Born September 26, 1774, in the town of Leominster, Massachusetts, John Chapman – aka Johnny Appleseed was an American pioneer frontiersman. In American folklore his name is legendary, but much of the legend is simply blown out of proportion. Many myths surround his life-story, but one thing is for sure; he was responsible for propagating apple orchards, between the years of 1796 – 1845, from Massachusetts through the state of New York on across Ohio and out as far as the Fort Wayne area of Indiana.
His story is told in children’s books all over America, but much of what has been written is simply a mythology that has grown over the many years since he was born. He was, however, by any fair account a very unusual man. There is some indication that he may have suffered brain damage from a knock on the head, or perhaps he was just a bit of a loner who was driven by a deeply profound sense of duty to the Creator and love for mankind. Anyone who plants trees is a forward thinker and I hold such individuals in high regard.
I’ve recently been reading perhaps the most accurate account of John Chapman’s, life, adventures and misadventures. The book by Howard Means titled; Johnny Appleseed – The Man, the Myth, the American Story,(published in 2011 by Simon & Schuster) is thoroughly researched from historical records going back to the 18th Century.
Chapman came from early American, Christian roots and a very hard start at life. The area of his frontier exploration was wild and undeveloped at the time of his wandering and it is a marvel that the man survived the harsh environment. This is, of course a testament to his fortitude and personal drive. He was by all accounts a humble and hard working man. He braved the dangers of wild animals, hostile aboriginal tribes and all the difficulty associated with a life lived largely on the outskirts of civilization. The beauty of Howard Means’ book is that it cuts through all of the childhood fairy-tales and gets deep into who this man was and what he actually accomplished…and it is a powerful story of adventure, business failures and perseverance.
For children the story of Johnny Appleseed remains a quaint tale of the happy environmentalist, long before environmentalism was popular, indeed before the word was entered into the body of recorded language. You can go to this link and find books for children between 1st grade and 6th grade reading level. Go here for the abbreviated children’s version with plenty of downloadable activity links included. This link from the Smithsonian Magazine, tells a little different bit about Johnny’s apple orchard planting and possible involvement in spreading hard apple cider across the land.
When the story is presented in the format for children it is a wonderful tale of romanticized adventure. For adults Means’ book is more historical, but all the adventure remains. In either case Chapman has become a larger than life iconic figure and the story of his life is well worth reading.