Johnny Chapman joined a sister, Elizabeth, on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. In June of 1776, his expectant mother, Elizabeth, suffered from severe tuberculosis. At the time, Johnny’s father, Nathaniel, was fighting as a minuteman in the Revolution. Elizabeth gave birth a week before America declared independence. (see Happy Independence Day) She succumbed to her illness on July 18th, followed by the newborn baby two weeks later. Johnny and his sister remained with relatives until Nathaniel returned from war in 1780.
Nathaniel remarried and produced ten more children. As a farmer, Nathaniel taught his children all he knew. Wanting Johnny to learn more, Nathaniel apprenticed his eldest son to a local orchard where Johnny mastered horticulture.
History books rarely mentioned what a clever and successful businessman Johnny was. At the time, frontiersmen could lay claim to land, but were required to plant 50 apple or pear trees. Johnny decided to used his skills as an orchardist to provide for the pioneers heading west. He could plant apple orchards, selling the trees and seeds to those settling in the new land. In addition, he could grow herbs for medicinal purposes.
In 1792, at age 18, Johnny convinced his 11-year-old half-brother, Nathaniel, to travel with him. The two set out across Pennsylvania, eventually going as far as Indiana.
Anticipating migration patterns, Johnny claimed land and planted orchards just prior to settlers arriving. Needing a year or two for the trees to develop, he managed to time things so as to be ready for the pioneers. When a newcomer arrived, Johnny usually greeted them with a handful of herbs and a smile.
Eventually, brother Nathaniel planted roots in Ohio, so by 1812, Johnny was traveling and working alone. His apple orchards were scattered throughout the Ohio Valley, yet primarily in Ohio, which he spent his life traveling to on foot. At the time of his death, he owned over 1,200 acres.
As for his faith, Johnny was a follower of Edward Swedenborg. Swedenborg deeply engrossed himself in the spiritual world, which became the focus of his nature-based teachings. Johnny not only believed his church's teachings, he lived them. A vegetarian, he refused to harm even a fly as it was one of God’s creatures. He even declined to graft trees, not wanting to cut them. Though he had money and land, he lived in the simplest of means. He never wore shoes, even in the winter. He wore minimal clothing and never had a solid standing home.
Believing our spiritual afterlife reflects the earthly life we live, Johnny devoted his entire existence to service to others. This included not only providing a necessary survival item for settlers, but more importantly spreading the Gospel. In addition, being somewhat of a nomad, Johnny abstained from marriage.
Since Johnny didn’t graft trees, he planted wild apple seeds, which resulted in apples too tart for raw consumption. However, these apples had their own importance at the time. Drinkable water was often unavailable, so hard apple cider became the preferred beverage of choice, even over coffee, tea and wine. Johnny’s apples were perfect for this staple drink.
At a time when frontiersmen were expanding west, Native Americans were not always open to the newcomers. Johnny, however, was always welcome. He learned several native languages and visited their villages on his travels. He is credited with spreading Christianity to several of the native tribes in the Ohio Valley as his faith in the spiritual world spoke to their understanding of “The Great Spirit”. Regardless of his friendship to the natives, during the War of 1812, he raced 30 miles from Mansfield to Mount Vernon, Ohio, to warn of an Indian attack.
Johnny always traveled with pamphlets and books from his church. He would distribute these items as he visited his orchards, ministering to families who often opened their homes to Johnny while he was in the area. It was during one such visit at a friend’s home near Fort Wayne, Indiana, that Johnny suddenly died of pneumonia on March 18, 1845. He is buried just outside the city.
As Johnny never married, thus having no heirs, his sister inherited his entire estate. However, Johnny failed to register at least one orchard, which was returned to the state. Back taxes and attorney fees consumed his other orchards and wealth. However, Ohio Valley settlers continued to enjoy the fruits of his labor until prohibition in 1920.
After the 18th Amendment declared America a dry country, the production, sale and consumption of alcohol became illegal. Knowing wild apples like Johnny’s were used for hard cider, the government set out to destroy them all. As a result, there is only one tree left known to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed himself.
Liberty, in today’s world, many believe good businessmen cannot be Christian. Likewise, good Christians must support the government's takeover in our mission to help the poor, needy, widows and orphans. Both are progressive lies to remove true Christianity and its values from society. Even if we don’t agree with Johnny Appleseed’s denomination, we can learn from his example of living his faith. No matter our occupation, serving the public not only demonstrates God’s love, it gives us the opportunity to witness to the Gospel. It is not enough to just learn our faith. It must be the core of our existence.
That’s my 2 cents.
March 18, 2017
Johnny threw some dirt onto his small fire. Putting on his tin hat, he grabbed his bag of seeds and set out for his next destination. The apple seeds he planted two years ago should be seedlings ready for the new settlers by next month. More importantly, he eagerly anticipated planting the seed of Christ into the hearts of those settling in the Ohio Valley.
As Johnny walked on the cold, winter ground in bare feet, he wondered if his Indian friends found enough food during the winter. He valued their friendship and hoped to continue his mission in revealing their Great Spirit was in fact, God.
The morning sun warmed the path as Johnny walked through the Refugee Tract. He knew the immigrants from Canada and Nova Scotia, who were given land by the United States for fighting with the patriots in the Revolution, would be arriving soon. He looked forward to welcoming new families into the area and prayed God protected his trees during the bitter winter.
Johnny reaching in his bag and grabbed a pear his friends shared with him before his journey. Thankful for the sweet fruit, he appreciated the generosity of those who sometimes barely had enough for themselves.
By mid-afternoon, Johnny had reached his destination. The log fence he built around his orchard stood firm, needing only minor attention. He decided to construct his shelter before sunset as the moon was almost new, giving off little light. He gathered fallen branches for the structure. A nearby fallen tree had shed large sections of bark on impact. They would be perfect pieces to use as walls to keep out the cold, evening wind.
While searching for shelter items, Johnny also gathered some berries that decided to bloom early. It would be a nice treat after his evening mush.
Johnny then inspected his seedlings. Thanks to a few warm days, they were already beginning to bud. Within a few weeks, they would be ready to dig up and sell. He realized many of the new settlers may only be able to pay with some food or extra clothing, but Johnny wasn't worried. Planting apple trees was his job, but planting the Gospel was his mission. God would provide.
And so goes the legend of Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman.
Most school children have heard about Johnny Appleseed. Yet his legend only touches on a part of him, as is evident in the classic Disney short about him.
FINDING JOHNNY APPLESEED'S CORE