Behind the Rhyme: The True Story Of Johnny Appleseed

  • Written by: Killingsworth Environmental
  • September 25, 2018

Honoring National Johnny Appleseed Day, September 26th by showing you the man behind the famous rhyme

On September 26th we honor the man who spread the growth of apple trees across most of our country. And while most have heard the nursery rhyme about his seed-spreading–not many know the truth behind who good ol’ Mr. Appleseed was.

The Rhyme…

Oh, the Lord is 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.

The Lord is good to me,

Johnny Appleseed!

 

Oh, and every seed I sow,

Will grow into a tree.

And someday there’ll be apples there,

For everyone in the world to share.

Oh, the Lord is good to me,

Johnny Appleseed!

 

Oh, the earth is good to me,

And so I thank the earth,

For giving me the things I need:

The sun and the rain and the apple seed.

The earth is good to me,

Johnny Appleseed!

In this fairytale-like story, Johnny is depicting a joyful, barefoot wanderer who wore a tin pot as a hat and planted seeds (seeds which would grow into large apple trees) out of the kindness of his heart. But this idea ingrained into the American mind is a fabrication of the life Johnny Appleseed actually lived.

What is the true story behind this legend? In honor of National Johnny Appleseed day, here are seven true facts about Johnny Appleseed you might not have known.

7 True Facts About Johnny Appleseed You Likely Didn’t Know

1. Appleseed’s real name was John Chapman

John Chapman was born on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. He grew up during the American Revolutionary War, in which his father served as a minuteman at the Battle of Bunker Hill. His mother died during childbirth in July 1776, and in 1780, his father returned home from war and began to teach young Chapman the farming trade.

2. Faith guided his Appleseed’s journey

As a devout member of the Church of Swedenborg, Chapman’s life was largely influenced by his faith. The Church forbade its members from harming God’s creation, prompting Chapman to become a vegetarian and animal rights activist. His typically well- worn clothing and bare feet were characteristic of his beliefs.

Chapman refused to use the grafting technique to create his orchards as the Church believed it caused plants to suffer, so he planted his orchards using seeds from his sack. The Church also believed in abstinence until marriage, and since Chapman never married, he had no children.

3. Appleseed owned and sold thousands of acres of land

By the early 1800s, Chapman was working on his own as an orchardist and nurseryman. This was at a time of rapid expansion on the Western frontier. The Ohio Company of Associates made a deal with settlers that anyone willing to create a permanent homestead in the land beyond Ohio’s first permanent settlement would receive 100 acres of land. To prove the homestead permanent, settlers were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in three years.

Chapman took advantage of this deal, traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois, planting enough seeds to create orchards that he would sell to settlers when they arrived. By the time he died on March 11, 1845, at age 70, he owned more than 1,200 acres of unsold land.

4. Appleseed’s apples weren’t meant for eating

The apples Chapman planted weren’t like the apples you find in a grocery store today. These apples were small and bitter, ideal for hard apple cider. Since water in the frontier was full of dangerous bacteria, cider gave the settlers something safe and stable to drink.

5. Prohibition erased much of Appleseed’s legacy

During prohibition, most of the apple trees grown to produce hard cider were chopped down by FBI agents in order to prevent the alcoholic beverage from being made. Along with destroying most of Chapman’s work, America nearly lost its connection to hard cider.

6. You can still visit one of Appleseed’s original trees

The last known tree to be planted by Chapman is in Nova, Ohio. The 176-year-old tree grows tart, green apples now used for applesauce, cider, and baking.

7. Appleseed’s seeds changed today’s apple industry

Chapman’s preference for seeding over grafting allowed for the creation of modern-day apple varieties, such as the red delicious and golden delicious apples.

Unlike grafting, which ensures the same fruit grows each time, growing from seeds opens the tree up to genetic variation, and allowing for a different type of tree to form. Planting from seeds also gave the trees the ability to adapt and thrive in their new location, which likely would not have been possible if the trees were done through grafting.

Although there are discrepancies between the tale of Johnny Appleseed and the real life of John Chapman, one thing remains consistent: his respect for the world he lived in.

Similar to Johnny Appleseed, The Killingsworth team does what we can to look out for the environment no matter the service. We’re committed to using the most environmentally friendly procedures and products on the market. Get in touch with us today to discuss your service needs and how we can help you follow in the steps of good ol’ Johnny Appleseed!

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