Happy Birthday Johnny Appleseed!

Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman was born on this day in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts. He is best known as the gentle man who traveled west through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, planting apple trees and sharing Swedenborg’s writings as “good news, right fresh from heaven” as he went. But who was the man behind the myth? Did he really wear a cooking pot on his head?

Illustration by Nancy Poes
Illustration by Nancy Poes

In his recent book, The Core of Johnny Appleseed, Ray Silverman sorts through the facts, considering the legends and history surrounding Johnny’s life, and gives us a fuller picture of how this savvy businessman was driven by his deep spiritual beliefs. At his death in 1845 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Johnny left an estate of over 1,200 acres of nurseries, in 19 counties in 3 states, including one in Indiana with over 15,000 trees. As Ray explains, “the exact place of his death has been disputed, but what is not disputable is the beautiful inscription on the marker above his gravesite: ‘He lived for others.’ Swedenborg had a similar message: ‘A person is not born to live for oneself alone, but for others.'”

Illustration by Nancy Poes
Illustration by Nancy Poes

In his book, Ray also answers some common questions about Johnny:

Q: Was Johnny Appleseed a real person?
A: Yes and no. There was a real person named John Chapman who
later became known as “Johnny Appleseed.” But over time many
stories arose about “Johnny Appleseed” that were more in the realm
of legend than reality. So, yes, he was a real person. But many of the
legends about him are not real.

Q: If his real name was John Chapman, how did he get the
name “Johnny Appleseed”?
A: He spent most of his life planting apple trees, which he grew
from seed. He even asked children to save their apple seeds for him.
As people became accustomed to seeing him with his apple seeds
and seedlings, they naturally started to call him “Appleseed John”
or “Johnny Appleseed.” He even signed some documents as “John
Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.”

And the most pressing question:

Q: Did Johnny wear a cooking pot on his head?
A: This is another one of the delightful stories that surround the
name of Johnny Appleseed. It is very possible that when Johnny
came to town he amused the children by putting his cooking pot
on his head sideways—like wearing your baseball cap backwards.
Some say that it was a publicity stunt to draw attention to his business.
Others say that he wore the pot on his head to protect the
religious tracts that he carried with him. But if you put a pot on
your head and try to walk around with it, you will soon discover
that it is very difficult to do, especially because the pot will keep
sliding off your head.

Download a free e-book copy of The Core of Johnny Appleseed for more information about this American folk hero, including frequently asked questions, myths about his life, and extensive appendices concerning his travels and nurseries.

Check out the fruits from our own apple trees

Read an in-depth interview with author Ray Silverman about his book.

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