What Is the Story of Johnny Appleseed?

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John Chapman, who became the American folk hero known as Johnny Appleseed, planted apple trees during his 50 years of traveling throughout the Midwest. Moving west ahead of the settlers, he established nurseries and planted orchards, which he later sold.

Born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts, Chapman began his travels in 1792. Legend says he always carried a leather bag filled with apple seeds. Legend also says he dressed in old coffee sacks with the arms cut out and wore a cooking pot as a hat. This may or may not be true, but he traded settlers his apple trees for their old clothes. He rarely wore shoes, even in winter, and he preferred to sleep outside. What the legend usually leaves out is that the apple trees he grew produced small, tart apples used mostly to make hard cider.

Because of his travels, Chapman served as a source of news for the settlers he visited. He was a religious man and often preached to settlers and Native Americans he encountered. He died in 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and his legend grew. Today, many towns in the Northeast and Midwest United States hold festivals or feature statues dedicated to Johnny Appleseed, and he is the official folk hero of Massachusetts.