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The Real Person Behind the Legend of Johnny Appleseed

Readmikenow has written about various medical conditions. He has previously written a series of articles on Polyarteritis nodosa.

Artist Depiction of Johnny Appleseed

Artist Depiction of Johnny Appleseed

Who Was the Real Johnny Appleseed?

John Chapman was better known as Johnny Appleseed. During his life, he became an American legend. Chapman was a leader in conservation and was recognized for the value he placed on apples. He was known as a pioneer nurseryman. Chapman spent quite a bit of time traveling to pursue his profession. Some believe that he planted apple trees in a random fashion. Everything Chapman did was actually based on providing an economic benefit. He would travel around and establish apple nurseries. After several years, Chapman would return years later when the trees had matured. He would then sell the orchards and all the land surrounding them.

Early Years

On September 26, 1774, John Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts. His father's name was Nathaniel and his mother's name was Elizabeth. Chapman's mother died after giving birth to a second son in 1776. His father was in the military and returned home after an extended absence. In 1780, Nathaniel Chapman married Lucy Cooley.

Nomadic Life

In 1792, John Chapman was 18 and was able to convince his brother to go west and travel with him. His brother was 11 at the time. The two brothers led a nomadic life moving from place to place and finding work before moving to a new location.

In 1805, Chapman's father had a large family and met up with the brothers in Ohio. Chapman's younger brother decided to stay with their father to help him farm the land. Chapman decided to move on. The brothers parted on good terms and Chapman started working as an apprentice for an orchard grower named Mr. Crawford. His boss had a large apple orchard and this is believed to have been the inspiration for Chapman going on a journey to plant apple trees.

Trees Carefully Planted

John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, didn't randomly spread apple seeds wherever he went. He worked to carefully plant apple nurseries rather than apple orchards. Chapman would build fences around them to protect the plants from livestock. The nurseries created by Chapman were left to be cared for by neighbors. They would eventually be able to sell the trees on shares as payment for their time. Chapman would then return every two years to take care of the nursery. His first nursery was planted near Warren, Pennsylvania. Many of the nurseries he created were in an area located in north-central Ohio near the Mohican River.


Chapman would travel and tell stories to children as well as preach the gospel. He would also preach at churches. Chapman was often provided with meals as well as a floor to sleep on for the night. The Native Americans believed Chapman had been touched by a Great Spirit. He would travel in the territory of hostile tribes who would intentionally leave him alone.

Loved Animals

It is said that when he was in the woods laying by a campfire, Chapman saw mosquitoes flying into the flames and being burned. He put the fire out saying that he believed God would not want him to have a fire for comfort as it destroyed God’s creatures. In another story, it is said he had a fire at the base of a hollow tree where he intended to sleep. When he discovered it was occupied by some type of wild animal, he put out the fire and chose to sleep in the open snow.

Multiple Purposes

The apple trees planted by Chapman served various purposes. Most of them were not grown to provide edible fruit. The small, tart apples grown by him in his orchards were used to make hard apple cider, which was also referred to as applejack. His apple orchards also served a legal purpose. They established his claim to the land where they were planted. Toward the end of his life, Chapman owned approximately 1,200 acres of land that was considered quite valuable.


Chapman was known for having a threadbare wardrobe. This usually did not include shoes. It did involve him having a tinpot he used for a hat as well as cooking. Towards the end of his life, Chapman was an obsessive vegetarian. He didn't believe in marriage. Chapman felt he would ultimately be rewarded in the afterlife for following a path of abstinence. He believed he would find his soulmate in heaven.

Johnny Appleseed Grave Marker

Johnny Appleseed Grave Marker


There is more than one date listed for the death of John Chapman. The dates range from 1847 to 1845. The newspaper the Goshen Democrat published his death as March 27, 1845. It is said he was approximately 71 years old when he died. The site of his grave is also disputed. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the city park, there is the location of John Chapman's grave marker. After his death was when Chapman began being referred to as Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed Museum

Johnny Appleseed Museum

Johnny Appleseed Museum

There is a Johnny Appleseed museum maintained at Urbana University, located in Urbana, Ohio. It is known as the Johnny Appleseed Educational Center and museum. It contains many artifacts from the life of John Chapman. This includes a tree planted by Chapman, and a cider press used by Chapman to process apples. It also provides many publications as well as markers and monuments dedicated to the memory of Johnny Appleseed.

Poster about Johnny Appleseed Day

Poster about Johnny Appleseed Day


John Chapman's image became that of Johnny Appleseed. He quickly became a folk hero. In various places in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States, there are annual Johnny Appleseed festivals, statutes of Johnny Appleseed, and more. He has been the subject of many movies and children's books since the mid-1800s.

Statue depicting Johnny Appleseed

Statue depicting Johnny Appleseed





© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on September 03, 2020:

Eric, thanks. I found the reality of the story to be quite interesting.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 03, 2020:

This is great to know. They should teach this to children - I will.