Known for his kindness, preaching, and eccentricity Johnny Appleseed spread apple trees throughout the Great Lakes states of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Travelling by foot and canoe throughout the area and dressed in old sack cloth tied at the waist by a length of rope he was widely known and loved throughout the area. Lanky and tall, standing between 6’5” and 6’9” he was instantly recognizable to all.
Born as John Chapman to Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman in Leominster Massachusetts on September 26, 1774, Johnny Appleseed apprenticed with an Orchardist during his childhood, learning how to successfully start and grow apple trees. At the age of 18 he left home and started west, taking his craft with him. Contrary to popular belief he did not randomly plant apple seeds throughout his travels. He planted orchards on tracts of land, fenced them in, and hired neighbors or managers to care for his orchards. He usually kept ahead of the settlers and had seedlings ready for them to transplant when they moved into the area. His managers were told to sell the seedlings on credit to those who could afford it and to barter with those who could not.
John was not only a traveling Orchardist but also a Missionary for the New Jerusalem Church and carried his bible with him wherever he went. He preached the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, his theology being that what you lack in this life you will obtain in the next, and that all material possessions you acquire in this life you will lack in the next. This is reason he was always in rags and usually barefoot, his habit being to give all worldly possessions to those who needed them more than he, keeping only what was necessary and what he could carry.
He was a vegetarian and revered all life forms. He was once said to have put out a camp fire after witnessing mosquitos flying into the flames and dying. He also once bought a horse that was sickly and going to be put down, nursing it back to health and then giving it to a needy family requiring only the promise that the horse was to be treated humanely. It is also said he once freed a wolf from a trap, treated its wounds, and made a pet of it, although this last story may well be more myth than truth. These behaviors towards animals were not the usual at this time when animals were treated mainly as necessity or adversary.
One evening in March 1845 he stopped at the home of his friend, William Worth, and asked to be put up that night. It was cold and snowing and John had been traveling barefoot. He died the following day of “winter fever” (pneumonia) and was buried along the banks of the St. Joe River in Fort Wayne Indiana. Today a memorial stands at his gravesite, which is located in Johnny Appleseed Park. In remembrance of this national hero there is an annual “Johnny Appleseed Festival” where people crowd to buy flowers, antiques, handmade items, and of course, many things made from apples.