John Chapman, often called Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, including the northern counties of present day West Virginia. He became an American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples. He was also a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian).
Image from “A History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland County” by H.S. Knapp (1863)
John Chapman was born on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts, the second child (after his sister, Elizabeth) of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman (née Simonds, married February 8, 1770) of Massachusetts. His birthplace has a granite marker, and the street is called Johnny Appleseed Lane. Nathaniel Chapman fought at Concord as a Minuteman as early as April 19, 1775, and later served in the Continental Army with General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Johnny was born around the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill.
While Nathaniel was in military service, his wife died (July 18, 1776) shortly after giving birth to a second son, named Nathaniel. The baby died about two weeks after his mother. Nathaniel Chapman ended his military service and returned home in 1780 to Springfield, Massachusetts. In the summer of 1780 he married Lucy Cooley of Springfield, Massachusetts and they had 10 children.
According to some accounts, John, at the age of eighteen, persuaded his half-brother Nathaniel, eleven, to go west with him in 1792. The two of them apparently lived a nomadic life until their father, with his large family, came west in 1805 and met up with them in Ohio. Nathaniel the younger, then probably quit moving around with Johnny to help his father farm the land.
Nathaniel started John Chapman on a career as an orchardist by apprenticing him to a Mr. Crawford, who had apple orchards.
There are stories of Johnny Appleseed practicing his nurseryman craft in the Wilkes-Barre area and of picking seeds from the pomace at Potomac cider mills in the late 1790s. Another story has Chapman living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Grant’s Hill in 1794 at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion.
Johnny Appleseed post card
The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. Although apples grown from seed are rarely sweet or tasty, apple orchards with sour apples were popular among the settlers because apples were mainly used for producing hard cider and apple jack. In some periods of the settlement of the Midwest, settlers were required by law to plant orchards of apples and pears in order to uphold the right to the claimed land. So Johnny Appleseed planted orchards made for popular real estate on the frontier. His first nursery was planted on the bank of Brokenstraw Creek, South of Warren, Pennsylvania. Next, he seems to have moved to Venango County along the shore of French Creek, but many of these nurseries were located in the Mohican area of north-central Ohio. This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lucas, Perrysville, and Loudonville.
According to Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, towards the end of his career, he was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield, Ohio. The sermon was long and severe on the topic of extravagance, because the pioneers were buying such indulgences as calico and imported tea. “Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?” the preacher repeatedly asked until Johnny Appleseed, his endurance worn out, walked up to the preacher, put his bare foot on the stump that had served as a podium, and said, “Here’s your primitive Christian!” The flummoxed sermonizer dismissed the congregation.
He would tell stories to children, spread the The New Church gospel to the adults, receiving a floor to sleep on for the night, sometimes supper in return. “We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrillin—strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard. His was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius,” reported a lady who knew him in his later years. He made several trips back east, both to visit his sister and to replenish his supply of Swedenborgian literature.
Johnny Appleseed in Graham’s History of Richland County, Ohio (1880)
Chapman was quick to preach the Gospel as he traveled, and during his travels he converted many Indians, whom he admired. The Native Americans regarded him as someone who had been touched by the Great Spirit, even hostile tribes left him strictly alone. He once wrote, “I have traveled more than 4,000 miles about this country, and I have never met with one single insolent Native American.”
Johnny Appleseed cared very deeply about animals, including insects. Henry Howe, who visited all the counties in Ohio in the early 19th century, collected several stories from the 1830s, when Johnny Appleseed was still alive:
One cool autumnal night, while lying by his camp-fire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny, who wore on his head a tin utensil which answered both as a cap and a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire, and afterwards remarked, “God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort, that should be the means of destroying any of his creatures.” Another time he made a camp-fire in a snowstorm at the end of a hollow log in which he intended to pass the night, but finding it occupied by a bear and cubs, he removed his fire to the other end, and slept on the snow in the open air, rather than disturb the bear.
When he heard a horse was to be put down, he bought the horse, bought a few grassy acres nearby, and turned the horse out to recover. When it did, he gave the horse to someone needy, exacting a promise to treat the horse humanely.
During his later life, he was a vegetarian.
When Johnny Appleseed was asked why he didn’t marry, his answer was always that two female spirits would be his wives in the after-life if he stayed single on earth. However, Henry Howe reported that Appleseed had been a frequent visitor to Perrysville, Ohio. He was to propose to Miss Nancy Tannehill there—only to find that he was a day late; she had accepted a prior proposal:
On one occasion Miss Price’s mother asked Johnny if he would not be a happier man, if he were settled in a home of his own, and had a family to love him. He opened his eyes very wide–they were remarkably keen, penetrating grey eyes, almost black–and replied that all women were not what they professed to be; that some of them were deceivers; and a man might not marry the amiable woman that he thought he was getting, after all.
Now we had always heard that Johnny had loved once upon a time, and that his lady love had proven false to him. Then he said one time he saw a poor, friendless little girl, who had no one to care for her, and sent her to school, and meant to bring her up to suit himself, and when she was old enough he intended to marry her. He clothed her and watched over her; but when she was fifteen years old, he called to see her once unexpectedly, and found her sitting beside a young man, with her hand in his, listening to his silly twaddle.
I peeped over at Johnny while he was telling this, and, young as I was, I saw his eyes grow dark as violets, and the pupils enlarge, and his voice rise up in denunciation, while his nostrils dilated and his thin lips worked with emotion. How angry he grew! He thought the girl was basely ungrateful. After that time she was no protégé of his.
Johnny Appleseed, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1871
There is some controversy and vagueness concerning the date of his death and his burial. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of November, 1871 (which is taken by many as the primary source of information about John Chapman) says he died in the summer of 1847. The Fort Wayne Sentinel, however, printed his obituary on March 22, 1845, saying that he died on March 18, 1845:
“On the same day in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed).
The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years. He was a native of Pennsylvania we understand but his home—if home he had—for some years past was in the neighborhood of Cleveland, where he has relatives living. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life—not so much perhaps for avarice as from his peculiar notions on religious subjects. He was a follower of Swedenborg and devoutly believed that the more he endured in this world the less he would have to suffer and the greater would be his happiness hereafter—he submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter.
In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60. “He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenborg with which he was perfectly familiar, and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration.
His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.”
The actual site of his grave is disputed as well. Developers of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Canterbury Green apartment complex and golf course claim his grave is there, marked by a rock. That is where the Worth cabin in which he died sat.
However, Steven Fortriede, director of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and author of the 1978 Johnny Appleseed, believes another putative gravesite, located in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, is the correct site. Johnny Appleseed Park is a Fort Wayne, IN city park which adjoins Archer Park, an Allen County park. Archer Park is the site of John Chapmann’s grave marker and formerly was a part of the family Archer farm.
The Worth family attended First Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, according to records at ACPL, which has one of the nation’s top genealogy collections. According to an 1858 interview with Richard Worth Jr., Chapman was buried “respectably” in the Archer cemetery, and Fortriede believes use of the term “respectably” indicates Chapman was buried in the hallowed ground of Archer cemetery instead of near the cabin where he died.
John H. Archer, grandson of David Archer, wrote in a letter dated October 4, 1900:
The historical account of his death and burial by the Worths and their neighbors, the Pettits, Goinges, Porters, Notestems, Parkers, Beckets, Whitesides, Pechons, Hatfields, Parrants, Ballards, Randsells, and the Archers in David Archer’s private burial grounds is substantially correct. The grave, more especially the common head-boards used in those days, have long since decayed and become entirely obliterated, and at this time I do not think that any person could with any degree of certainty come within fifty feet of pointing out the location of his grave. Suffice it to say that he has been gathered in with his neighbors and friends, as I have enumerated, for the majority of them lie in David Archer’s graveyard with him.
The Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne reported, “as a part of the celebration of Indiana’s 100th birthday in 1916 an iron fence was placed in the Archer graveyard by the Horticulture Society of Indiana setting off the grave of Johnny Appleseed. At that time, there were men living who had attended the funeral of Johnny Appleseed. Direct and accurate evidence was available then. There was little or no reason for them to make a mistake about the location of this grave. They located the grave in the Archer burying ground.”
Johnny Appleseed left an estate of over 1,200 acres of valuable nurseries to his sister. He also owned four plots in Allen County, Indiana, including a nursery in Milan Township, Allen County, Indiana, with 15,000 trees. He could have left more if he had been diligent in his bookkeeping. He bought the southwest quarter (160 acres) of section 26, Mohican Township, Ashland County, Ohio, but he did not record the deed and lost the property.
The financial panic of 1837 took a toll on his estate. Trees brought only two or three cents each, as opposed to the “fippenny bit” (about six and a quarter cents) that he usually got. Some of his land was sold for taxes following his death, and litigation used up much of the rest.
Fort Wayne, Indiana is the location where Johnny Appleseed died. A memorial in Fort Wayne’s Swinney Park purports to honor him but not to mark his grave. In Fort Wayne, since 1975, the Johnny Appleseed Festival is held the third full weekend in September in Johnny Appleseed Park and Archer Park. Musicians, demonstrators, and vendors dress in early 19th century attire, and offer food and beverages that would have been available then. In 2008 the Fort Wayne Wizards, a minor league baseball club, changed their name to the Fort Wayne TinCaps. The first season with the new name was in 2009. That same year the Tincaps won their only league championship. The name “Tincaps” is a reference to the tin hat (or pot) Johnny Appleseed is said to have worn. Their team mascot is also named “Johnny”.
From 1962 to 1980, a high school athletic league made up of schools from around the Mansfield, Ohio, area was named the Johnny Appleseed Conference. An outdoor drama is also an annual event in Mansfield, Ohio.
A memorial in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio, is located on the summit of the grounds in Section 1349. A circular garden surrounds a large stone upon which a bronze statue of Chapman stands, face looking skywards, holding an apple seedling tree in one hand and book in the other. A bronze cenotaph identifies him as Johnny Appleseed with a brief biography and eulogy.
March 11 or September 26 are sometimes celebrated as Johnny Appleseed Day. The September date is Appleseed’s acknowledged birthdate, but the March date is sometimes preferred because it is during planting season.
Johnny Appleseed Elementary School is a public school located in Leominster, MA, his birthplace. Mansfield, Ohio, one of Appleseed’s stops in his peregrinations, was home to Johnny Appleseed Middle School until it closed in 1989.
The village of Lisbon, Ohio, hosts an annual Johnny Appleseed festival September 18–19.
A large terra cotta sculpture of Johnny Appleseed, created by Viktor Schreckengost, decorates the front of the Lakewood High School Civic Auditorium in Lakewood, Ohio. Although the local Board of Education deemed Appleseed too “eccentric” a figure to grace the front of the building, renaming the sculpture simply “Early Settler”, students, teachers, and parents alike still call the sculpture by its intended name: “Johnny Appleseed”.
Urbana University, located in Urbana, OH, maintains the world’s only Johnny Appleseed Museum, which is open to the public. The museum hosts a number of artifacts, including a tree that is believed to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed. In addition, the museum is also home to a large number of historical memorabilia, the largest in the world. They also provide a number of services for research, including a national registry of Johnny Appleseed’s relatives. In 2011 the museum was renovated and updated and is now able to hold more memorabilia in a modern museum setting.
1. Swedenborgian history
2. Means, Howard (2011). Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4391-7825-6
3. The New England Roots of “Johnny Appleseed”, The New England Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 3. (Sep., 1939), pp. 454-469
4. “Johnny Appleseed, Orchardist”, prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County, November, 1952, page 4
5. “A People’s History of Pittsburgh” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette retrieved 1-10-08 
6. Michael Pollan. Botany of Desire. ch. 1
7. Schmidt, Alexis (2009). Chapman, John (Johnny Appleseed) http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Chapman__John.html.
8. (1871) Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, XLIII, 830–831
9. (1871) “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, XLIII, 836
10. “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, November 1871, page 834
11. Kacirk, Jeffrey (1997). Forgotten English. New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-15018-7
12. Howe, Henry (1903). Richland County. Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio (485), New York:Dover
13. “Johnny Appleseed, Orchardist”, prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen Couth, November, 1952, page 26
14. Newell Dwight Hillis, The Quest of John Chapman: The Story of a Forgotten Hero, The Macmillan Company, 1904, pp. 308
15. “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (XLIII): 833. 1871
16. Howe, Henry (1903). Richland County. Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio. New York: Dover. p. 260
17. “Obituaries”. The Fort Wayne Sentinel 67 (81). March 22, 1845
18. Kilbane, Kevin (September 18, 2003). “Researcher finds slice of Johnny Appleseed’s life that may prove his burial spot”. The News-Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2005-02-14
19. Man and Myth http://web.archive.org/web/20060905033519/http://www.in.gov/ism/Education/Johnny_Appleseed.pdf#search=%22Johnny%20Appleseed%3A%20Man%20and%20Myth%22
21. John H. Archer letter, dated October 4, 1900, in Johnny Appleseed collection of Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne IN
22. Report of a Special Committee of the Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne, December 27, 1934
23. What’s the story with Johnny Appleseed?, The Straight Dope, January 20, 2004
24. “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (XLIII): 835. 1871
25. “Johnny Appleseed, Orchardist”, prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen Couth, November, 1952, page 17
26. Scout.com: Fort Wayne no longer the Wizards
27. “Johnny Appleseed Festival”
28. “The Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama”
29. “Johnny Appleseed”
30. National Apple Museum