Who was the man behind the apples? Johnny Appleseed's real name was Johnathon Chapman. He was born on September 26th, in Leominster, Massachussetts. He was a peculiar nurseryman who spent most of his days establishing orchards throughout the Midwest. After his death, he became a man of legend and the subject of many stories, movies and artwork.
Not much is known about his childhood, other than the fact that his father was a minuteman in the Revolutionary War and served under General George Washington. His mother died in childbirth while Johnny's father was away at war. Shortly after, his father returned and remarried. The exact reason for moving his family to Ohio in unknown but it is speculated that Johnny's father was meeting up with his brother. This was where his was father, a farmer, would set the stage for the legend known as "Johnny Appleseed".
Johnny's father had him established as an apprentice with a local orchardist and not too long after that Johnathon Chapman was working as an independent orchardist and nurseryman. He started traveling and lending his expertise, mostly in Pennsylvania and Ohio. While some presume that he had a wild way of traveling and choosing his planting grounds, John Chapman was a very smart, economical man. He would establish a nursery, move on to another, then return years later to sell off the orchard and its lands.
Contrary to legend, John Chapman did not purposely grow edible fruit trees. His small, tart apples were used to make hard cider and applejack. Orchards were also a critical way of establishing land claims on the frontier. Because of this, John Chapman owned around 1,200 acres of valuable land by the time he passed away.
John Chapman was known for his eccentricities, which help lend a hand to legend. He spread his faith of the New Church along the road and had a very basic wardrobe. He often did not wear shoes and was a true believer in animal rights. He openly denounced cruelty towards living things and actually was a vegetarian; unheard of in those days. He also did not believe in the practice of marriage and thoroughly believed he would be rewarded by God for his unflinching abstinence.
How did he become "Johnny Appleseed"?
After John Chapman's death, he developed into the man we all know, "Johnny Appleseed". He died sometime in 1845, and the eccentric legend was born. John Chapman represented an interest in frontier settlement during a time period in which the country was expanding westward. "Johnny Appleseed" represented the American people who had their eyes towards new and big things, in an unknown land.
As with most legends and tall tales, the facts of his life and the myths created surround it, differ. John Chapman planted with economic, strategic planning, while "Johnny Appleseed" planted seeds at random, without any economic interest. Most legends do not include the fact that his apples were used for alcoholic beverages, either. During that time period, most apples were used in other products, and weren't the common snack they are today.
Like most legends, fact became more and more skewed over time to make the man into the character he is today. While, he wasn't wandering aimlessly through the countryside handing out apples, as most people believe, he was a businessman who also took his beliefs very seriously. He taught people how to cultivate land, plant orchards and gave advice on how to be good, God-fearing people. His clothes, however, only helped the legend of "Johnny Appleseed" grow bigger and bigger.
The man, the myth, the legend
One thing the legends have correct, is "Johnny Appleseed's" wardrobe. The "rags" depicted in the stories and painted in art are pretty true to life. He has been featured in books and cartoons and has become a childhood legend taught in school, especially in the fall time.
He is remembered by his traveling song, or hymn, and a singing "Johnny Appleseed" has been featured in musicals and Disney cartoons. Johnny has even made his way into the sports world, when Fort Wayne, Indiana named their minor league baseball club the "TinCaps".That name references "Johnny Appleseed's" legendary tin hat. Their mascot is even named "Johnny".
He has been commemorated into a stamp, memorials and statues. Even schools bear his name. There are nationwide celebrations to celebrate his birth and also his death. There is even a museum located in Urbana, Ohio that hosts a number of artifacts, along with services for research, which would have made John Chapman very proud.
One of the most successful representations of "Johnny Appleseed" was the film, "Melody Time". This was a 19-minute segment done by Disney, which depicts him as the satchel toting man we've all come to love.
John Chapman's legend may not be all factual, but he would proud that his name and his efforts lived on after his passing. People, still to this day, use his name as a symbol for farming, conservation and the American way.