On March 11th we remember a man who made apple (and pear) trees bloom across the nation. National Johnny Appleseed Day celebrates a kindly legend who lived by sage teachings and labored to bring the shade of fruit trees across much of the United States.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana in Johnny Appleseed Park there is a grave marking the spot where the legendary sower of apple seeds rests.
He was born John Chapman on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts to Nathaniel and Elizabeth Simons Chapman. Not much is known about his early life other than his mother died when he was two. His father packed up Johnny and his sister (an infant brother had died the previous year) and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. His father served as a Minuteman and fought at Bunker Hill.
Then in 1797, Chapman shows up in northwestern Pennsylvania propagating his apple seeds and working his way steadily into the frontier of West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and eventually as far west as Illinois and Iowa and as far north as Michigan and Wisconsin.
In his wake, he left orchards and the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish spiritual leader whose books he would buy with whatever payment he might receive for his endeavors. In turn, Johnny would give the books away as he traveled and planted.
Mostly, though, he planted his seeds and seedlings for free along with his wisdom, his broad-brimmed pasteboard hat keeping the sun from his eyes as he went. Often shoeless, he traveled mostly by foot and sometimes by horseback or canoe. His appearance was nearly as noteworthy as his accomplishments, but so was his kindness. There was always a place at the table if Johnny Appleseed were to come visiting.
There are many stories told that the man would travel many miles to nurse an ailing orchard when word would reach him of its poor condition. Bringing the trees back to health would be his chief endeavor while dispersing wisdom, care and kindness as he did.
Across the Midwest, landmarks pepper the countryside honoring the man that brought fruit to the frontier. Warren County, Pennsylvania lays claim to Johnny Appleseed’s first tree nursery.
Mansfield, Ohio honors the man with a monument in South Park. The last known Chapman tree still lives! In rural Ashland County, Ohio, the tree struggles to survive but half of it still manages to bloom in the spring.
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