March 11, 2011

Johnny Appleseed Day

From the Writers Alamanac:

Today is Johnny Appleseed Day. On this day, many communities honor the legendary wanderer who planted apple trees on the American frontier in the early 1800s. Johnny Appleseed was a real person. His name was John Chapman. After his death, writers embroidered his deeds until he became a folk hero.

John Chapman was born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. Historians know little about his childhood. They do know that he learned about apple growing as a young man, while working for a neighbor who owned an apple orchard.

Around 1797, Chapman moved west. He gathered sacks full of apple seeds from cider mills in settled areas. Then he headed for the frontier, keeping just ahead of westbound pioneers. He begged, borrowed, bought, or rented land near creeks and rivers, then planted seeds there. He tended the seedlings until settlers arrived. Then he sold his seedlings or orchards and moved on. He kept this up for nearly 50 years. He started orchards in western New York and Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.

Chapman spread not only apples, but also the teachings of a small Christian sect called the New Church. He opposed violence of all kinds. He got along well with Native Americans. He was a vegetarian. He lived frugally. He was extremely thin, went barefoot most of the time, and wore only discarded clothing.

Historians aren't sure exactly when Chapman died. It happened sometime in March 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His obituary in the March 22, 1845, Fort Wayne Sentinel reads in part: "The deceased was well-known throughout this region by his eccentricity, and strange garb. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself [...] the common necessities of life [...] He submitted to every privation with cheerfulness [...] believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter."

As you get around today, don't forget to plant some seeds for others.