American pioneer, John Chapman (ca 1775-1847) was popularly known as "Johnny Appleseed." He brought apple seeds from Pennsylvania and planted them in the Midwest. It is said that he would travel hundreds of miles to prune his orchards, which were scattered through the wilderness.
Chapman's parentage and the exact time and place of his birth have not been discovered. It is generally inferred that he was born in 1775, either in Boston or Springfield, Massachusetts. All that is known of his boyhood is that he had a habit of wandering away on long trips in quest of birds and flowers. His first recorded appearance in the Middle West was in 1800 or 1801, when he was seen as he drifted down the Ohio past Steubenville, in an astonishing craft consisting of two canoes lashed together and freighted with decaying apples brought from the cider presses of western Pennsylvania.
It is claimed that Chapman's first nursery was planted two miles down the river, and another up Licking Creek. Although he returned frequently to Pennsylvania for more apple seeds, by 1810 Chapman appears to have made Ashland County, Ohio, his center of activity, living some of the time in a cabin with his half-sister, near Mansfield. It is said that he would travel hundreds of miles to prune his orchards scattered through the wilderness. His price for an apple sapling was a "fip penny bit," but he would exchange it for old clothes or a promissory note which he never collected.
Wherever he went, Chapman read aloud to any who would listen from the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, or the Bible. Lying on the floor and rolling forth denunciations in tones of thunder, he came to be accepted as a sort of Border saint. The stories of his quixotic kindness to animals, even to insects and rattlers that bit him, are characteristic of the growth of a folk legend. Indians regarded him as a great medicine man; he did indeed scatter the seeds of many reputed herbs of healing, such as catnip, rattlesnake weed, hoarhound, pennyroyal, and, unfortunately, the noxious weed dog-fennel which he believed to be anti-malarial.
In 1812, when the Indians around Mansfield were incited by the British to attacks upon the American frontier settlements, Chapman volunteered to speed through the night to Mt. Vernon, Ohio, to get help from Capt. Douglas, warning many lonely homesteads on the way. This incident is authenticated; there is a wider tradition that he traversed much of northern Ohio apprising settlers of the surrender of the American forces under Hull at Detroit and of the imminence of Indian massacres. The most famous tale about him is of a pharisaical minister who demanded from the pulpit, "Where is the man who, like the primitive Christian, walks toward heaven barefoot and clad in sackcloth?" "Johnny Appleseed," clad in short ragged trousers and a single upper garment of coffee sacking with holes cut for head and arms, barefoot, with a tin mush pan on his head for a hat, approached the pulpit, saying, "Here is a primitive Christian!"
About 1838 Chapman crossed gradually into northern Indiana and continued his missionary and horticultural services. But after a long trip to repair damages in a distant orchard he was overtaken by pneumonia, and presented himself at the door of William Worth's cabin in Allen County, Indiana, where he died on March 11, 1847. He was buried in Archer's graveyard near Fort Wayne. The Honorable M. B. Bushnell erected a monument to him at Mansfield. His legendary life has inspired numerous literary works such as Denton J. Snider's Johnny Appleseed's Rhymes (1894), Nell Hillis's The Quest of John Chapman (1904), Eleanor Atkinson's Johnny Appleseed, the Romance of a Sower (1915), and Vachel Lindsay's "In Praise of Johnny Appleseed" in the Century Magazine, August 1921.
Duff, W.A., Johnny Appleseed, an Ohio Hero, 1914.
Harper's Magazine, XLIII, 830-36.
Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, IX, 1901.