Who Was Johnny Appleseed?

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John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774. His father, Nathaniel Chapman, was one of the Minutemen who fought at Concord on April 19, 1775, and later in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

John’s mother, Elizabeth Symond Chapman, had three children: Elizabeth, who was born in 1770, John, and Nathaniel Jr., who died shortly after birth. In 1776, John’s mother, who was sick from tuberculosis, died just three weeks after her third child. Although there is no proof, it is reasonable to assume that Elizabeth’s parents took care of John and his sister while their father was in the Army.

Nathaniel married his second wife, Lucy Cooley of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, in 1780. With their family of ten children, Nathaniel and Lucy lived in Longmeadow for many years. Johnny and Elizabeth lived with them for at least part of that time.

There is little authentic information available about Johnny’s life with the new family. However, he did start his westward journey about 1797.
Johnny Appleseed was not just a scattered of seeds as many people believe. He was a practical nurseryman. He realized that there was a real need and an opportunity for service in supplying seeds and seedlings.

For the most part, moving ahead of the pioneers, Johnny started many nurseries throughout the Midwest by planting seeds which he bought from cider mills in Pennsylvania.

In order to assure stability of the newly-established homesteads, the law required each settler to plant fifty apple trees the first year. Because of the poor transportation that existed in the interior in those days, apples were a practical necessity in the early settler’s diets.
Johnny owned many tracts of land throughout Ohio and Indiana. He used this land to plant apple seeds, transplant seedlings and set out orchards. He sold and gave away trees to the pioneer settlers.

Johnny spread religion as well as apples. A deeply religious man, he became a self-appointed missionary for the Church of the New Jerusalem, a Christian Church based on the Biblical interpretations of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist and theologian.
Johnny shared his religious tracts and his Bible with the settlers would listened to him. His love for his neighbor made him accepted as a peacemaker between the Native Americans and the settlers.

Just short of his seventy-fifth birthday, Johnny Appleseed died on March 18, 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana after almost 50 years of travel. His path through the East and Midwest is today dotted with many monuments to the memory of this man who fulfilled the Biblical requirements “to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with his God.”

*provided by Leominster Historical Society.