Mark your calendars people! September 26th is Johnny Appleseed’s birthday and it’s time to celebrate by brushing up on your history about this real American folk hero! Although his life has been portrayed as a mythical tale, the facts about him may just be more interesting than fiction.
Legend has it that Johnny Appleseed, a strange man with a pot on his head, wandered the country side far and wide throughout America randomly scattering apple seeds wherever he went. And thanks to him, so the story goes, we still have apples growing in America today!
The Real Johnny Appleseed
The real person, John Chapman, was born September 26, 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. He was a pioneer of the Western frontier in his day and brought apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and the northern counties of what is now West Virginia. It is said that he spent time in the Wilkes-Barre area and got his start by salvaging seeds at the Potomac cider mills in the late 1790s.
Unlike the images evoked of random seed scattering, John Chapman actually planted nurseries. He would travel by foot and move into new areas ahead of settlers to set up his apple tree nurseries. His plots were always fenced to protect the trees from livestock and once established, Chapman would move on to the next area leaving a neighbor in charge of overseeing things returning every year or two to check-in.
Although he likely didn’t wear a pot for a hat, he was quite eccentric and was known by his strange attire. He was often seen barefooted even in cold weather. Although he had the means to live extravagantly he intentionally chose a simple lifestyle based on his uncommon religious beliefs. When he died in 1846, Johnny Appleseed left an estate of over 1,200 acres of valuable nurseries to his sister.
So, is your mouth watering after hearing about all these apple trees? Can you just imagine those pioneers of the early western frontier sinking their teeth into all those juicy luscious apples?
Think again! Champan’s apple varieties grown from seed would not have been sweet enough to consider edible! Say what? That’s right, apparently they weren’t big fans of water, because at that time in rural areas people drank a fermented cider drink much like our modern day hard cider with every meal more often than water!
So, the gift John Chapman brought to the western frontier, was indirectly alcohol. How do you like them apples?
Celebrate Johnny Boy and All Things Apple!
September is John Chapman’s birthday month and the perfect time to head out to one of several Johnny Appleseed Festivals commemorating his life. Or why not hit the road and visit one of the many historical sites dedicated to him like the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana?
If you feel inspired to pick apples in his honor, go here to find local orchards. The fruit you find will surely be sweeter than the ones Johnny Boy grew. Buy that’s ok, we’ll give him a pass on the bad apples. Afterall, it IS his birthday!