Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman was born September 26, 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts and died of pneumonia ("the winter plague") near Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 18, 1845. His epitaph was "He lived for others."

He is most known for the stories of his life where he travelled westwards planting apple trees and spreading the word of God. It is thought that he started this at about the age of 25. He was a member of the Church of New Jerusalem, or a Swedenborgian, a very rare sect of Christianity, there were perhaps 400 on the entire continent. Because of this he did not carry a knife or gun and he did not drink alcohol of any sort. He travelled in extremely modest clothing, stories portray him as wearing a shirt made from a coffee sack, walking barefoot, and using a cooking pot (a saucep'n, see Johnny Saucep'n) for a hat. He wandered up and down Ohio, Indiana, and Western Pennsylvania. (Perhaps even going as far south as Kentucky.) Even the Disney cartoon which features him with a talking animal has him carrying a bible underneath his pot-for-a-hat.

He was well known for his modesty, he denied the fantastical stories of his life that had sprung up. It is known that he traveled 30 miles to summon troops to Mansfield, Ohio to forestall a raid by British-allied Native Americans during the War of 1812. He did own many orchards by the end of his life, although he typically left them for other farmers to cultivate and harvest once he had them started. (It is thought that at one time he owned nearly 160 acres in Ohio.) This helped many of the pioneers in their travels westward, since the apples were an important renewable food source. Even though he was planting the orchards for other settlers' use, it is said that he felt guilt about owning land. (At one point it was said that he was bitten by a snake and that he claimed it was God's punishment upon him for being a landowner.) It was said that he was admired by the Native Americans of the area because he travelled through the wilderness, but didn't carry a weapon.

My name is Daniel E. Chapman II, so I am a distant relative. Not a direct descendant, but seven generations back our lines diverged. His brother was one of my ancestors. So, I heard many stories of what he did and did not do where I lived. (In western Pennsylvania, where he spent much of his life.) One of my coworkers at National TechTeam was named Brent Chapman, so during a casual conversation he mentioned his research into his lineage. He also turned out to be related. So, from a casual conversation I found a cousin, seven generations removed.


If you read the writeups below which mention the fact that the apples were probably used to create hard cider, keep in mind that (as I mention above) Johnny Appleseed believed in the tenets of a sect of Christianity which forbade the drinking of alcohol.

When discussing Johnny Appleseed and the merit of his actions, one must remember that apples suitable for eating were not available during his lifetime. Until about 1900, when a tree that produced sweet apples was found, grafted to other trees, and widely distributed, virtually all the apple trees produced sour, inedible apples. Due to considerable genetic variation in the seeds, the probability was extremely low that the seeds of a tree that produced good tasting apples would also produce good tasting apples.

What, then, were apples used for, if they were too sour to eat? Cider. And this was before pasteurization and refrigeration, so apple cider quickly turned to hard cider.

Johnny Appleseed promoted the expansion of the frontier by providing cheap alcohol for the masses.

Note: I feel a bit embarassed about this, after reading DejaMorgana's writeup. I meant this as a purely factual wu, with a bit of an edge. It is based upon my reccolection of the second hour of NPR's Science Friday (http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2001/Nov/hour2_112301.html), with guest Michael Pollan discussing his book, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, as well as discussions with a biology professor. These are my recollections of said discussions, which, given the writeup that follows mine, may not be as accurate as I had previously thought. Because the computer that I am using presently does not have any working audio capabilities, I cannot listen to the show. I will be checking Pollan's book out of the library in the next 2-3 days and updating or nuke requesting the writeup at that time, whichever seems more reasonable.

Sorry, but apples suitable for eating have been around since the Roman Empire. In Pliny's time, apples and pears were not only eaten for dessert, but were commonly preserved in honey.

Grafting was already a highly developed art in those days. Pliny claimed that "This part of life has long since reached its summit; everything has been tried". The Romans had discovered or developed 25 different varieties of apple. Cider is actually a much more recent development, probably originating in Biscay around the 10th or 11th Century. (There is some evidence that the ancient Egyptians made cider, and the Romans were aware of this, but did not make or drink cider themselves.)

The true innovation of the "modern apple" varieties that began to be produced in the Twentieth Century is a much-increased yield per tree and a more predictable growing season, not increased sweetness. Modern varieties also tend to look better than the antique apples, which says nothing about their flavour.

In American history, edible apples were apparently unknown to the Native Americans, and were a European contribution. But edible varieties were certainly common from the first days of European settlement in America. The first "modern" variety of apple, the McIntosh Red, was discovered around 1810 (possibly as early as 1796) by John McIntosh.

None of this goes to say that Johnny Appleseed didn't like some hard cider. Most people did in his time. He may or may not have - historically, hard cider has usually been considered a healthy and sin-free drink, so I'm not sure Chapman's taboo on alcohol included hard cider. But whether he did or not, that wasn't the purpose of his plantings. Let's not try to revise the history of agriculture just to make a highly dubious point.

SOURCES:

Originally written by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent in 1946 for the Disney short "Johnny Appleseed", which was released in 1948 along with other shorts in a feature-length animation entitled "Melody Time," this song, entitled "The Lord Is Good to Me" has become a traditional Girl Scout Camp grace. This short, sweet song is rumored to bring rain, and is therefore reserved for particularly hot and dry summers. Shimmer informs me that she used to sing it at Girl Guide Camp in the UK.

(at a brisk pace)
Oh, The Lord's been good to me,
and so I thank the Lord,
for giving me
the things I need:
the sun, and the rain and the apple seed.
(slowly)
Oh, The Lord's been good to me.

The following additional verses have been gleaned from various scouting and folksong websites. One of the websites (2 in my list of sources) even had the sheet music for it. The same site also had a link to play an audio clip of it, but the link was broken when I tried it.

I owe the Lord so much
For everything I see
I'm certain if it weren't for Him
There'd be no apples on this limb
Yes He's been good to me

Oh here am I neath a blue blue sky
A doin' as I please
Singin' with my feathered friends,
Hummin with the bees
Yes He's been good to me

I wake up every day as happy as can be
Because I know that with His care
My apple trees
They will still be there
Oh the Lord's is good to me

And every seed that grows
Shall grow into a tree
And one day soon There'll be apples there
For every one in the world to share
The Lord is good to me.

Sources:
  1. Staff of Inland Empire District's Resident Camp, "Camp Four Echoes"
  2. http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/miscellaneous/johnny_appleseed_grace.htm
  3. http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Woods/4864/songs_graces.html
  4. http://disneyshorts.toonzone.net/years/1948/melodytime.html

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