Appleseed (born John Chapman) was a direct descendent of Edward Chapman,
who came from Yorkshire, England, to Boston in the 1640s and became
a prosperous farmer and miller in Ipswich. John was of the sixth generation
from Edward. He was the second child of Elizabeth Simonds and Nathaniel
Chapman, who were married at Leominster, Massachusetts on February
8, 1770. John was born in Leominster on September 26, 1774, and was
baptized with his sister Elizabeth in the Congregational Church on
June 25, 1775, the day his father and mother were received into that
church. John's father, Nathaniel, was a carpenter, a farmer, and a
Revolutionary soldier. So far as any records show, he was a man of
little means, though there is a tradition that he lost two good farms
in the service of our country.
A letter from Elizabeth to Nathaniel, dated June 3, 1776, suggests
that she was suffering from an advanced case of tuberculosis. At that
time, Nathaniel was with a company of carpenters attached to General
George Washington's headquarters at New York. In this letter, Elizabeth
states that she has money for her needs, though she has not bought
a cow, for cows were scarce and dear. This was a time of hardship
and war-time inflation when many a colonial mother had a hard time
caring for her children.
On June 26, 1776, Elizabeth gave birth to her third child, a son.
On July 18th, she died, and within two weeks, according to family
tradition, the baby, too, was dead. Little John, not yet two years
old, and his sister, Elizabeth, were cared for by relatives. After
Elizabeth's death, Nathaniel continued to serve in the Continental
Army until the summer of 1780 when he was honorably discharged. That
same summer he married Lucy Cooley of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. To
them were born ten children.
We do not know if John and Elizabeth ever went to live with Nathaniel
and Lucy, but we do know that John maintained close relationships
with the family. Again according to family traditions, John at the
age of eighteen persuaded his half-brother Nathaniel, a lad of eleven,
to go West with him. This was in 1792.
Johnny and Nathaniel Head for the Frontier
Since the deeply-worn "Connecticut Path" from Boston to Albany crossed
the Connecticut River at Springfield, one may presume that the boys
saw emigrants passing to the West every day, and that they constantly
heard glowing stories of that wonderful land. For almost half a century
New Englanders had turned longing eyes toward the Susquehanna. They
had first heard of it from missionaries returned from their efforts
to convert Native American Indians to the Christian faith. These stories
spread throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts by word of mouth and
through the press. Little companies of emigrants were organized, and
they set out for the fabulous country two hundred miles away, crossing
the Hudson River at about where the present town of Catskill stands.
This was just half way to the Susquehanna. Under the most favorable
conditions, it took two or three weeks of the hardest kind of travel
and labor to reach the headwaters of the Susquehanna.
John Chapman is said to have been in the Wilkes-Barre region some
time in the 1790s, practicing his profession as a nurseryman, but
just when he embraced the Swedenborgian faith and began his missionary
activities we cannot be sure, though it is probable that it was before
he ever reached western Pennsylvania. There are some early accounts
of John speaking of his own activities as "a Bible missionary" on
the Potomac when he was a young man, and Johnny was seen for two or
three consecutive years along the banks of the Potomac in eastern
Virginia, picking the seeds from the pumice of the cider mills in
the late 1790s.
From the Potomac, the Chapman boys could have worked their way westward
to Fort Cumberland. From Fort Cumberland, they could have followed
Nemacolin's Path, better known as Braddock's Road, to the Monongahela,
and then perhaps followed the Monongahela to Pittsburgh, a route that
many New Englanders took because there were fewer Indians to be encountered
along the southern route.
We do know that John and Nathaniel arrived at last at Pittsburgh and
from there went up the Allegheny River to its confluence with Olean
Creek at Olean, New York. They expected to find an uncle there, but
he had moved on. The boys appropriated the cabin and stayed through
the winter, suffering much hardship. The next year they took up the
nomadic life again in western Pennsylvania until their father, with
his large family, came West in 1805. Nathaniel the younger then probably
quit moving around with his older half-brother, John. The Ohio farmland
was fertile, compared to the rocky soil of New England, and Nathaniel,
senior, and the large family had much to work with. But John had another
calling and vision for his life.
Johnny Becomes a Land Developer
Records show that John Chapman appeared on Licking Creek, in what
is now Licking County, Ohio, in 1800, when he was twenty-six years
old. He had probably come up the Muskingum River to plant near the
Refugee Tract, which would soon fill up with settlers, when Congress
actually got around to granting the lands. In April, 1798, the Continental
Congress had ratified resolutions to donate public lands for the benefit
of those who had left Canada and Nova Scotia to fight against the
British in the Revolutionary War. The lands were actually set apart
in 1801 and patents issued in 1802. Grants of land ranging from 160
acres to 2,240 acres were awarded according to the exertions of the
patentee in the War. Johnny, with true Yankee enterprise, went ahead
and planted his nurseries before the refugees arrived. Licking County,
then a part of Fairfield, contained only three white families. By
the time families were ready to settle the area, Johnny's tracts of
land were ready for market.
This is the plan that John Chapman followed for the next half-century.
Johnny Appleseed went ahead of the great immigrant flood ever sweeping
westward. He planted with an eye to future markets, and seldom did
he make a poor choice. It is uncanny how many towns have risen on
or near his nursery sites.
One of the pervasive myths of Johnny Appleseed is that he never lived.
The late Robert Price, English professor at Otterbein College, researched
John Chapman's life for twenty-five years. Published in 1954 by the
Indiana University Press, Johnny Appleseed: Man and Myth remains
today the best historical gathering of factual data of the life that
came to be a storybook legend. And the facts of the real man provide
some startling contrasts from the romantic image of Johnny Appleseed
that has grown up in American folklore. Perhaps the most ironic twist
is that though John Chapman never domesticated himself for very long
in one place and certainly never had a home in the traditional sense
of the word, he was no mere dreamy wanderer. The record on Johnny
Applseed reveals him to be a careful, organized and strategic businessman
who, over a period of several decades, bought and sold many dozen
tracts of land in advance of the frontier expansion, and who developed
countless thousands of productive apple trees throughout the upper
John Chapman didn't simply walk around the countryside planting seeds
and communing with nature. He was methodical in the selection of his
nursery sites and the planting of his seeds. By instinct, he practiced
the Van Mons theory of improving fruit by seeding rather than by grafting
or budding. He always selected a good loamy piece of ground in an
open place, fenced it in with fallen trees and logs, bushes and vines,
sowed his seeds, and returned at regular intervals to repair the fence,
to tend the ground, and to sell his trees.
Johnny's Way of Life
If he had to remain long with a nursery, he put up a little Indian
hut of poles and covered it with a bark roof, leaving a hole in the
center for the smoke to escape. His housekeeping equipment consisted
of a camp kettle, a plate, and a spoon. He sometimes made a bed of
leaves inside the hut, but often he slept on the bare ground with
his feet to a small fire. Sometimes he slept on a bed of leaves beside
a log; again, he might make himself a temporary shelter by leaning
great slabs of elm bark against a fallen tree; inside, on his bed
of leaves, he slept serenely, confident that nothing could harm him.
Many frontiersmen came long distances to buy trees from him, and stayed
the night. With his meager equipment, Johnny boiled mush and dispensed
hospitality as graciously as any housewife.
In the Mohican country, Johnny visited every cabin religiously, feeling
that he had been commissioned to preach, to heal diseases, to warn
of danger-in short, to help God take care of the settlers. He planted
his nurseries around Mansfield, Loudonville, Perryville, and the Indian
village of Green Town, living in a little cabin near Perryville. When
asked why he feared neither man nor beast, he replied that he lived
in harmony with all people, and that he could not be harmed as long
as he lived by the law of love. He is said to have sown the seeds
of medicinal herbs wherever he went: dog fennel, pennyroyal, catnip,
hoarhound, mullein, rattlesnake root, and others. For a long time,
fennel was called "Johnny weed." He often appeared at the door of
a new settler's home with a gift of herbs in his hands.
Johnny made friends with many of the Indian tribes and was known to
have learned many Indian languages well enough to converse. Memoirs
from settlers who knew Johnny well indicate the impression that many
Indians held Johnny in a high regard, and that his unusual zeal for
serving others led some to believe he was touched by the Great Spirit.
For that reason, they allowed him to listen to their council meetings,
and he was therefore sometimes able to avert trouble between a tribe
and incoming settlers. He is said to have had compassion for the views
and needs of both cultures, and was a fine communicator. He possessed
a peculiar eloquence and a resonant voice that was persuasively tender,
inspirationally sublime, or when needed witheringly denunciatory.
He had a keen sense of humor and was quick to make a witty retort
or a cutting rebuke. And he was sincerely patriotic. He had unlimited
faith in his country. On one occasion, at least, he made a Fourth
of July oration at a celebration in Huron County.
He had unusual ideas about charging for his trees and collecting for
them. He would take a reasonable price in money, some cast-off clothing,
a bit of food, or nothing at all, according to the circumstances of
his customer. To him, it was more important for a settler to plant
a tree than to pay for it. He never liked to have a note dated for
a specific day, for, he said, it might not be convenient to collect
that day, or it might not be convenient for the customer to pay on
that date. He never asked a person to pay a debt, for he reasoned
that if God wanted him to have the money, God would move the customer
to pay. Besides, the customer knew that he or she owed the money,
without being reminded of it.
He was not the only person involved in such activities. What made
Johnny legendary is that he stayed itinerant his entire life; his
ability to exist harmoniously with Indian cultures as well as his
own; his colorful personal habits. For instance, though appearing
outwardly impoverished, John Chapman was not a poor man. While his
assets probably never accumulated to a fortune, he had far more cash
than he needed. He never used banks and relied instead on an elaborate
system of burying moneys that he might not come back for until a few
He lived on foods provided by nature, and he never killed animals.
Humane societies might well claim him as a forerunner, for he would
rescue aged horses left to fend for themselves and pay some farmer
to care for them. It is said that he once rescued a wolf from a trap,
with the result that the wolf adopted him and followed him for a long
time. It is said that he could walk over the ice and snow barefooted
in the coldest weather and never feel it. The skin was so think on
his feet that one of his acquaintances said it would kill a rattlesnake
to try to bite Johnny's feet.
The End of a Long Journey
In 1842, Johnny made his last trip back to Ohio. While there, he made
his headquarters at the home of Nathaniel, the half-brother with whom
he had set out on his remarkable life fifty years before. Upon his
return to Fort Wayne in Indiana, he resumed his work as "a gatherer
and planter of apple seeds." On March 18, 1845, he died of pneumonia
in the home of his Richmond County friend, William Worth, and was
buried not far from Ft. Wayne.
John Chapman lived in complete harmony with nature. In field and meadow
and forest, he walked, concerned with the spacious thoughts of God.
The singularity of his thinking and his living was inextricably entwined
with his religious views. What was it about the "new" Christian doctrines
that came from the writings of the Swedish scientist and Lutheran
reformer, Emanuel Swedenborg, to guide, nurture and inspire such a
Visit other links on our web site to order Swedenborgian spiritual
growth materials produced by the same Swedenborgian Church Johnny