My friends and readers know that I sometimes harp on and on about the shortage of compassion and empathy in today’s America. But I still think that if we thought more about others than ourselves, we’d be a better society. I know plenty of other people have had the same opinion.
One of the early American pioneers, lived his life as an example of that line of thought. He was John Chapman or Johnny Appleseed who famously planted apple trees in many of the northeastern states of the U.S. Unfortunately, most of us give very little, if any, thought to the man and what he stood for.
He even has two holidays called “Johnny Appleseed Day”. One is today, the other is celebrated on his birthday, September 26th. Johnny Appleseed Day is mostly celebrated in grade schools on one or the other day. I’m glad that children are exposed to the story of his life and work.
John Chapman was born on September 26, 1774 at Leominster, Massachusetts. The popular story of John Chapman’s life continues with the 18-year-old John and his eleven-year-old half-brother Nathaniel deciding to live the life of nomads. The younger brother introduced John to a Mr. Crawford who owned several apple orchards.
Mr. Crawford’s business skills and John’s sincere, spiritual manner combined to help plant the idea of the American frontier in bloom with apple trees. While popular myth states that Chapman planted orchards, he actually planted nurseries.
As the persona of Johnny Appleseed developed, he found himself working and living alone for many weeks at a stretch. His only regular companions were members of the native tribes and the wild animals.
Johnny Appleseed never carried a gun nor weapon of any type. He was a deeply spiritual man whose life was lived by the values of the Golden Rule. The Indians accepted him as a good friend. The animals watched as Johnny talked to them while he tended his nurseries.
Chapman sold his trees for only a few pennies apiece in any denomination current in the frontier lands. Many farmers could only offer an IOU but most did repay at a later date. He lived and travelled simply. He wore bartered, used clothing, went barefoot and only carried rudimentary tools. Johnny Appleseed was a vegetarian, so meal preparation was simple and humane.
Among his small number of implements was a simple mush pan that he used for many tasks. It was this pan that became the basis of the fiction that he wore a pan on his head. He probably never wore a kitchen pan on his head, but likely carried it in his backpack. Still, the myth has remained and is an amusing part of childhood celebrations on the Appleseed holidays.
The sources of his seeds were the cider presses of Pennsylvania. He picked out the best seeds from the discarded pressings. He washed them carefully then packed them in bags to plant the following spring. As more apple processing happened further west, his seed sources became nearer.
Another popular myth is that the apple trees grew tasty eating apples. Actually, apple trees grown from seed, produce very tart fruit. The sour apples were mostly used in the production of hard cider and apple jack.
Some people also know that John Chapman was also a travelling missionary for “The New Church” of Swedenborgian theology. He preached the Swedenborg gospel to adults and entertained the kids. People observed that he was eloquent and obviously a man of genius. Along the way, he preached to the Native Americans. The native people believed that Chapman was touched by the Great Spirit. Even the most aggressive tribes left Chapman strictly alone. One time Chapman wrote, “I have traveled more than 4,000 miles about this country, and I have never met with one single insolent Native American.”
Regarding his attitude towards non-human animals, he was especially compassionate. He was even worried about the welfare of mosquitoes when they were attracted to his campfire and were burned up. One tale states that he shared a large hollow log with a hibernating bear and her cubs during a snowstorm. He always insisted that animals should be treated humanely. During most of his life, Johnny Appleseed carried through his beliefs and lived the lifestyle of vegetarianism.
After his death on March 18, 1845, Chapman left an estate of 1,200 acres of nurseries to his sister. He lost several hundred other acres of nurseries that had not been legally deeded. Aside from the legacy of tree planting, Johnny Appleseed is also remembered for his traveling Swedenborgian hymn, “The Lord Is Good To Me”, that is sung as mealtime grace in certain Christian households.
I hope you have a happy Johnny Appleseed Day.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that recently, the Fort Wayne, Indiana minor league baseball team changed their name from the Fort Wayne Wizards to the Fort Wayne TinCaps. It is a reference to the tin pot that Chapman supposedly wore. The TinCaps team mascot is named “Johnny”.