If you were living on the frontier with no store nearby, what would you raise or grow for food? Johnny Appleseed thought apples were an important food crop. During his lifetime, he sold (or gave away) thousands of apple trees.
- John Chapman was born in September, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts, United States.
- His father, a Minuteman, farmer, and shopkeeper, fought in the battle of Concord and soon left the family home to fight in the Revolutionary War.
- For four long years, Johnny’s father was off fighting. During that time, Johnny’s mother died. He and his sister Elizabeth were cared for by their grandparents.
- When Johnny was five, his father remarried and settled on a farm near Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
- Johnny’s parents had 10 more children, all of whom they raised in a little farm house.
- As a child, Johnny enjoyed playing with his friends, but he seems to have loved the wild forests and fields near his home even more.
- As a young man, he left the farm and headed west. He was looking for the frontier. Johnny quickly adapted to life on the road, walking, canoeing, and hitching a ride when he could. He learned how to find nuts, berries, and roots. He loved sleeping under the stars in a hammock or burrowed in a pile of leaves.
- During the winter of 1797, Johnny found himself in a snowstorm, cold, hungry, and without a good pair of shoes. He almost froze to death, but landed in Warren, Pennsylvania. The people of the town took him in. When he recovered, he talked about a vision he’d had of a shining, heavenly community filled with apple trees.
- The next spring, Johnny bought some land near Warren and built a cabin along the Brokenstraw River. The river carried apple seeds to him from a cider mill upstream. Johnny saved the seeds and planted them. Soon he had an orchard on his land.
- Johnny discovered he could trade the apples from his orchard for other things that he needed. He also realized that other settlers needed apple trees. In fact, a law said that every new homesteader must plant 50 apple trees on his land to show he meant to stay there.
- Johnny began giving (and sometimes selling) seedling apple trees to the settlers.
- People began to tell stories about the kind, quirky man with the apple trees. They said he loved animals and would take any old mule or horse in. He refused to kill rattlesnakes; some people said he could talk to the animals. One story says that he released a wolf from a trap and spoke so gently to him that the wolf was instantly tamed.
- And then one day, Johnny headed west again, taking seeds and seedlings with him. Somewhere along the way, he came to be known as Johnny Appleseed. During his lifetime, he planted trees from Pennsylvania to Indiana. These trees probably didn’t produce great apples for eating. But they were probably very good for cider, syrup, or preserves.
- One night in 1845, Johnny got word that cows were in one of his best orchards, damaging the trees. He hurried to get them out. The night was a cold one and Johnny was getting old. The next morning, he became ill and died.
Questions and Answers
Question: Are all the stories about Johnny Appleseed true?
Answer: During the frontier days, people needed tall stories about bravery and honor to inspire them. It’s likely that like Davy Crockett, some of Johnny Appleseed’s adventures were exaggerated. We do know though that he was a gentle man, kind and friendly to animals and people alike. He was deeply religious and he loved nature.
Watch a video about Johnny Appleseed. Or this one from Walt Disney.