child died in July, leaving John and his older sister, also named Elizabeth, to be raised by relatives. After being honorably discharged in 1780, Nathaniel married Lucy Cooley, with whom he had 10 more children. Around 1803 John's sister Elizabeth married Nathaniel Rudd.
Land records show that John Chapman was in today's Licking County, Ohio, in 1800. Congress had passed resolutions in 1798 to give land there, ranging from 160 to 2,240 acres (65-900 hectares), to Revolutionary War veterans, but soldiers did not actually receive letters of patent to their grants until 1802. By the time the veterans arrived, Johnny's nurseries, located on the Isaac Stadden farm, had trees big enough to transplant.
Nathaniel Chapman arrived with his second family in 1805, although John's sister Elizabeth remained in the east with her husband. At that point, the younger Nathaniel Chapman rejoined the elder, and Johnny Appleseed spent the rest of his life as an itinerant planter and sometime-preacher.
By 1806, when he arrived in Jefferson County, Ohio, canoeing down the Ohio River with a load of seeds, he was known as Johnny Appleseed. He had used a pack horse to bring seeds to Licking Creek in 1800, so it seems likely that the nickname appeared at the same time as his religious conversion.
Appleseed's managers were asked to sell trees on credit, if at all possible, but he would accept corn meal, cash or used clothing in barter. The notes did not specify an exact maturity date—that date might not be convenient—and if it did not get paid on time, or even get paid at all, Johnny Appleseed did not press for payment. Appleseed was hardly alone in this pattern of doing business, but he was unusual in remaining a wanderer his entire life.
He obtained the apple seed for free; cider mills wanted more apple trees planted since it would eventually bring them more business. Johnny Appleseed dressed in the worst of the used clothing he received, giving away the better clothing he received in barter. He wore no shoes, even in the snowy winter. There was always someone in need he could help out, for he did not have a house to maintain. When he heard a horse was to be put down, he had to buy the horse, buy a few grassy acres nearby, and turn the horse out to recover. If it did, he would give the horse to someone needy, exacting a promise to treat the horse humanely.
Chapman often eschewed normal clothing, even in the cold of winter, and generally led a harsh, subsistent lifestyle. According to Harper's, towards the end of his career, he was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield, Ohio. The sermon was long and quite severe on the topic of extravagance, because the pioneers were starting to buy such indulgences as calico and store-bought tea. “Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven bare-footed 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 which had served as a podium, and said, “Here's your primitive Christian!” The flummoxed sermonizer dismissed the congregation.
He made several trips back east, both to visit his sister and to replenish his supply of Swedenborgian literature. He typically would visit his orchards every year or two and collect his earnings.
Those who propose the Marfan theory suggest that his compromised health may have made him feel the cold less intensely. His long life, however, suggests he did not have Marfan's, and while Marfan's is closely associated with death from cardiovascular complications, Johnny Appleseed died in his sleep, from winter plague (presumably pneumonia).
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, one designated as a National Historic Landmark and located in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, is the correct site. Johnny Appleseed Park was known until recently as Archer Park and was the former 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 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.
The financial panic of 1837 took a toll on his estate. Trees only brought two or three cents each, as opposed to the "fip-penny 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.
A memorial, in Fort Wayne's Swinney Park, purports to honor him but not to mark his grave. At the time of his death, he owned four plots in Allen County, Indiana, including a nursery in Milan Township, Allen County, Indiana, with 15,000 trees.
Since 1975, a Johnny Appleseed Festival has been held in mid-September in Johnny Appleseed Park. Musicians, demonstrators, and vendors dress in early 19th century dress, and offer food and beverages which would have been available then. An outdoor drama is also an annual event in Mansfield, Ohio.
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, even though it is disputed as the day of his death. Other sources report that he died on February 18.
Johnny Appleseed Elementary School is a public school located in Leominster, MA, his birthplace.
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.
Many books and films have been based on the life of Johnny Appleseed. One notable account is from the first chapter of The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.
One of the more successful films was Melody Time, the animated 1948 film from Walt 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 skunk kindly, all animals everywhere thereafter trust him. The cartoon features lively tunes, and a childlike simplicity of message, offering a bright, well-groomed park environment instead of a dark and rugged malarial swamp, friendly, pet-like creatures instead of dangerous animals, and a lack of hunger, loneliness, disease, and extremes of temperature. Uniquely for a cartoon of its period, it shows Johnny at the moment of his death, followed by his resurrection in heaven and the commitment to "sow the clouds" with apple trees. (Note: Showing a character in Heaven is not unique to this cartoon. In Make Mine Music (1946), the segment entitled "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met" ends with the whale being killed and then singing in Heaven.)
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.
The Grimes Golden apple is believed to directly descend from a tree originally started by Johnny Appleseed.
Johnny Appleseed shows up in a variety of modern cultural areas. Johnny Appleseed is a character in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The fantasy video game Wild Arms 5 uses elements of the Johnny Appleseed legend, including his name, as part of its story. Apple Inc. uses a "John Appleseed" character 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. The theme song for the HBO series John from Cincinnati is "Johnny Appleseed" by Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros. Punk band NOFX have a song called "Johnny Appleseed". There is also a song by Guided by Voices entitled "Johnny Appleseed", appearing on the EP Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer. "Johnny Appleseed" featured in a comic series in "The Victor" in UK, early Sixties.