Sunday, August 25, 2013

Who was Johnny Appleseed?

The Legend of Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed Plants Apple Seed.
      Jonathan Chapman, known and loved in the wilderness as Johnny Appleseed and Appleseed Johnny, was born in the same year as the battle of Lexington, the capture of Ticonderoga, the appointment of Washington as commander-in-chief, the battle of Bunker Hill and the siege of Quebec. That a stork flew through the powder clouds and battle smoke to Boston, and the little baby boy was born, was nothing short of a miracle. He opened his infant eyes in those stirring times, and no doubt stared in wonder at the excited men he saw about him bent on killing each other. It may be that the bloody scenes of his boyhood made a lasting impression, or it may be that in later years thoughtful study of the writings of that great teacher, Emanuel Swedenborg, exerted a powerful influence upon him, or it may be that this pure-minded, forgotten hero was sent by heaven to teach the doctrine of peace; but whatever the cause, the fact remains that in the wilderness of the Ohio valley, where even the Quakers were fighters, the only disciple of peace was Jonathan Chapman of Boston. My own grandparents were among the pioneers of the Ohio valley, and many an evening have I sat by my grandmother’s knee watching her busy knitting needles and listening to the adventures of this great man, who not only planted every open glade of the wild forest with apple trees, but also planted the seeds of his new faith in the minds of the settlers.
      With the courage equal to that of the great Daniel Boone or the famous Simon Kenton, Appleseed Johnny traversed the dark forests alone; but, unlike the other men, he went unarmed; think of that, boys, there was courage for you in days when the woods were full of natives and wild animals. Once he crawled into a hollow log for shelter, but finding it already occupied by two cub bears, rather than disturb the little animals, he crept out again and made his bed in the leaves beside the log. He was never known to purposely kill a living creature, and he himself subsisted on corn mush or porridge. The forests were infested with distrusting inhabitants but there was always a welcome for Johnny at their wigwam and village. The river banks were the resorts of desperate river pirates who lived by robbing flatboats and immigrants, but every robber’s den had a cozy corner for Johnny. The backwoodsmen’s cabins were small, one-roomed log buildings filled with children, but they were never so crowded that a hearty welcome and a place by the fireside were not ready for Appleseed Johnny, and a cot or buffalo robe ready for him when he chose to sleep under their roofs.
      Appleseed Johnny was a highly educated and cultured gentleman, but he dressed in coffee sacking and a pasteboard cap. He did this not to be queer, but because when he had any clothes that were fit to wear, he gave them to some poor immigrant. Often he had shoes, but just as often he took them from his feet and gave them to some shoeless pioneer settler whom he met on the trail. It was clear that Johnny had money, because he always had a bunch of new ribbons for the little tow-headed girls who ran out to meet him from the log cabins in the dark forests.
      Coming to a log house he would enter, throw himself on the floor by the fire, and pulling out some fragments of the works of his great religious teacher, would exclaim, “Listen to the last message from God!” and robber and honest settler alike listened to the pioneer teacher.
      From the cider press in Pennsylvania or at Fort Pitt, where Pittsburg now stands, he secured bags of apple seed, with witch he loaded his dugout canoe, and with this strange cargo he paddled his lonely way down the Ohio, planting orchards wherever an opportunity offered, ministering to the sick, giving to the needy and living his life only for the good he could do.
      The natives looked upon him with awe, because when his bare feet would be cut and torn with the brush and frozen mud, he would calmly seat himself by their campfire, heat an iron white hot and burn out the cuts and wounds, which then readily healed.
      Quaint and weird as this young man of twenty-six must have appeared, in his ragged garments, bare feet and pasteboard cap, on one, not even the small boys, ever laughed or jeered at him; but he was universally treated with respect by bandit, native, ignorant squatter and refined, cultured officers of the revolutionary army who settled in the wilderness. He lived to be an old, old man, beloved by young and old, and passed over the great divide telling about the glory he saw beyond.  Original text by Dan Beard (1907), edited by Grimm

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